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First Presbyterian Begins Process for Dismissal from PC(USA) | Denominational Updates from First Presbyterian Church of Dunellen

First Presbyterian Begins Process for Dismissal from PC(USA)

The following letter was mailed to all church members this week. A Spanish translation will follow.

March 5, 2012

Dear Members of First Presbyterian Church of Dunellen,

On February 20, our session voted unanimously to notify the Presbytery of Elizabeth that we wish to begin the process for dismissal from the Presbyterian Church (USA), our current denominational home, and into another Presbyterian denomination.

While this was discussed at length at the February 12th Congregational meeting, we want to communicate thoroughly on this issue, and the session has asked me to answer some of the questions we have heard or anticipate hearing about this important decision.

 Why are we aligning with another denomination and not remaining with the PC(USA)?

We have watched over the course of decades as the PC(USA) has made decisions that distance it from traditional, orthodox Christian beliefs about the Bible, God, salvation, and biblical teaching on sexual purity. Many renewal efforts have been undertaken in hopes of restoring the direction of our denomination, but the momentum of the denomination continues in a direction that is no longer supportive of our core beliefs and values as a congregation. The result is we believe the PC(USA) is no longer a good-fit as a home for us to undertake the ministry we believe God has called us to.

What are some examples of decisions of the PC(USA), that have caused these concerns?

  • · Over the years we have seen the PC(USA) move from teaching the infallibility of and authority of Scripture for all matters of faith and life, to viewing the Bible as a “guide” for ordained ministers.
  • · We have seen the denomination repeatedly affirm the choice of abortion, regardless of circumstances.
  • · We have seen universalism (the belief that everyone will go to Heaven, regardless of their faith in Jesus) take increasingly deeper hold of the PC(USA) and its seminaries.
  • · We have seen the PC(USA) recommend alternative names for the Trinity such as “Mother, Child, and Womb,” and “Rainbow, Dove, and Arc,” for use in worship.
  • · And, this summer, we saw the denomination remove the requirements of “fidelity within the covenant of marriage between a man and a woman, or chastity in singleness,” for pastors, elders, and deacons. This change was made specifically to allow for the ordination of unrepentant, self-avowed, practicing homosexuals, but it also allows churches and presbyteries to ordain leaders involved in a continuing lifestyle of any other kind of sexual sin.

So what effect does all of this have on us?

This affects our church in several important ways, for example:

1) Because the PC(USA) teaches that all ordinations are “an act of the whole church,” each of us are, in effect, active participants whenever an unrepentant person is ordained to leadership in the church. As a matter of conscience, we do not believe we can continue to be participants in what the Bible identifies as sin.

2) The reputation of the PC(USA) is that of a liberal denomination. This reputation has a negative impact on our ability to welcome non-liberal Christian believers to our church. It takes an enormous amount of energy and effort to explain who we are.

3) Several very active families who have left our church to be a part of other churches have indicated their serious concern with denomination as a reason for leaving. We are concerned that staying a part of the PC(USA) would mean losing more families in the future.

In short, we believe that continuing our church’s membership in the PC(USA) hinders our ability to fulfill the mission to which God has called us.

 

Is this just about ordination of practicing homosexuals?

No. The decision of the PC(USA) to ordain unrepentant homosexual leaders represents deeper underlying issues. At the root, we believe the issues are about the nature of the Bible’s inspiration and authority, the nature of the triune God and of human beings created in God’s image, and the nature of salvation by faith in Jesus Christ.

 

What are the steps in the process toward dismissal?

The steps are outlined in a general process for gracious separation approved by the Presbytery of Elizabeth. A summary is presented here:

· The moderator of the Presbytery of Elizabeth will appoint a “Resolution Team” to work with our church.

  • · The Resolution Team will meet with the session, the Denominational Relations Team, and the congregation to determine whether our differences with the PC(USA) can be resolved.
  • · The Resolution Team will call for a meeting of the congregation to request dismissal from the PC(USA).
  • · The Resolution Team will negotiate terms of dismissal with the session.
  • · The Presbytery of Elizabeth will vote on whether to approve the congregation’s request, and the terms negotiated with the Resolution Team.
  • · The congregation and pastors will be dismissed into another denomination.

 

 If we leave the PC(USA) will we still be Presbyterian?

Yes. The Presbytery of Elizabeth can only dismiss us to another reformed (in other words, Presbyterian) denomination.

 

What will our church’s name be after we leave?

We know that discussion of changing our church’s name is a controversial issue about which some people have strong feelings. We are not planning to take an action about the church’s name until our denominational relationships are settled.

 

What denomination will we join, and how will it be different from the PC(USA)?

