Frequently Asked Questions on the Discernment Process
This FAQ focuses on the details of the Discernment Process governed by the New Covenant Presbytery Gracious Reconciliation and Dismissal Procedure (referred to as the Procedure) which can be found here: www.gpch.org/believingandbuildingpresbyteryprocedure.
Frequently Asked Questions (click on a question):
- What is the Discernment Process?
- How did we enter this Process?
- Can you describe the Procedure more detail?
- What are the different possible outcomes of the Discernment Process?
- If Grace votes for dismissal from PCUSA, are there any payments due to the Presbytery of New Covenant?
- What is happening that might cause us to consider leaving the PCUSA for another denomination?
- Is there a timetable for the Discernment Procedure?
- What are the different discernment events?
- If Grace were to vote to request dismissal to another denomination, what denominations would be considered and who would decide?
- How is the Discernment Process at Grace managed?
- How do I learn more?
- What if I have other questions or comments on the Discernment Process?
- What else can I do during this season of discernment?
Other questions? Email the Discernment Serve Team at firstname.lastname@example.org.
What is the Discernment Process?
Discernment is the process under which we seek wisdom whether to leave or stay in the PCUSA. This process was adopted by the Presbytery of New Covenant to allow an individual congregation to evaluate their connection with the PCUSA in a structured and Christ-honoring way. The core purpose of this process for us is to seek an answer to this question:
Is God leading Grace to remain connected with the PCUSA, or is He leading Grace to seek dismissal from the PCUSA to another reformed denomination?
How did we enter this Process?
On October 20, 2013 a meeting of the congregation of Grace was held to discuss and consider a motion from the Grace Session to enter the Discernment Process of Presbytery of New Covenant Gracious Reconciliation and Dismissal Procedure. There were approximately 600 members in attendance at the meeting, and the motion to enter the Discernment Process carried with 552 votes for and 64 votes against.
Can you describe the Procedure more detail?
As a result of the Grace congregation’s vote to enter the Procedure, Grace’s Session and Presbytery of New Covenant entered into a joint Covenant Agreement pursuant to which each party committed to follow the process outlined in the Procedure. As part of the process, a Discernment Team was formed composed of four Grace members designated by the Grace Session and four people designated by Presbytery of New Covenant. These eight people then selected a neutral facilitator for the Team.
The Discernment Team will conduct a series of discernment events to allow the congregation to review common ground and differences in foundational theological matter, approach to mission and ministry of the church, and practical matters such as property and finances. The Discernment Team will collect and respond to congregational input and will pray for and seek God’s guidance on this matter.
At the completion of these events, the Discernment Team will prepare a report with recommendations and present it to the Congregation at a “town hall” meeting. The Session can receive the report and either decide to take no action or the Session can call a congregational meeting to vote on a motion to request dismissal from the PCUSA to another reformed denomination such as the Evangelical Presbyterian Church (EPC) or A Covenant Order of Evangelical Presbyterians (ECO).
If a Congregational meeting is called to consider dismissal from the PCUSA, then a quorum of 30% of the Active Members is required and two-thirds of those voting must vote in favor of dismissal to a specified Reformed body. If two-thirds of those voting approve the motion requesting dismissal, the Presbytery of New Covenant would then approve the dismissal contingent on the completion of the remaining steps outlined in the Procedure.
If the Session decides to not place a resolution requesting dismissal to another Reformed body before the Grace congregation or if the congregation does not approve such a motion, Grace will remain in the PCUSA, then the Presbytery and Grace will enter into a reconciliation process to help assure unity
between Grace and the Presbytery and among the Grace congregation.
What are the different possible outcomes of the Discernment Process?
At the conclusion of the Discernment Process, the Session will receive the report of the Discernment Team and review it. Then one of three things will happen:
- The Session can receive the report and decide to take no action. The church then remains in the PCUSA, and the parties would begin the reconciliation steps set forth in the Procedure.
- The Session can call a congregational meeting to vote on a motion to request dismissal from the PCUSA to another reformed denomination. If the motion fails to attain the required two-thirds vote of the active members present and voting Grace remains in the PCUSA, and the reconciliation steps set forth in the Procedure begin.
- The Session can call a congregational meeting, and with the required 30% quorum present, the motion receives affirmative votes from at least two-thirds of those active members present and voting. The Presbytery of New Covenant would then approve dismissal of Grace to the reformed body identified in the motion contingent on the completion of the remaining steps outlined in the Procedure. This includes fulfillment of all financial covenants between Grace and New Covenant Presbytery.
If Grace votes for dismissal from PCUSA, are there any payments due to the Presbytery of New Covenant?
If Grace is dismissed to another Reformed body, we will be required to make the following annual contributions to support the operations of Presbytery of New Covenant (numbers are estimates):
Year 1 – $90,000, Year 2 – $72,000, Year 3 – $54,000, Year 4 – $36,000, Year 5 – $18,000
In addition, if at least 10% of the members voting that day vote to remain in the PCUSA, and 25 or more members sign a letter expressing interest in forming a new PCUSA congregation, then there may be a required payment to help start the new congregation.
What is happening that might cause us to consider leaving the PCUSA for another denomination?
Some members of our congregation believe that the PCUSA has drifted from its historical and theological roots as expressed in the Confessions of our church. They are concerned that the mission and ministry of Grace may be adversely affected either now or in the future. Other members disagree. There are strong feelings and opinions on all sides. The discernment events that have been incorporated into Grace’s discernment process are designed to allow the issues that underlie all of
these concerns to be analyzed, discussed and considered in a civil, Christ-honoring way.
Is there a timetable for the Discernment Procedure?
