MONTREAT — In a historic meeting April 24, the Presbytery of Western North Carolina voted 185 to 69 to divide the Montreat Presbyterian Church into “those who want to go” and “those who want to stay” in the Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.).
The Montreat church will be divided into two congregations. Those wishing to remain in the denomination will retain the present name. Those wishing to leave will be dismissed as a congregation to the Evangelical Presbyterian Church.
Wading through more than four hours of political quagmire with amended and substitute motions, the entire Revised Recommended Decision before Presbytery was adopted.
Don Scofield, chair of the Committee on Ministry and pastor of the Rutherfordton Church, presented the work of the special task force appointed by Presbytery in January. They met with the church’s Session, the Mountain Retreat Association, the community, and Montreat College and developed a recommended strategy that would “make every effort to maintain the unity of the Spirit in the bond of peace.”
This recommended decision, endorsed by Presbytery’s Coordinating Council and the Committee on Ministry, was presented in two parts, enabling Presbytery to act first on Montreat Church’s request for dismissal, and then to address the issue of property.
Adam Boyd and Linda McCartney, elders of the Montreat Church, along with current Associate Pastor (acting Pastor) Richard White presented arguments on behalf of the Montreat church. Lyle Peterson, former PCUS missionary to Japan and 20-year member of Montreat Church, Sam Hope, former president of Mountain Retreat Association, and Montreat resident Stanley Bennett, former pastor of the Montreat Church, and others spoke concerning the need of a continuing Presbyterian (U.S.A.) Church in Montreat.
Parker Williamson, retired member of the Presbytery, offered a substitute motion “that Presbytery write a letter to the session and members of the Montreat Church, honoring their decision to serve the Lord in the Evangelical Presbyterian Church, and relinquishing all claims both implicit and explicit involving name and property.” After failure to pass, a second substitute was offered that Presbytery not dismiss Montreat Church, thus leaving the way open for future reconciliation. That proposal also failed.
After voting by ballot to divide the Montreat congregation, Presbytery continued its deliberations and approved by a vote of 174 to 35:
Â· to authorize the appointment of an administrative commission with all the powers and responsibilities of a session for the benefit and ministry of the continuing Montreat Church;
Â· to request Montreat Retreat Association to provide space for worship and other activities for the continuing Montreat Church;
Â· to dismiss the newly designated “EPC” congregation without property, to the Evangelical Presbyterian Church, when requested, with the blessings and prayers of the Presbytery for the its faithful and fruitful service to the Lord;
Â· to agree that, if the EPC Congregation (or any of its members) brings a civil lawsuit against the Presbytery, then the dismissal would be null and void, and that the special Task Force for Montreat will immediately become an administrative commission to exercise original jurisdiction over that Congregation, take possession of all real property now “held in trust…”;
Â· to authorize a special Task Force for Montreat to work out a mutually acceptable settlement concerning the property to be recommended to Presbytery in October;
Â· to provide, during the interim, that the building in Montreat known as the Henry Building will be shared by the two congregations.
More than 200 visitors from Montreat and surrounding communities attended this meeting, in addition to Presbytery commissioners. By the end of the day, everyone was weary and many were emotionally moved. Margaret Lauterer, moderator and Burnsville pastor, shared with the Presbytery that moderating this meeting was the hardest thing she has been called upon to do. She then requested that Parker Williamson offer the closing prayer.