(Photo: Covenant Presbyterian Church)
A Pennsylvania presbytery of the Presbyterian Church(USA) has filed suit against a departing congregation, saying they did not properly follow the process for dismissal.
Redstone Presbytery brought their suit against Covenant Presbyterian Church of Ligonier on Tuesday to a court in Westmoreland County.
“We have a process for churches seeking to be dismissed,” said Steve Benz, interim executive presbyter of the Presbytery of Redstone.
“They chose to halt the process mid-stream and we are seeking to continue our process.”
Benz explained that this process varies between congregations, but that a “discernment team has freedom to move at a pace that seems appropriate to the situation, and each situation is to be handled independently.”
“We were attempting to meet with the session of the church to decide how we might proceed to speak with the congregation when they withdrew from the process.”
Covenant Presbyterian decided to leave the PC(USA) over the denomination’s recent decision on noncelibate homosexual clergy. In May, the PC(USA) assembly and a majority of the denominations 173 Presbyteries voted to allow homosexuals engaged in same-sex relationships to serve as clergy and church positions.
The vote removed the constitutional requirement for clergy to live “in fidelity within the covenant of marriage between a man and a woman, or chastity in singleness.”
A couple months later, a Presbyterian Church in Wisconsin ordained the PC(USA)’s first openly homosexual minister, Scott Anderson.
In response to the vote, some congregations within PC(USA) have decided to leave and either go to a pre-existing conservative Presbyterian alternative or to form a new movement. In Ohio earlier this year, four churches that were once part of the Miami Valley Presbytery voted overwhelmingly to leave PC(USA).
Churches in Washington, Wisconsin, and California have also voted to cut ties, joining groups like the Evangelical Covenant Church and Evangelical Presbyterian Church. In Florida, a conservative group called The Fellowship of Presbyterians will soon be accepting several congregations into their movement as they prepare for a conference in January.
“We have had two other churches seek dismissal in the past five years,” said Benz, who could not confirm whether or not these dismissals had to do with the denomination’s new clergy policy.
Gradye Parsons, stated clerk for the Office of the General Assembly of the PC(USA), told CP in an earlier interview that the extent of these splits cannot be accurately estimated at present.
“We don't have those numbers yet. We will only have those numbers after presbyteries have reported the dismissals,” said Parsons.
Redstone Presbytery includes the Pennsylvania counties of Westmoreland, Fayette, Somerset and Cambria and has around 80 congregations.
Covenant Presbyterian Church declined to comment on the story for legal reasons.