Let’s Be A Thousand Voices Strong

Letter to Congregation on Wednesday, September 24, 2014:

Dear Friends,

We are so grateful to each of you who were present for the historic vote this past Sunday, as well as for those who could not join us but were in prayer on behalf of the church.  It was indeed a historic day in the life of First Presbyterian Church!  A total of 905 members were present and cast ballots, fulfilling the super-quorum requirement of the presbytery’s policy, with 97% voting in favor of the dismissal terms.  This monumental occasion concludes the actions our church must take in order to be dismissed from Salem Presbytery and the PCUSA, allowing us to join the Covenant Order of Evangelical Presbyterians (ECO).  The final step will take place on November 8th when Salem Presbytery will vote on these same terms of dismissal.  You might recall that the terms were previously approved by the negotiation team and Council of Salem Presbytery.  Please remain in prayer for our church and for Salem Presbytery leading up to this important date.

The denominational discernment process has been a long one, dating back to 2011.  We are both humbled by and grateful for the manner in which members of this congregation have engaged in this challenging journey.  Along the way, members have spent countless hours “getting out the vote”, opening their homes for Desert & Discernment meetings, making care packages for returning college students, transporting loved ones, rearranging travel plans and above all else, praying over this process and all concerned with it.  While most of us celebrate this new path forward in ECO, let us not forget that there are those among us who feel hurt and need our care.  They, too, have been important to this process and the conversations that have needed to take place.  May we all play a role in the healing which is necessary after such a significant season of transition, and may we also move forward in unity as we seek to follow Jesus Christ together.

Finally, and most importantly, we give all glory to God for His guidance and His strength throughout these past few years.  He “moved mountains” that we could neither go around or over on our own.  The Holy Spirit was present at critical junctures and in crucial conversations, and in moments of doubt and uncertainty, the Holy Spirit’s leading provided clear answers.  It is very evident that God has blessed First Presbyterian Church over our 152 year history, and we have no doubt that this process has been according to His plans and greater purpose.  Truly, may our thanks be to God, and may we continue to seek His wisdom as First Presbyterian Church enters this new season in a denominational home that promises to invigorate us, as well as challenge us to explore new frontiers for our ministries.

In His Service,

The Denominational Discernment Committee
on behalf of the Session of First Presbyterian Church

Sunday, September 21, 2104 – Important Vote Day Details

  • All worship and meeting activities will take place in the Worship Center (childcare and children’s Sunday School will be in Bldg A and the 6th & 7th grade youth will be in Bldg B.)
  • Only members on the Active Membership Roll may vote. If you’re unsure whether or not you are on the official membership roll, call the church office to check your status.
  • Members must register at the Worship Center as they arrive in order to receive a ballot.
  • Registration will begin at 9:00 AM and continue throughout the morning.
  • The All-Church Worship Service will begin at 9:30 AM.
  • The Congregational Meeting will be called to order at 9:30 AM, and the Worship Service will be a part of the congregational meeting.
  • For special circumstances involving health, infirmity, or volunteer responsibilities, members may vote early after the meeting is called to order.
  • At 11:00 the Congregational Meeting will officially move to the business portion of the meeting.
  • Following a brief presentation from the Session concerning the terms of dismissal, the floor will be open to members for comments (limited to 2 minutes per member.)
  • At the conclusion of the discussion period, the vote will take place, ballots will be counted and results will be shared.
  • A closing prayer will conclude the Congregational Meeting.

Sunday, September 21, 2014 – Childcare Arrangements

  • 8:30 – The Children’s Choirs will meet in the Children’s Church room to warm-up for their performance during the 9:30 Worship Service.  When they are finished singing, the choir leaders will walk them to their Sunday School rooms.
  • 9:15 – Sunday School classrooms will be open, and nursery will be available.
  • 9:30 – 10:30 – Preschool and Elementary children will have regular Sunday School class.
  • 10:30- All teaching and volunteer church members will begin transitioning to the Worship Center.  Paid, experienced childcare workers will continue care for the children.
  • 10:30- 12:30 (or until the voting is complete):
  • Preschool will have free play in the classroom where they were signed-in by their parent.
  • Elementary children will be supervised in the Fellowship Hall. After the meeting, parents can pick up their children at the Fellowship Hall doors between Buildings A and B.
  • All children will be given a snack.

