Ohio church votes to leave PCUSA
By Jason P. Reagan, The Layman, Posted Thursday, November 3, 2011
An Ohio church became the second Presbyterian congregation to leave the same presbytery in one month after a unanimous vote on Sunday.
On Oct. 30, First Presbyterian Church of South Charleston voted 102-0 to disaffiliate from the PCUSA.
The church now joins the Evangelical Presbytery Church (EPC) – a landing place for an increasing number of disaffected, Reformed churches that are citing a growing theological and polity divide with the PCUSA.
With South Charleston’s vote, at least six Presbyterian churches have voted to leave the denomination in October. Lebanon Presbyterian Church (LPC) of Lebanon, Ohio voted to disaffiliate
a week before South Charleston.
“We discovered that where we were headed in terms of mission and ministry at the church was a different direction than where the denomination was headed,” South Charleston Senior Pastor Bill Reisenweaver said on Tuesday.
Claiming longstanding disagreements concerning Scriptural interpretation, many churches have grown disenchanted with the PCUSA. The rift grew sharper this past spring with the passage of Amendment 10A and with new Form of Government (nFOG) changes.
The amendment deleted ordination standards addressing explicit chastity and fidelity requirements from the PCUSA constitution. The deleted standard required that ordained officers be faithful in marriage between a man and a woman, or chaste in singleness. With nFOG, many churches say the authority of the local session has been weakened in favor of upper governing councils.
Reisenweaver said that the session became concerned with the changing direction of the PCUSA in 2003 and began to study the trends. As the chasm between what South Charleston and the PCUSA believed began to widen, the session questioned the nature of its denominational relationship.
“We started asking…if we were starting from scratch, would we choose to affiliate with the PCUSA to help us fulfill our mission,” Reisenweaver said. “The answer was pretty loud and clear: ‘No.’”
From 2006 to 2010, the 187-member church posted statements of opposition to various General Assembly actions every two years to its website. Reisenweaver said the shift was “increasingly contradictory to what we preach and teach.”
“The culmination of nFOG and Amendment 10A really brought us to the point of saying ‘when’ and not ‘if,’” he added.
Reisenweaver said the changes in ordination standards were seen by the session as “openly defiant to Scripture.”
“The very beginning point of the divide is definitely the undermining of the authority of Scripture,” he said.
Like Lebanon Presbyterian Church, Reisenweaver said the session viewed nFOG’s changes to the Book of Order
The session of Lebanon claimed the changes would ensure that “mission goals and priorities of the congregation would no longer be determined by the session but could be dictated by the presbytery, synod and General Assembly.”
“NFOG was much worse … [South Charleston’s session] saw the flow of power moving upward from session to presbytery to synod to the General Assembly,” Reisenweaver said. “We saw a definite power shift from session to upper governing bodies.”
With both nFOG and 10A votes on the horizon in January, South Charleston’s session began to meet weekly to study the issues, draft an extensive report on the church’s stance and analyze news about voting trends.
The Presbytery of Miami Valley voted to approve Amendment 10A by a vote of 58-36 and nFOG by voice vote, further distancing South Charleston from the majority view within the PCUSA.
Several weeks before the congregational meeting in October, the session presented the church with the exhaustive report spawned by its first studies in 2003 and recommended South Charleston leave the PCUSA and affiliate with the EPC.
On Monday, church officials informed the presbytery of its decision by hand-delivered letter. Miami Valley Executive Presbyter Dennis Piermont said the presbytery would meet at the end of the week to decide its response but couldn’t comment for now.
Reisenweaver said he is confident the presbytery will deal fairly with South Charleston, citing its recent negotiations with Lebanon. He added the church had received verbal assurance that Miami Valley “wants to keep the word grace in gracious dismissal.”
In the case of Lebanon, Miami Valley is not seeking the church’s property or financial assets but, rather, is asking Lebanon to pay per-capita funds through 2012.
Unlike some disaffected churches, South Charleston has continued to pay its per capita, which was pegged at $6,704 in 2010, according to PCUSA Research Services. Also, in 2010, the church received $263,659 in offerings.
Reisenweaver says he’s confident South Charleston will keep its property since it was deeded to the church in 1857, some 120 years before the PCUSA’s trust clause was created. According to the Clark County (Ohio) Auditor’s office, the church owns five parcels with a total appraised value of $543,470.
“We're very excited about our new future with the EPC, yet grieve over what we leave behind in friendships in the PCUSA,” Reisenweaver said in a Facebook posting following the vote. The Layman Online