Charleston, Miss., church leaves PCUSA to join PCA
By John H. Adams, The Layman Online, April 20, 2004
The congregation of First Presbyterian Church in Charleston, Miss., has voted 75-1 to leave the Presbyterian Church (USA) and affiliate with the Presbyterian Church in America.
The Charleston congregation became the fourth PCUSA church to leave the denomination because of their disagreements with the decisions and statements of denominational leaders and the higher governing bodies.
All four congregations – First in Charleston, Circleville in Circleville, N.Y., Rivermont in Lynchburg, Va., and Norcrest in Findlay, Ohio – were affiliated with the Confessing Church Movement within the PCUSA. The Circleville, Lynchburg and Norcrest congregations affiliated with the Evangelical Presbyterian Church.
The Presbytery of St. Andrews voted 61-4 in November 2003 to allow the Charleston congregation to vote on whether to renounce the jurisdiction of the Presbyterian Church (USA) and leave with its property upon payment of $75,000 to the presbytery.
That agreement was contingent upon the congregation’s members forming a nonprofit corporation to buy the property.
The presbytery’s vote followed two years of negotiations between the presbytery’s administrative commission and the elders of the 102-member Confessing Church congregation. The Charleston congregation originally sought to be dismissed to another Reformed denomination – rather than be required to renounce the jurisdiction of the PCUSA.
But the administrative commission’s report to the presbytery said there was no sufficient reason to dismiss the congregation without renunciation. The commission said the complaints by the congregation over actions and decisions of the PCUSA’s national leaders – including approval of partial-birth abortion and unwillingless to enforce ordination standards – did not warrant dismissal.
One of the underlying currents in the issue was a painful history in Mississippi of losing long-time mainline Presbyterian congregations to the Presbyterian Church in America.
After the presbytery vote, Otey Sherman, a prominent Charleston banker and an elder at the Charleston church, said the congregation would consider aligning with other Reformed denominations, including the PCA and the EPC. Both are growing evangelical denominations – once allied with the mainline Presbyterian denomination – adhere to the Westminster Confession and its catechisms.
One distinct difference is that the EPC allows the ordination of women as ministers, elders and deacons. The PCA has a constitutional prohibition against women as church officers.
The PCA was established in 1972 with 260 congregations with a combined membership of about 41,000 that broke away from the Presbyterian Church in the United States (PCUS). Today, the PCA has about 400,000 members and more than 1,400 congregations, including 115 in Mississippi, roughly the same as the number of PCUSA congregations in the state. The PCUS was the Southern mainline branch of Presbyterianism before it reunited in 1983 with the Northern branch to form the PCUSA.
Twelve congregations broke away from the mainline denomination in 1981 to form the EPC. Today, it has 191 congregations and 75,000 members.
The Charleston congregation had registered no complaints against the presbytery – other than to express dismay that the presbytery had been unable to help it find an evangelical pastor. The Charleston congregation has not had a full-time minister during the two years of negotiations with the administrative commission.
The administrative commission first proposed that the purchase price for the property be set at $250,000 – roughly double its value, according to Sherman. He said that price was beyond the reach of the congregation.
In July 2002, the Presbytery of Hudson River, which includes more than a dozen congregations whose leaders say they are in open defiance of the PCUSA Constitution, dismissed Circleville Presbyterian Church to the Evangelical Presbyterian Church.
The presbytery required Circleville to pay $112,500 to keep its property. Circleville’s leaders said the presbytery’s refusal to discipline officers who ordained practicing homosexuals and conducted same-gender “marriages” had impacted their growth and financial support from members who no longer wanted to be identified with the PCUSA.
Also in 2002, the pastor and members of Norcrest Presbyterian Church in Findlay, Ohio, bolted from the PCUSA – or got bolted out. While the congregation was mapping plans for leaving the denomination, presbytery officials took over the church’s property, changed the locks and dismissed the pastor. The members of the congregation that left Norcrest have organized Findlay Evangelical Presbyterian Church.
Like the Charleston congregation, Norcrest’s leaders and members were distressed over the direction of the PCUSA.
Similar complaints led to the exodus of the 120-year-old Rivermont Presbyterian Church in Lynchburg, Va. In that case, the Presbytery of the Peaks in Virginia, in July 2003, required an exit toll of $1.1 million – roughly 30 percent of the value of the property.
The presbytery, which dismissed the Rivermont Church to the Evangelical Presbyterian Church, did allow time payments: an initial amount of $700,000 with the $432,650 balance to be paid over the next five years.