Texas Megachurch to Pay PC(USA) $1.525 Million to Leave Denomination

First Presbyterian Church of San Antonio, Texas.
First Presbyterian Church of San Antonio, Texas. | (Photo: FPC San Antonio)

A Texas megachurch that recently voted to leave Presbyterian Church (USA) over theological differences agreed to pay its former regional body approximately $1.5 million to maintain control of its church property.

First Presbyterian Church of San Antonio announced Sunday that it reached a settlement with Mission Presbytery over retaining ownership of its name and property.

"Under the terms of the settlement, FPC will provide $1,525,000 to the denomination. Mission Presbytery will contribute $125,000 of this amount to the John Knox Ranch Summer Camp," read the announcement.

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"The contribution to the camp provides one quarter of the $1 million being raised for the hall's reconstruction. Anyone interested in helping can visit"

The office building for Presbyterian Church (USA) Mission Presbytery, located in San Antonio, Texas.
The office building for Presbyterian Church (USA) Mission Presbytery, located in San Antonio, Texas. | (Photo: Ruben P. Armendariz/Mission Presbytery Associate Presbyter)

In an interview with The Christian Post, FPC San Antonio spokesman Hank Cherry explained that the settlement was viewed by the church as preferable to a lengthy legal battle with the presbytery over property rights.

"We believe it was in the church's best interest to resolve an issue that has been hanging over this church for over 30 years, which is whether or not FPC owns its property free and clear of any claim by the PCUSA," said Cherry.

"While we believe we had a good legal position, the time to get a court resolution, the cost of the litigation, the uncertainty to the congregation, and the cost to the church in time and distraction from its real mission, all warranted in favor of a resolution of the dispute."

Last November, FPC San Antonio voted overwhelmingly to leave PCUSA and join the Evangelical Covenant Order of Presbyterians, a smaller, more conservative reformed body.

In a letter sent out last October, FPC Clerk of Session N. A. Stuart, III, MD argued that "our denomination is not what it once was, and it has wandered from its biblical and confessional moorings."

"Ultimately, after years of prayer, discussion, and input from our members, on Oct. 12, 2015, the Session of FPC voted to recommend to the congregation that we leave the PC(USA) and join the ECO: A Covenant Order of Evangelical Presbyterians — a rapidly growing Reformed Presbyterian denomination," wrote Stuart.

"In contrast to the theological concerns and membership declines within the PC(USA), we find ECO to be a vibrant, growing Presbyterian denomination which shares this church's historical vision for teaching, evangelism and mission."

However, there were certain procedural issues with the congregational vote that made the regional body declare it invalid, according to Mission Presbytery Interim Stated Clerk William C. Poe.

"I communicated with the Session, or local council, of the church on more than one occasion prior to the day of the vote to inform the church's officers of this constitutional difficulty, but they chose to continue with the meeting anyway," explained Poe to CP last November.

"Presbyterian Ruling Elders and Teaching Elders take vows at their ordination to 'be governed by our church's polity,' and to 'abide by its discipline.' That was not done in this case."

Another point of contention centered on PC(USA)'s "trust clause," which is found in the PCUSA Book of Order G-4.0203 and states that "All property held by or for a particular church … is held in trust nevertheless for the use and benefit of the Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.)."

The provision notes that this property includes not only for "a particular church" but also "a presbytery, a synod, the General Assembly, or the Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.)."

The trust clause is connected to the dismissal process and involves a departing congregation paying a certain sum to its former presbytery to keep their property.

When asked by CP about how the two parties came to the amount of $1.525 million, Cherry of FPC San Antonio explained that the amount "was simply the result of negotiation, and was not tied to any kind of formula or policy."

"Furthermore, we wanted to have some of the settlement going to a mission project that both the church and presbytery had historically supported," added Cherry.

"With the loss of the dining hall in the 2015 Memorial Day floods, we all thought John Knox Ranch Camp was a good choice."

The date for the settlement payment is on or before March 21. Once paid, FPC San Antonio and Mission presbytery will issue a joint statement.

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