GAPJC rules presbyteries must consider property values when churches leave

November 5, 2012


The top Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.) court has ruled that, in considering whether to dismiss a congregation to another denomination, a presbytery must take into account the financial worth of the congregation’s property, which is regarded as held in trust for the benefit of the PC(USA).

That ruling, which cites the property trust clause of the PC(USA) constitution, could have significant implications for other presbyteries with congregations seeking dismissal.

The General Assembly Permanent Judicial Commission, the denomination's highest court, issued the ruling Oct. 28 in a case stemming from the Presbytery of San Francisco’s decision to dismiss Community Presbyterian Church of Danville to the Evangelical Presbyterian Church.

San Francisco Presbytery had adopted a gracious dismissal policy which stated that the trust clause “was not to be used as a weapon to threaten civil action against a congregation over issues of conscience” The commission's ruling says the presbytery's policy interpreted the trust clause in light of a desire for “organic unity as it fulfills `The Great Ends of the Church.’”

San Francisco Presbytery dismissed the Danville church in 2010, and in May 2012 the presbytery issued a quit-claim deed to the church’s property.

The commission ruled that, while it could not reverse the transfer of the property’s title, it would use its “declaratory authority to provide guidance to lower councils and prevent future violations.”

The commission ruled that the presbytery’s handling of the Danville dismissal “failed to duly consider the economic interests of the PC(USA).”

When a congregation seeks dismissal to another denomination, “it is the responsibility of the presbytery to fulfill its fiduciary duty under the Trust Clause,” the commission wrote. “This fiduciary duty requires that the presbytery exercise due diligence regarding the value of the property of the congregation seeking dismissal. Due diligence, of necessity, includes not only an evaluation of the spiritual needs of the congregation and its circumstances but also financial analysis of the value of the property at stake. Payments for per capita or mission obligations are not satisfactory substitutes for the separate evaluation of the value of the property held in trust.”

  1. That ruling completely avoided any mention of Christ or Christian love and brotherhood. It only spoke of money, damnable money, a complete embarrassment to the denomination.

    by James Sayer

    February 28, 2013

  2. In the 1970s the church I grew up in left for the PCA. I wasn't there to vote, as I was in college in another state. But I felt then, and feel now, that those who profess a desire to regain/maintain purity should bear the burden of starting over, without the property which is held in trust for the entire denomination. After all, if they are so offended that they have to leave, why should they want to keep any thing connected with us poor heretics they are leaving behind?

    by james p. shuman

    December 23, 2012

  3. It is a sad day when as one said "The property clause is what has held us together." Rather than the love of God and the desire to hold the scripture as authority. So if people leave the church without the property who win's. The remnant will not be able to support the ministry to the community. With congregations leaving due to a matter of conscious if they have the property they will continue to serve the community to Christ benefit. We shouldn't care what name is on the building but are we serving Christ.

    by M Hurd

    November 20, 2012

  4. I am an elder in a recently divided church. One of the salient issues, as he led half of the active members away, was the pastors' promise that the leavers would soon have the church building. We remain, and we continue to serve Christ, we allow Him to make the judgements, we chose love.

    by Teresa Rohret-Erickson

    November 15, 2012

  5. This ruling will just entrench the sides as the axe splitting the denomination deals its final death blow. It is difficult to imagine how a good ecumenical relationship can be maintained after such a money grab.

    by Dan Kulp

    November 13, 2012

  6. Respectfully I would disagree with Brother Phipps. I believe that our leniency in enforcing our rules regarding the property of a departing congregation will have the opposite effect of what he suggests. I think that making it so easy to leave will encourage more congregations to go than if we enforced the constitutional provisions regarding property ownership. The property clause is what has held us together.

    by C. Nelson Craig

    November 10, 2012

  7. The people who gave to build and maintain these churches over the last 100 years often had no idea about the trust clause nor did the denomination would taken over by sodomites and pantheists. The ruling is just a license for extortion and theft that will be visited most harshly on the poorer churches. May God punish the heretics and brigands who run the PCUSA and commit these offenses against His people.

    by David Mullin

    November 9, 2012

  8. If history teaches us one thing it is that schisms are as old as the bible. Even the New Testament church, that fledgling institution our more conservative brothersand sisters so romanticize, had its factions. Only God and time will tell who ison the "right" side, if either side is. Truth is not relative, but scriture shows us that God often shows us a third way.

    by stephen row

    November 6, 2012

  9. This is a positive activity toward losing an additional million or more members to PC(USA) in the coming years. You should learn why so many have left in the past few years and accept that many more will leave in the coming year. I a m a future previous member of the PC(USA) after 70 years an active member. This action has guarantied it.

    by John J Phipps

    November 5, 2012

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