Sunday, September 21, 2014 – 6th and 7th Graders

  • 9:30 – 10:30 – Attend All Church Worship Service in the Worship Center
  • 10:30 – 12:30 – Meet in B-100 for supervised movies, games, and planned activities.


August 10, 2014

The Session has called a Congregational Meeting for Sunday, September 21 at 11:00 am in the Worship Center.  During that meeting, we will conduct a vote for our congregation’s collective endorsement of the terms of dismissal as developed by our church and representatives of Salem Presbytery.  We humbly ask you to make every effort possible to be at First Presbyterian Church to participate in that vote.  As required by the Gracious Dismissal Policy, we must have a quorum of two-thirds of our membership in attendance – roughly 1,000 people.

…Every Voice Matters

Informational Forums:

Sunday, September 7 at 10:00 in the Sanctuary (Sunday School classes will not meet so that everyone can attend the forum.)

Wednesday, September 10 at 6:45 in the Sanctuary (forum begins immediately after our Hymn Sing…come early and worship with us!)

Sunday, September 14 at 10:00 in the Sanctuary (Sunday School classes will have regular programming)

Wednesday, September 17 at 6:30 in the Sanctuary

Click on Frequently Asked Question Regarding the Proposed Terms of Dismissal to read the FAQ.

To read the letter to the Church sent on August 11, 2014 please click here.

Letter to the First Presbyterian Church congregation on June 03, 2014:

June 3, 2014

Dear friends,

As you know, our church has been in conversation with Salem Presbytery for some time regarding our denominational affiliation.  A year ago the Session sent a letter to the congregation stating that after a two-year period of study regarding changes in the denomination over the past several years the elders concluded that our church is no longer aligned with the Presbyterian Church USA (PCUSA), and they recommended we request dismissal from the PCUSA and move to a new denomination called A Covenant Order of Evangelical Presbyterians (ECO).  That began a process of congregational discernment and working with representatives of presbytery to determine our denominational affiliation.  This discernment process culminated in a congregational meeting last October at which 87% of the members of our church voted in favor of the Session’s recommendation to request dismissal.

After the vote, we moved into the second phase of the presbytery’s Gracious Dismissal Policy, which is called the Resolution Phase.  A Resolution Team was appointed by the presbytery, and several elders and members of our church were appointed to a Negotiation Team by the Session.  These two teams have been meeting for the last five months to try and negotiate the Terms of Dismissal the teams will present to both the congregation and the presbytery for approval.  All this is needed to address what is known in the PCUSA’s constitution as “the trust clause” which has to do with a church’s property.  As you can imagine, these have been very exacting times of discussion and negotiation.

We are happy to report that both teams have come to a mutual recommendation which we believe will strengthen both the presbytery and the church.  More importantly, we believe it honors Jesus Christ.  The proposal for the Terms of Dismissal will now go to the presbytery’s Council for their consideration and endorsement.  The Council has also been asked by the presbytery to consider our Session’s request that ECO be endorsed as a Reformed denomination to which we can be dismissed.  Both of these matters will be discussed at the Council meeting on June 21st.  Please be in prayer as members of both the presbytery’s Resolution Team and our Session’s Negotiation Team will present their recommendations on these matters to the Council at that meeting.

If the Council supports the recommendations, the presbytery will vote on the matter related to ECO at its August meeting, and the congregation will vote on the proposed Terms of Dismissal at a congregational meeting later this fall.  (We believe it is too difficult to achieve the super-quorum of two-thirds of our members required to be present for the meeting if we hold it in the summer.)  Then, if the congregation votes by at least a 2/3 majority in favor of the proposed Terms of Dismissal, the presbytery will then vote on the matter at their meeting in November.

