West Isle Presbyterian Church, located at the western end of Galveston Island some 50 miles southeast of Houston, was dismissed from the PCUSA during a March 16 meeting of the Presbytery of New Covenant, ending an 18-month discernment and dismissal process described by Pastor Bob Bullock as “really and truly gracious.”
“It’s rigorous, but we were pleased with our experience,” Bullock said of New Covenant’s handling of the dismissal process with his 70-member congregation.
Bullock said West Isle decided to seek dismissal as a result of actions by the General Assembly and the PCUSA on ordination and the continuing slide into rampant secularism in direct contradiction of Biblical, historic, Reformed Christianity.
The church began the process in the fall of 2011 through the education of session and congregation members about issues taking place within the denomination. The church began the full dismissal process in July 2012, and eight months later was released from the PCUSA to affiliate with ECO.
Bullock said the West Isle session voted 8-1 to seek dismissal, and more than 90 percent of the active voting membership concurred with that decision as well as the recommendation to align with ECO.
“We had a good representation turn out to vote, and it was an overwhelming call to move,” Bullock said. “We had to be honest about the situations taking place in the PCUSA, but we did not want to make a villain out of the denomination. We all wanted the same thing: a discernment of God’s will.”
Bullock pointed out that West Isle’s congregation followed the New Covenant dismissal policy to the letter as it worked with the Discernment Team each step of the way. In an email to The Layman, he labeled the journey as “an integrity-filled process of true spiritual discernment on behalf of the session, congregation and Discernment Team.”
He spoke highly of the presbytery and General Presbyter Mike Cole, who delivered an address to the church membership on why it should remain with the PCUSA.
“We are grateful to the Presbytery of New Covenant for having a real ‘gracious dismissal procedure’ administered under the fine leadership of Stated Clerk, Rev. Lynn Hargrove, and General Presbyter, Mike Cole, which enabled the Discernment Team made up of members of West Isle and presbytery to seek God’s will on what was best for the church.”
Bullock pointed out there was no need to burn bridges or jeopardize relationships that had been built through the years by vilifying the presbytery or the national denomination.
“We decided to hold to a stance of integrity throughout the process,” he said. “We were seeking what the Lord’s call for the church was and what faithfulness looked like to us during this time of following Jesus, and He answered.
“The Scripture is clear on the way we should treat our neighbors and family. The presbytery has been our family and we wanted to treat them with honor and respect. If you are going to do things the right way you have to be whole-hearted. We honored the presbytery, and they honored us. We kept our relationships and the many friendships while embarking on a new journey. We did not burn any bridges.”
To meet the terms of dismissal, West Isle was required to pay per capita based on its history of giving at descending values over a period of five years. That sum came to about $7,000, and the church decided to present an additional monetary gift of $5,000 to the presbytery. Both amounts have been paid.
“We did it with gratitude to God,” Bullock said. “We were blessed and able to do it, so that’s what we did. There’s no unfinished business. That’s the style of this congregation.”
The congregation explored different options as new denominational homes, primarily ECO and the Evangelical Presbyterian Church (EPC) before ultimately settling on ECO.
“ECO is us. It’s just a natural fit for us theologically, philosophically and culturally,” Bullock said. “We have an appreciation for all those choosing the EPC, but it was not an easy a fit for us, especially with the ordination of women. This is a conservative, evangelical and thoughtful congregation that believes male and female elders complement each other in Christ’s church and should work in harmony just like the marriage of a man and woman. That’s what ECO is.”
And through that union with ECO, West Isle seeks to become a missional church sharing the Word of Jesus Christ.
“We need to be building disciples for Jesus Christ and being a missional church, refocusing on those important things that are the very essence of our heartbeat,” Bullock said. “This (dismissal) has been healthy and a good process to go through though it was not without its difficulties. It requires a majority of your attention for a period of time. Now we need to get back to being inwardly strong, outwardly focused, and engaged in the ministry and mission of Jesus in the world.”