Presbyterians Adopt Separation Plan for Dissidents

A regional Presbyterian body has adopted a new way of avoiding separation conflicts and "doing church together" with congregations that vote to leave the Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.).

Washington Presbytery approved a plan earlier this week that could allow churches that split from the PC(USA) and join another Presbyterian denomination to keep their church property.

The plan, approved Tuesday, requires at least four months of formal discussion between a "pastoral team" appointed by the presbytery and a congregation that proposes disassociating, according to Pittsburgh Post-Gazette. The congregation must propose a mission plan for how it will continue serving its community and make pastoral provision for any members who choose to stay with the PC(USA) – the largest Presbyterian body in the nation.

If at least half of the church's active members attend a meeting at the end of the four-month period and 75 percent of them vote to split, the pastoral team will recommend to the presbytery that the congregation can leave and keep their property.

The newly adopted plan comes as the PC(USA) has suffered continual losses in membership and now claims a little less than 2.3 million. More conservative congregations have voted to seek dismissal from the denomination, which dissidents say is not consistent with written theology in such areas as the singular saving Lordship of Jesus Christ and homosexual ordination.

While some questioned whether the presbytery had a right to devise its own separation plan instead of appointing an administrative commission – denomination's constitutional provision for dealing with such congregations, the Rev. Linda Jaberg, chairman of the presbytery's council, said the plan was an effort to "flesh out a new way of doing church together, to be more pastoral and to listen to each other," according to the Post-Gazette.

Ultimately, it is the presbytery that makes the final decision.

Last month, Kishwaukee Community Presbyterian Church in Stillman Valley, Ill., voted almost unanimously to request dismissal from the PC(USA) and join the smaller, more conservative Evangelical Presbyterian Church (EPC). Pittsburgh Presbytery's largest congregation, Memorial Park Church, also voted to leave and join the EPC, which recently created a New Wineskins Transitional Presbytery to address the growing number of churches seeking membership.