The session is prayerfully studying our options for our future denominational home, and we will let everyone know as soon as a decision is made. We believe that a solid, viable option exists and one will be identified before the congregation votes on this issue.

You can be certain that we will be joining a denomination that has clear, orthodox, biblical beliefs and standards for leadership; upholds the role of women in ministry; upholds the sanctity of life from conception until natural death; sees the denomination’s role as supporting the work of congregations; and is driven by a passionate desire to lead people to saving faith in Jesus Christ.

 

How long will all of this take?

According to the Presbytery of Elizabeth’s policy for congregations that wish to be dismissed from the PC(USA), the process will take a minimum of three months. Although hundreds of congregations around the country have already left the PC(USA), we will be the first in this presbytery to do so, so it’s likely that the process will take until at least the end of summer, and could take even longer than that. We intend to act graciously, in good faith and with complete transparency in our conversations and negotiations with the presbytery, and fully expect that the presbytery and its Resolution Team will do the same.

 

What will happen with our property?

We are asking that the Presbytery of Elizabeth dismiss us with all of our property and finances, and it is within the power of the presbytery to do so. According to the PC(USA), all church property is held “in trust” for the denomination, and when a church is dissolved, divided, or dismissed, the distribution of the property is entirely in the hands of the presbytery. While we do not believe that the trust clause in the PC(USA) Book of Order is legally binding upon our congregation or corporation, as indicated in the Presbytery’ dismissal process we agree that “appeals to civil courts should be the avenue of absolute last resort.” Further, we believe that we can come to a fair negotiated agreement with the presbytery regarding any terms for dismissal with our property.

 

How much will this cost the church?

According to the presbytery’s policy, any church requesting dismissal will be required to pay all back per-capita payments. There are no other financial obligations required by the policy, though it is indicated that “the church and presbytery may negotiate other financial considerations to be paid to the presbytery.”

 

What is our relationship like with our Presbytery?

Despite the fact that we have deep theological disagreements with the PC(USA), we have worked hard to maintain gracious and cordial relationships within our presbytery. Pastor Jeff has served in leadership positions for many years, such as chairing the Committee for Preparation for Ministry and most recently, chairing the Council (now known as the Cabinet). He has maintained congenial relationships and has been respected as a competent and fair leader. Likewise, despite our differences, the Presbytery of Elizabeth has always treated our church graciously and with respect. We are prayerfully optimistic that these long and friendly relationships will undergird all of our discussions with the presbytery team.

 

What will happen to our pastors?

One of the important provisions of the presbytery’s dismissal policy is that “The presbytery will not seek removal of church officers solely because they are advocating for dismissal.” This protects not only our pastors, but our session as we pursue this process with the presbytery. Upon our dismissal, we fully expect that our pastors will transfer their ordination to whatever new denomination we choose.

Due to the obvious conflict of interest, Pastor Wildrick has resigned as chair of the Presbytery Cabinet.

 

What effect will this have on our church’s ongoing ministry?

We can’t pretend that this process is going to be easy for our church or for the presbytery. It is bound to take up a certain amount of the pastors’ and session’s time and energy. Nevertheless, the session and pastors all agree that this process should not become the primary focus of our church’s life.

The Denominational Relations Team, appointed by the session, will be responsible for the bulk of the work along the way, freeing the pastors and session to maintain focus on our vision of being “a multicultural family, growing in faith, connecting people with Christ.”

 

What if the church changes denominations, but I want to stay in the PC(USA)?

We understand that if some of our members wish to retain their affiliation with the Presbyterian Church (USA) this may be a difficult time. We will work with the presbytery to help them find membership in a PC(USA) congregation.

 

How can I keep up to date with what is happening in this process?

If you have an internet connection, the easiest way to keep up with what is happening is to visit and subscribe to http://updates.dunellenpres.org. Subscribers will receive an email notification on days when new information is posted to the website, and we will make every effort to keep the site up to date with everything that is happening in the dismissal process. You are also invited to post your own comments on the site. Important information will be communicated through other channels as well so that everyone can stay informed.


 

How can I pray during this process?

We agree with the Presbytery of Elizabeth’s policy that “all parties shall regularly and frequently pray with and for each other in this process.” Please pray for the Resolution Team that will be appointed by the presbytery, our session, our pastors, and the Denominational Relations Team, that we might have wisdom, and demonstrate the love and grace of Jesus Christ in all of our deliberations, conversations, and negotiations with one another. Pray for our church, that we will be able to “keep the main thing the main thing” in our ministry this year as we seek to be faithful and make disciples of Jesus Christ. And pray for our Presbytery as well, that God would be at work there in powerful and positive ways.

Please feel free to contact me or any member of session if you have questions or comments.

 

For the Session,

Jeffrey H. Wildrick, Pastor

 

 

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