Members of a regional affiliate of the Presbyterian Church (USA) voted Monday to dismiss an Edmond church from the denomination, but not without discussion about the monetary terms of the severance.
Representatives of the 53 churches in the Indian Nations Presbytery voted 63-4 to release First Presbyterian Church of Edmond to the Evangelical Covenant Order, another Presbyterian denomination.
The vote was taken during a special presbytery meeting Monday afternoon in a chapel at First Presbyterian Church of Oklahoma City, 1001 NW 25.
The Indian Nations Presbytery office is located on the First Presbyterian complex.
First Presbyterian Church of Edmond members voted Sunday to request dismissal from the denomination, with leaders citing differences over theology as reasons for their appeal to depart.
The congregation agreed to pay the presbytery $510,000, due in about three weeks.
Before Monday's vote, one presbytery member said he was concerned that the presbytery had not shared how they arrived at the dollar amount required of the Edmond church.
Jim Davis said he felt uncomfortable putting a “rubber stamp” on something that he was unsure about. He also said he thought it unfair that the church did not have equal negotiating power with the presbytery, and he was against the presbytery requiring the church to pay anything.
Some church leaders noted in previous interviews that the local congregation had paid for the church property originally.
“It troubles me that a church wishes to leave and we are put in a position that we have to say to them ‘you have to buy your way out,'” Davis said.
Tom Laubert, chairman of a group of people charged with overseeing the negotiations with First Presbyterian Church of Edmond, said his group reached out to other presbyteries across the nation who had dealt with similar situations.
He said other presbyteries viewed the payment required of churches leaving the denomination as a type of tithe.
A tithe is generally considered to be one-tenth of a person or group's income made to a religious body.
Laubert said the negotiating team agreed that the church's market value would be about $5 million. Consequently, the amount required of the congregation was about one-tenth of this amount.
Another member of the negotiating team said negotiations started at $1.2 million and the lesser amount required of the church came through a consensus that included church members on the team.
When asked, Andy Fugitt, one of those church members on the negotiating team, said the church probably would have given about $328,000 to the presbytery on its own, based on the church's annual contributions to the denomination.
Monday, Aaron A. Carland, leader of the Indian Nations Presbytery, said the presbytery had the right to retain First Presbyterian Church of Edmond's church building and property because of a property trust clause in the denomination's constitution — but chose not to.
He said the trust clause is not about “exacting a pound of flesh” from the church but is an expression of the denomination's belief that all denominational congregations are interrelated and unified.
Carland, 66, said he does not think First Presbyterian of Edmond's departure will start a trend of other Presbyterian churches within the presbytery attempting to withdraw from the denomination.
He said leaders of the Edmond church had been unhappy with “a whole host of decisions” made by the denomination for more than a decade.
He said he discussed the matter last year with several members of the Edmond church and agreed with them that a change was in order.
“I said ‘I think it's time. You have been giving a lot of attention to ecclesiastical political battles and that saps the life out of you,'” Carland said. “I feel very strongly that the time had come, and I wish the congregation well.”
Meanwhile, First Presbyterian Church of Edmond is one of several Presbyterian churches across the nation requesting departure from the Presbyterian Church (USA) in the last two years.
According to published reports, in March 2012, almost 90 percent of the membership of First Presbyterian Church of Colorado Springs voted for “gracious dismissal” from the Presbyterian Church (USA).
Church leaders said they wanted to distance themselves from the denomination because of Scripture disagreements. Like First Presbyterian of Edmond, the church voted to align with the Evangelical Covenant Order.
The Colorado Springs church also agreed to make a payment to its presbytery, the Pueblo Presbytery, of between $650,000 and $700,000, based on church membership for five years.
A majority of members of First Presbyterian Church of Enid voted to sever ties with the denomination in October 2011.
Church members who voted to part ways with the denomination left and formed a new church called Westminster Presbyterian, which meets in the Enid Seventh-day Adventists building.
In October 2011, Parkway Presbyterian Church in Cumming, Ga., completed the process to gain dismissal from the Presbyterian Church (USA) to join the Evangelical Presbyterian Church denomination.
Leaders at both the Colorado Springs and Georgia church cited the denomination's decision to allow presbyteries to ordain gay people as clergy as among the reasons for their departure and leaders at First Presbyterian Church of Edmond also listed the gay clergy ordination issue as one of the reasons the congregation sought to withdraw from the main church body.