The congregation of Faith was dismissed during a special meeting of the Presbytery of South Dakota (POSD) on May 17, and Presbytery Stated Clerk Evelyn Reynen confirmed in an email to The Layman that the dismissal was effective June 27, the closing date for the financial settlement between the parties.
Founded in 1963 as a new church development, Faith-UPC is located in Brandon, S.D., along Interstate 90 east of Sioux Falls in Minnehaha County near South Dakota’s eastern border with Minnesota and Iowa. Charles Asche is pastor of the 270-member church.
Taking a stand
According to an email sent to The Layman by Ruling Elder Robert Smithback, Faith’s session decided to inform and educate congregants about the direction of the PCUSA and later took a straw vote that showed the desire to seek a new denominational home, thus starting the dismissal process that was made longer because Presbytery of South Dakota did not have one in place at that time.
The session penned a letter that was sent to members of the presbytery in January 2011 that explained its position on issues that would be voted on by POSD just a month later. Those included ordination standards, adoption of a new Form of Government and adding the Belhar Confession to the Book of Confessions. The letter indicated opposition to those proposals and outlined reasons for taking a stance against them.
A portion of that letter read, “Our session at Faith United Presbyterian Church desires unity within the church. We believe, however, that the Presbyterian Church (USA) is moving away from its original foundations, away from following the direction of God, and away from listening to the teachings of Christ. We believe the PCUSA is following popular opinions driven by the leadership of men rather than the counsel of the Holy Spirit. We long for the time when, as Jesus said in John 17:23, believers may ‘be brought to complete unity to let the world know that you sent Me and have loved them even as You have loved Me.’”
Reasons for leaving
In its report to the POSD, the Discernment Team that started working with Faith in August 2011 noted that the relationship between the congregation and PCUSA “was broken,” and such disharmony made reconciliation “a very difficult task.”
The report also noted that forcing Faith to stay within the Presbytery of South Dakota and the PCUSA under duress would not honor God, nor would it likely be of benefit to any of the parties involved.
During a September 2011 meeting, members of the Faith-UPC congregation shared concerns over changes in ordination standards by the national denomination, changes in the form of government by the PCUSA and beliefs that over the years the PCUSA gas drifted theologically to the point the congregation no longer could be aligned with the denomination.
According to the report, Faith asserted that the PCUSA had strayed from doctrinal standards of Scripture and the historic confessions of the church. Among those were:
- The PCUSA has changed the view about Jesus Christ being the only path to salvation;
- A change in beliefs about the Bible and authority of Scripture, to the point the denomination is willing to accept, even embrace, multiple truths;
- Erring in not supporting the sanctity of life but in supporting free and open access to abortion without legal restrictions;
- Erring in allowing ordination of practicing homosexuals and following the path to change its position on marriage being between a man and a woman; and
- Diminished authority of local congregations through the passage of the new Form of Government (nFOG).
Smithback’s email indicated that the PCUSA continued to move toward a specific agenda away from the Biblical principles that Faith was founded on, leading to the position of the church that it was time to stand up for its convictions.
“We believe that the PCUSA had left Faith United Presbyterian Church of Brandon and that our move to the Evangelical Presbyterian Church denomination was just a return home,” he wrote.
While the issues were with the national denomination rather than with the presbytery, such differences between the church and the PCUSA seemed to take away energy from the South Dakota congregation, hindered its outreach efforts in the community and forced a halt to expansion plans.
A non-binding vote held at a meeting to discuss leaving the PCUSA yielded more than 90 percent in support of seeking departure, and no one voiced reservations about dismissal to the presbytery’s Discernment Team.
Presbytery documents show that Faith’s congregation agreed to pay a financial sum of $225,000 to secure its property and leave the POSD and PCUSA. A total of $75,000 was paid at the time of closing (June 27), with an additional $75,000 to be paid on or before the first anniversary of the closing date, and another $75,000 to be paid on or before the second anniversary of the closing date.
The church also paid 2013 per capita in the amount of $6,254.92 and provided original church records to the presbytery.
Faith’s congregation approved the terms spelled out in the agreement by a 152-10 vote during a meeting in late April, setting the stage for the May dismissal vote by the presbytery. A joint service to celebrate and conclude Faith’s ministry with the Presbytery of South Dakota and PCUSA took place May 29.
The church received transitional membership into the EPC and was assigned to the Presbytery of the West on June 12.
While noting that the dismissal process was long and arduous, the session’s email also indicated the relief associated with being out of the PCUSA and affiliated with a new denomination.
“The sense of the congregation is joyful relief, a sense of freedom and complete ownership of our facility and ability to follow the leading of the Holy Spirit,” the email read. “We are looking to restart our expansion plans and long-range planning team we had temporarily put on hold during the dismissal process.”