The Discernment Process began with the October 20, 2013 congregational vote. Under the Procedure, the Discernment Process cannot be shorter than six months and no longer than two years. The first discernment event is scheduled for January 26, and the final event is scheduled for March 30. The current expected schedule, which is subject to change, is located here: www.gpch.org/believingandbuildingevents.
After the completion of the discernment events, the Discernment Team will give the Grace Session its report (currently expected to be in mid-April, but subject to change). The Session will meet to consider the report and decide whether to call a congregational meeting to vote on the question. If a congregational meeting is called, it would most likely come in the early part of the summer of 2014.
What are the different discernment events?
Two major types of events have been planned for the Discernment Process: Learning Journeys and Café Dialogs.
In the Learning Journeys, members of the church have the opportunity to hear knowledgeable individuals, representing both sides of the ultimate issue, make presentations on the issues under the themes of Biblical Authority, Christology, Mission & Ministry, Property, Financials & Practical Matters, and Denominational Characteristics. Following the presentations, there will be time for questions from the audience and answers by the speakers.
Café Dialogs provide church members an opportunity to connect with each other and build mutual understanding by sharing their insights, learnings and concerns that have emerged as a result of their participation in the discernment process. Each Café Dialog consists of three or four twenty-minute rounds of conversation for small groups of four to six people. Each round is prefaced with an open-ended question designed to give participants an opportunity to share honestly and with respect their insights, concerns, impressions, feelings, etc. as called for by the question. At the end of each twenty-minute round, each member of the group moves to a different table to sit with new people they did not sit with last time.
All five Learning Journeys and three Café Dialogs will be held in Massey-Tucker Fellowship Hall and will include a community meal (cost $7 per person) and a worship service. No RSVP necessary for the meal. Also, childcare will be provided at all events by contacting Debbie Kay at 713-267-5084 or email@example.com at least two business days in advance.
If Grace were to vote to request dismissal to another denomination, what denominations would be considered and who would decide?
Our Book of Order provides that a church can only be dismissed to “another reformed body.” To date, our Presbytery has dismissed churches primarily to the Covenant Order of Evangelical Presbyterians (ECO) and the Evangelical Presbyterian Church (EPC). The decision as to which reformed body to include in any dismissal motion to be considered by the congregation is the responsibility of the Grace Session. The name of the specific reformed body must be included in the motion, so the Session must make its decision prior to presenting the required 30-day notice of the meeting.
How is the Discernment Process at Grace managed?
The Discernment Team is responsible for the overall governance of the Discernment Process ensuring that the process follows the Procedure and is fair and balanced. The Discernment Team is also responsible for the preparation and presentation of its report to the Grace congregation and Session.
The Discernment Team is composed of four representatives of Grace including one active elder, one staff member and two at-large members, as well as four representatives from the Presbytery of New Covenant including two teaching elders and two ruling elders. The eight team members in turn have chosen a neutral facilitator. Profiles of the Discernment Team Members can be found here: www.gpch.org/discernmentteambios. The members of the discernment team are:
- Rev. Cassandra Dahnke – Woodforest Presbyterian Church – Discernment Team Facilitator
- James Allison – Pines Presbyterian Church
- Deb Castillo – Grace Presbyterian Church
- Paul Craig – Grace Presbyterian Church
- Rev. John Hirling – Westminster Presbyterian Church
- Rev. Dr. Kristin Huffman – Memorial Drive Presbyterian Church
- Hardie Morgan – Grace Presbyterian Church
- Edie Purgason – Grace Presbyterian Church
- Janet Rainey – New Hope Presbyterian Church
The implementation of the Discernment Process is the responsibility of the Grace Discernment Serve Team. The Serve Team consists of four work groups:
- Prayer and Worship
- Issues Analysis
Each work group is led by a lay leader and assisted by one or more staff resources. The overall operation of the Serve Team is governed by a Steering Group composed of the four working group lay leaders and the four Grace members of the Discernment Team. The following chart illustrates the organization:
How do I learn more?
First, please participate in the discernment Learning Journeys and Café Dialogs. Additionally, the Discernment Serve Team will have information available on Sundays in the Narthex brochure rack which will be stocked with information on the Grace Discernment Process. Also, Discernment Serve Team members will be at the Welcome Center to answer questions you may have.
What if I have other questions or comments on the Discernment Process?
Contact the Discernment Serve Team Steering Group with your questions about events, the process or any communications at firstname.lastname@example.org. The Discernment Serve Team will be in the Church Library on Sunday where you can ask questions or obtain resource materials.
If you have concerns about the fairness of the process or any other matter related to the Discernment Process, please free to contact the Discernment Team at email@example.com.
What else can I do during this season of discernment?
First, we ask you to Pray. If we are to truly discern God’s plan for Grace, this process needs to be surrounded with prayer. Pray for Grace and for Christ’s mission and ministry in and through this church. Pray for an open heart and an open mind to receive the spiritual gift of discernment.
Next, we need you to Connect with your fellow Grace members. Model an environment of civility, listening and engaging others in dialog. Continue to support Grace’s mission and ministry with your time, talents and treasure. And of course, continue to worship with your fellow members on Sundays.
We need you to Learn. Attend the Café Dialogs and Learning Journeys. Study the materials on the issues that will be made available in the discernment events and on the website. You may email the Discernment Serve Team with your questions or stop by their table on Sunday mornings.
Finally, we need you to Reflect. Reflect on what you have heard and read. Try to loosen your own grip on certainty enough to consider another point of view. Try to listen for the often quiet voice of God as we move through this process.
Questions? Email the Discernment Serve Team at firstname.lastname@example.org.