(Photo: University of Pittsburgh)
A Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.) regional body is looking into creating a formal dismissal policy for congregations seeking to leave the denomination.
Pittsburgh Presbytery began hammering out a policy on Tuesday at the request of four churches, with the presbytery's executive committee working on a first draft.
Sheldon Sorge, pastor to Pittsburgh Presbytery, told The Christian Post that at present the regional body does not have a specific policy regarding dismissals.
"Our denominational 'Book of Order' provides very general guidelines for dismissal, but we believe it will be helpful for us to flesh out how we in Pittsburgh will proceed when a congregation indicates a desire to explore dismissal," said Sorge.
"This policy changes nothing; it merely defines from the outset the process that we would otherwise have to invent as we move through it."
According to Sorge, the focus of the Tuesday meeting with the executive committee for the Pittsburgh Presbytery was a "first reading" of the proposed policy.
"As a 'first reading,' the meeting was a forum for questions and comments," said Sorge.
"Informed by that conversation, the body will vote on the policy – with opportunity for making amendments or substitutes – at our 'second reading,' which will take place during our regular presbytery meeting on September 15."
The proposed policy would allow departing congregations to keep their property so long as they engage in an "open discernment" process and reach a settlement with the presbytery.
As part of the discernment process, which would go on for several months, both parties agree to avoid court litigation. During the discernment time period, the congregation of the church considering dismissal holds a vote. If a simple majority votes in favor of dismissal, then the church can leave.
According to local media, the request to formalize a dismissal policy for Pittsburgh Presbytery came from four churches presently under the regional body: Mt. Lebanon United Presbyterian Church, Lebanon Presbyterian Church in West Mifflin, Bellefield Presbyterian Church in Oakland, and Round Hill Presbyterian Church in Elizabeth Borough.
Harry Kunze, an elder at Bellefield Presbyterian Church, told The Christian Post that his congregation was intending to leave the presbytery over theological differences.
"As a theologically conservative congregation we are considering dismissal over significant differences in our view of biblical authority and interpretation," said Kunze.
Kunze explained that he was glad that the presbytery was working toward creating an official policy for churches seeking dismissal.
"First and foremost, we like the fact that we're working towards establishing a policy," said Kunze. "We also like that the executive committee of our presbytery worked with representatives of the four churches that requested a dismissal procedure as they developed the current proposed policy."
In 2007, Pittsburgh Presbytery had three congregations leave their denomination to join the conservative Evangelical Presbyterian Church.
According to the conservative group the Presbyterian Lay Committee, in the past 10 years 195 conservative Presbyterian congregations have left the PC(USA) over theological differences with the leadership and as many as 600 more are presently undergoing the steps for dismissal.