Breakaway Presbyterian Megachurch to Pay Former Presbytery $7.8 Million in Settlement

(Photo: Brian Braun)The Highland Park Presbyterian Church of Dallas, Texas.

A Texas megachurch that broke away from the largest Presbyterian congregation in the United States will have to pay $7.8 million in order to secure its property.

Highland Park Presbyterian Church of Dallas, which recently voted to leave Presbyterian Church (USA) due to the denomination's liberal theology, agreed to a settlement with its former regional body.

The PCUSA Presbytery of Grace and Highland Park reached the settlement comes the month before oral arguments were to be heard in a lawsuit Highland Park leveled to not pay for the church property.

Zach House, communications director for Highland Park, told The Christian Post that the leadership of the church, or Session, approved the settlement on Monday.

"At that time Grace Presbytery had already approved their end of the settlement, so when HPPC voted to approve the settlement it was binding," said House.

"The primary reason was that after a lengthy process of discerning God's direction on these issues, the session felt that settling was wise and was what our church was being called to do at this time."

House also told CP about how they came to reach the $7.8 million, which was based off of the total fair market value of the church property divided by the percentage of those who voted to remain with PCUSA.

"The funds for the settlement must be paid to Grace Presbytery by Nov. 3, 2014. Our session leadership is highly confident that we will be able to raise the necessary funds," said House.

"The session of HPPC is committed to raising these funds in such a way as to not impact our missions, ministry, or staff."

(Photo: Courtesy of HPPC)Members of Highland Park Presbyterian Church of Dallas, Texas voting to dismiss from Presbyterian Church (USA) on Sunday, Oct 27, 2013.

In September 2013, Highland Park filed a lawsuit in Dallas County District Court to secure their church property should they decide to leave PCUSA.

"HPPC was first organized in 1926 and first incorporated on January 31, 1928 … members of the local church corporation are all those who are on the active rolls of the local congregation," read the suit.

"At no time in its history have the articles of incorporation for Highland Park Presbyterian Church contained any provision creating or establishing any trust…in favor of a national denomination upon the property held by or for the local church or its civil corporation."

At issue was PCUSA's "trust clause", which stipulates that all church property is held in trust for the benefit and use of PCUSA.

The court granted Highland Park a temporary restraining order regarding ownership of the congregation's church property.

Last October, Judge Jane Boyle of Dallas ruled that the lawsuit would be tried in state rather than federal court, a decision that had the blessing of both sides.

While the legal process over the lawsuit continued, Highland Park Presbyterian underwent the process of discernment for terminating their affiliation with PCUSA.

In October 2013, the congregation voted overwhelmingly to end their affiliation with PCUSA and join the smaller, more conservative Evangelical Covenant Order of Presbyterians.

In March, Highland Park and Grace underwent talks to reach out of court settlement, but at the time they failed to reach agreement.

Regarding the recent successful talks, the Reverend Janet DeVries, general presbyter for Grace, said in a statement that she was thankful for the settlement.

"We give thanks to God for this moment and trust that this settlement serves as a witness across the PC(USA) that the trust clause is an integral part of our constitution and will be taken seriously by Grace Presbytery," said DeVries.

"We are pleased to have been able to mediate this situation and avoid a court trial. We are grateful for the strong support of Grace Presbytery in this cause and colleagues across the larger church as well."