A Texas presbytery kicked pastors out of three church buildings last week, following the Hispanic congregations’ decision to leave the denomination.
On Friday, Feb. 17, officials with Mission Presbytery ordered the pastors of El Principe de Paz Church in Mercedes, Iglesia Presbyteriana Getsemani in San Benito and Iglesia Presbyteriana San Pablo in Brownsville to immediately vacate church premises.
The presbytery moved quickly after the churches’ pastors and clerks sent the presbytery a letter announcing that all three congregations had voted to be dismissed to the Evangelical Presbyterian Church (EPC) and that the churches’ pastors had renounced jurisdiction in the PCUSA.
Proclaiming their strong opposition to theological shifts within the Presbyterian Church (USA), the trio said the denomination had departed from “Christian Reformed Presbyterian doctrine” and that the presbytery harbored hostility “toward those that hold to the orthodox faith of the church.”
The letter also raised opposition to the presbytery’s latest dismissal policy and what it called the “historic decline of Hispanic ministries in Mission Presbytery.”
The group’s shared statement of theology within the letter states that recent denominational changes “demote the authority of Scripture,” singling out Amendment 10A.
Approved in May 2011, the amendment deleted the explicit “fidelity/chastity” requirement from the PCUSA constitutional ordination standard, and now allows the PCUSA to ordain gays, lesbians, bisexuals and transgender people as deacons, elders and pastors.
On Feb. 13, Mission Stated Clerk Karen Stocks sent notice that, since all three pastors had renounced jurisdiction, they would be forced to leave church property by Feb. 17 – giving the pastors and churches about three days to prepare for the transition.
“The building was held in trust for the PCUSA and we all knew that,” said the Rev. Hector Reynoso of El Principe de Paz. “We had stated repeatedly that we were willing to walk away from it all if presbytery asked. Yet one day we were suddenly and violently asked to leave. The pastors were ordered to leave the buildings immediately,” he added.
Reynoso said that the three congregations, sessions and pastors previously agreed to leave as a united group. “We had agreed to stand as one as a testimony to our faith in Christ,” he said.
But leaving behind their building meant abandoning a century of ministry and memories. El Principe de Paz has met in its building for 45 years and will celebrate its 100th anniversary in November. Getsemani celebrated its centennial in 2011.
“Our congregations are mostly family congregations,” Reynoso said. He added, “The majority of the members are descendants of the founding members. The buildings belong to God. These buildings were provided to our congregations by God Himself. They were home to our people — they were a haven, a sanctuary.”
Compared to an average PCUSA church, the trio of congregations are small. Principe recorded 67 members in 2010 –Getsemani and San Pablo reported 123 and 30, respectively. None of the churches reported annual offerings higher than six figures – ranging from $28,000 to $88,000. The churches mostly minister to Hispanic families in an area already hit hard by economic distress.
Reynoso said that, while the churches remain united and plan to meet in other places, memories of the building are embedded deeply in the church community.
“Every single bench was donated by a family, so was the communion table and the baptistery,” he said. “Every ornament and banner was made by someone in the congregation.”
Nevertheless, Reynoso says the churches would rather be free of the PCUSA without a building.