FAQ Gracious Dismissal Policies after Tom vs. the Presbytery of San Francisco

In 2008, at the direction of the 219th General Assembly, the Stated Clerk of the Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.) sent a resolution to the presbyteries, synods and sessions, “indicating the will of the assembly that presbyteries and synods develop and make available to lower governing bodies and local congregations a process that exercises the responsibility and power ‘to divide, dismiss, or dissolve churches in consultation with their members’ with consistency, pastoral responsibility, accountability, gracious witness, openness, and transparency.”1 Accordingly, Gracious Dismissal Policies may be used by councils to offer clarity and guide their process when discerning whether and how a particular congregation could be dismissed from the PC(USA).

In the recent General Assembly Permanent Judicial Commission (GAPJC) case, Tom v. Pby of San Francisco (PDF), the GAPJC authoritatively interpreted how the Trust Clause found in the Book of Order at G-4.0203 interacts with Gracious Dismissal Policies.2 The GAPJC held that while a presbytery has broad discretionary authority under the Book of Order to determine property rights [within the context of determining the mission of Jesus Christ in the world (G-4.0201) and in its district (G-3.0303a) to dismiss a particular congregation within its geographic region (G-3.0301a)], the presbytery must fulfill its fiduciary duty under the Trust Clause (G-4.0203) to consider the interest of the PC(USA) as a beneficiary of the property.

Authored by the Office of the General Assembly.

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  1. Oh how I agree with Mr. Owen's.

    by Jeff Winter

    August 23, 2015

  2. Mack, Thanks for being with us at Buffalo yesterday (and the other meetings). Someone said that Presbytery will want all of our church minutes when we are dismissed. Will these date back to the time of merger ... 198--- or beyond? Will they be of any use to the Presbytery...or just lie in a warehouse all alone and forgotten? (Our oldest records are already in the hands of Presbytery to be preserved) Thanks!

    by Loretta Calhoun

    June 23, 2014

  3. The issue is not as simple as Drake Owen suggests. In some historical circumstances, congregations have received funds from elsewhere in the denomination to make improvements. Current members did not, for the most part, endow historic churches. Where historic churches have declined in membership, current congregations may have only slender ties of memory, blood or even theological stance to predecessor donor congregations.

    by Jonathan Robert Nelson

    February 6, 2013

  4. The PCUSA has no moral authority to any property of any local congregation in the PCUSA regardless of its stated policies in the book of order. A local congregation builds, invests and maintains its properties without any support from the GA or local Presbytery. Therefore any rule stating that properties belong to the Presbytery and not the local congregation is nullified because it breaks a higher law to which our consciences are bound and that is the commandment that you shall not steal. To take property belonging to another is stealing and no law made by man can override this truth. We believe and confess that the Bible is the infallible Word of God, inspired by the Holy Spirit, and is the final authority in all matters of our faith. As Paul writes in Romans and 1 Timothy, we are not to be conformed to this world but to allow scripture to teach, reprove, correct, and train us in righteousness. Therefore we believe that Scripture alone should bind our conscience and not the dictates of any council or assembly when it contradicts the clear teaching of the Word of God. The Gospel of Jesus Christ should be of first importance (see 1 Cor. 15) in the life of the church and any doctrine that moves us away from this focus is to be rejected, for the Gospel leads us to holy living in thanksgiving for the mercies God has revealed to us in Christ. In recent years the PC(USA) has moved away from this focus and has embraced a pragmatic philosophy that appeals to the prevailing culture instead of informing the culture through the clear teaching of the Word of God. In redefining marriage as between two persons and allowing the ordination of homosexuals to the ministry, the PC(USA) is turning away from the Gospel’s teaching on a life of holiness and disregarding the very confessions on which the Presbyterian Church was built. As the Westminster Shorter Catechism states, “The Scriptures principally teach what man is to believe concerning God, and what duty God requires of man.” That duty is clearly enunciated in Titus, “ For the grace of God has appeared, bringing salvation for all people, training us to renounce ungodliness and worldly passions, and to live self-controlled, upright, and godly lives in the present age, waiting for our blessed hope, the appearing of the glory of our great God and Savior Jesus Christ..” To this we say Amen!

    by Drake Owen

    November 13, 2012