Tadashi Agari, an elder commissioner in the presbytery, wrote in an email to The Layman that the sessions for each of the six churches cited no issues with the presbytery or Synod of the Pacific, and often expressed appreciation for the presbytery’s policies, ministries and fellowship. The frustration came from the GA and changes to the Book of Order as well as Biblical concerns and judicial actions that had a negative impact on authority of Scripture and confessions.
Six congregations in the heart of California will be part of a new denomination in less than two months after being dismissed to join ECO: A Covenant Order of Evangelical Presbyterians during a special meeting of the Presbytery of Stockton that took place on Aug. 24.
Central Presbyterian Church (Merced), Delhi Community Presbyterian Church (Delhi), Escalon Presbyterian Church (Escalon), Lincoln Presbyterian Church (Stockton), Orestimba Presbyterian Church (Newman) and Trinity United Presbyterian Church (Modesto) all were dismissed from the Presbyterian Church (USA) after following the presbytery’s gracious dismissal policy.
According to that policy, approved by the presbytery in February 2012, the effective date of dismissals is 60 days after the vote, meaning all six churches – accounting for 45 percent of Stockton’s current membership – will be part of ECO Oct. 24.
Julia Leeth, executive presbyter for the Presbytery of Stockton, indicated that the churches sought departure for ECO because of issues with the PCUSA.
“They like the presbytery but not the trajectory of the national denomination,” Leeth said in reference to the growing trend among those seeking to leave the PCUSA. “It’s going to be a very different presbytery when those churches are dismissed (after 60 days), but it will provide opportunities for leaders of churches to step up and fill positions of leadership in the presbytery.”
Stated Clerk Keith Drury indicated in an email to The Layman that the Presbytery of Stockton sent five overtures to the General Assembly (GA) in 2012 that had been approved by a vast majority of local commissioners. Some referenced a change in terminology regarding the Lordship of Christ and the authority of Scripture within the Book of Order, while others sought latitude within the presbyteries to allow continued ministry among those congregations desiring to remain in the PCUSA and those whose disaffection would no longer allow them to follow that course. All five overtures were rejected by the GA.
“Each of our six departing congregations has affirmed its affection and high regard for the Presbytery of Stockton and the remaining churches, and pledged continuing efforts to find commonality in ministry to the communities of California’s Central Valley,” Drury wrote. “All of us view the events of this past week with great sadness.”
With the loss of the six churches, Presbytery of Stockton will have just 15 congregations remaining to minister in California’s Central Valley, and its membership plummets to 2,065. Only 28 combined members of the six churches indicated they would transfer their membership to another congregation within the presbytery to remain part of the PCUSA.
In a recent blog about the state of the presbytery, Leeth pointed out that a number of leadership positions in the presbytery were filled by members of the six departing churches. The gracious separation policy requires that those ruling and teaching elders from departing congregations who hold positions of leadership resign their posts at the time of the dismissal vote, something Leeth said happened at the Aug. 24 gathering. Treasurer Ken Robbins and Drury are among those from the departing churches holding leadership positions, and they will be resigning by the time their congregations are dismissed.