This process has taken longer than any of us would have liked, but it is what has been needed to achieve the results we’ve accomplished so far.  And patience and perseverance is what is needed as we go forward and seek God’s path for our congregation.  Progress is being made, and we have a proposal and a plan in place which will hopefully bring to a resolution this long journey.  Our elders remain excited about the prospects of this denominational change, and we believe it will help us fully live into our missional calling in Christ.
The Session will be sending representatives to the summer meeting in Dallas of a combined gathering of the Fellowship of Presbyterians and ECO.  Stay tuned for reports about that meeting later in August.

Let’s continue to be in prayer for the negotiations, the meetings we will have with Council and the presbytery, and the blessing of God on this whole process for both the church and the presbytery.  In the book of Proverbs we are reminded, “Many are the plans in a person’s heart, but it is the Lord’s purpose that prevails” (Prov. 19:21).  Our heart’s desire is that the purpose of God will prevail and that our plans are aligned with His sovereign will.

Please contact us or any of the elders on Session if you have any questions.  We want to keep you informed as we move forward and seek to do the Lord’s will.  Take care, and thank you for your faithful support and your prayers.

Sincerely yours in Christ,

Peter Barnes                                Rick Wesley
Senior Pastor                             Chair of Session’s Negotiation Team



Letter to the First Presbyterian Church congregation on January 14, 2014:

January 14, 2014


Dear friends,


As you know, our church has been in the process of denominational discernment for the past year.  On October 27th, our congregation voted overwhelmingly to request dismissal from Salem Presbytery and the Presbyterian Church (USA) to a new Reformed denomination called A Covenant Order of Evangelical Presbyterians, also known as ECO.  This concluded the first phase of the dismissal process of Salem Presbytery’s “Gracious Dismissal Policy.”   Now we have entered into the second phase, which is called “The Resolution Phase.”  We want to update you on where we are and what you can expect next.

The Session has appointed a Negotiation Team to represent our church and meet with members of the presbytery’s Resolution Team.  The two teams will try to develop a mutually-agreed-upon recommendation to both the congregation and the presbytery which will lay out the financial terms of dismissal.  The reason for this is to deal with and address what is known as the “trust clause” in the constitution of the PCUSA which stipulates that a congregation holds the deed to their property in trust for the presbytery.  In the past, when churches have requested dismissal from the presbytery and their vote has been overwhelmingly in favor of dismissal, the presbytery has been inclined to dismiss a church with its property with no expectation of compensation for the property and have been willing to accept whatever a congregation wanted to give as a gift.  However, we do not know what this Resolution Team has in mind.

Rick Wesley, the moderator of our Session’s Negotiation Team, recently met with Beth Utley, the moderator of the presbytery’s Resolution Team, and we expect the two groups will meet face-to-face in the near future.  It will probably take a number of meetings to work out a proposal both sides agree upon.  Then the proposal will be presented to the congregation for its consideration and vote.  If the congregation votes to approve the recommendation, the presbytery will then vote on the proposal.  We hope this will be accomplished at the May meeting of presbytery.

In the meantime, please pray for both the Negotiation Team and for the presbytery’s Resolution Team.  Pray that we will honor Christ in all our dealings and seek the Lord’s will in these matters.  Pray also for Salem Presbytery which has three other churches that are in a process of discernment, and other churches in the presbytery which are considering this course of action as well.  These are challenging times for our sisters and brothers in the presbytery.

