The internet is buzzing with the departure of Menlo Park Presbyterian Church from the PC(USA) at a cost of some $9 million. I’m not going to opine on this or any other pending dismissal from the PC(USA). Congregations have to follow their collective consciences through the established discernment process of presbytery.
In the midst of the current realignment of American presbyterianism I think it’s important to recognize some common sense realities of our situation:
- Departures are going to happen–nothing will stop them. If anything, they’re likely to increase. Our polity (winner take all) forces churches to leave or compromise essential beliefs.
- Departures need not be cataclysmic either to a congregation or to a presbytery. The Trust Clause–which has something of a sketchy history–should be used sparingly. Every time someone claims that it is at the core of our “life together,” we should roll our eyes. Truth is, it isn’t. And anytime someone claims that the trust clause guards the resources given to the PC(USA) by generations past, we should remind them that there are other resources (the deposit of the faith) that have been stewarded by prior generations, that we are less to guard.
- As churches depart it is important to recognize that the congregation is the principle unit of ministry–presbyteries exist to provide oversight for churches and ministers. Churches don’t exist to bring presbyteries into being.
At the end of the day, allowing churches to depart the PC(USA) without punitive settlements (but with fair, reasonable, and just ones) has to be the best way forward. Generous provision ought also to be made for evangelical PC(USA) churches to affiliate with the Fellowship of Presbyterians without negative consequences. The Fellowship of Presbyterians is probably the single thing most likely to cause evangelical churches to remain in the PC(USA) rather than seeking dismissal.