One of the matters our elders and pastors have been keenly focused on is helping those in our congregation who are struggling with the congregation’s decision to request dismissal.  We have held meetings to talk with those who are upset or disappointed, and we have reached out to those who are wondering what they should do now.  Only 9 individuals from our church have requested to have their names removed from the rolls and said they plan to remain in the PCUSA.  However, we realize that some people are still considering a move.  If you would like to remain in the PCUSA and haven’t already notified us, please let us know by contacting the church office (Chuck Hobbs, 336-723-1621, chuckh@1stpres.com).  If we don’t hear from you by February 1st, we will assume that you plan to make the journey with us as we move to ECO.




Letter to First Presbyterian Church congregation on October 29, 2013:

October 29, 2013

Dear Friends in Christ,

At the Congregational Meeting held Sunday, our church voted overwhelmingly to request dismissal from Salem Presbytery and the Presbyterian Church (USA) to the Covenant Order of Evangelical Presbyterians (ECO).  The vote was 852 to 129 (87% in favor).  We are grateful to everyone who took part in this discernment process and made the effort to be present for the congregational meeting.  This has been an exacting experience for all of us, but it also has been a time when our commitments as a church have been clarified, our core values have been reaffirmed, and the Spirit of God has led us in an exciting new direction.

Many of you are wondering, “What comes next?”  The vote by the Congregation concludes the Discernment (or “Conciliation”) phase of Presbytery’s Dismissal Policy, and the next phase in the process is what is known at the “Resolution” phase.  During this period (which could take between 4-7 months to complete), representatives of Session will meet with representatives of the Presbytery to negotiate the Terms of Dismissal which will be proposed to both the Congregation and the Presbytery for approval.  This includes any financial payment our church may wish to give Presbytery, as well as the proper transfer of records, members, and other legal and ecclesiastical matters.   The Session will appoint the representatives of our church who will serve on this Negotiation Team shortly.  Please pray for them as they begin this important work.

Obviously, not everyone at the Congregational Meeting voted in favor of the Session’s recommendation to request dismissal.   Some of you may be feeling deep sadness over the vote and a sense of loss.  We share your sadness and want you to know that we love you, we value you, and we want to do everything we can to show you that you are welcome in and continue to be an important part of our church community.  Leading up to the vote, a number of people said to us, “I plan to vote no on the recommendation, but this is still my church family and I plan to stay with the church even if it goes to ECO.”  We hope and pray this is the sentiment of everyone who didn’t vote in favor of the recommendation.  This is your church, and we will continue to be the same welcoming congregation in ECO that we have been in the PCUSA.  That won’t change.

If you are praying about what to do, we encourage you to contact one of our pastors or an elder, or a member of the Salem Presbytery Conciliation Team (their contact information is available at the church office and on our website).  We understand that this is an important decision, and all of us stand ready and eager to provide counsel and support to anyone who feels it would be helpful.  However, if you have already decided you would like to remain with the PCUSA and not make this journey with us as we move to ECO, please let us know.

These are exciting times at our church, and we believe a new chapter in our congregation’s witness and mission is about to be written.   The last 151 years of God’s faithfulness are only the beginning of the good things He has in store for us as we look to the future.  We will keep you informed as the process for dismissal develops.  Please keep all of us, and our friends in Presbytery, in prayer as we make this next step in the journey to ECO.  May the Lord bless each of you richly.

Yours in the service of Christ,

The Denominational Discernment Committee

on behalf of Session


P.S.  We will continue to hold times of prayer for our congregation and the Presbytery during this season.  If you would like to take part in these prayer times, please join us at Katie Satterwhite’s house (621 Nokomis Ct.) at the following times: 11/4 7:30-8:30 pm; 11/11 1:00-2:00 pm; 11/18 7:30-8:30 pm; and 11/25 1:00-2:00 pm.  In addition, elders will continue to be available for questions and conversation with anyone in our church on Sundays between services at 10 am.  You can meet them in the Gallery Lobby near the sanctuary.


Results of the October 27th Congregational Vote:

981 votes Cast

852 For the Motion

129 Against the Motion

The motion passes.  The Session will send a letter to all members this week detailing next steps in the Denominational Discernment process.