After a Virginia presbytery took over operations of a Mechanicsville church, those who felt led by God to depart the Presbyterian Church (USA) started anew as an Evangelical Presbyterian Church (EPC) mission congregation just a short distance away from their former church facility.

The Church in Restoration had its inaugural service Sunday, Feb. 24 at Oak Knoll Middle School. What was expected to be a crowd of about 400 charter members swelled to more than 600 in attendance. The overflow crowd was so large that additional chairs had to be brought in to provide ample seating.

The start for the new congregation came as a result of action taken by Presbytery of the James.

An Administrative Commission (AC) of the Richmond-based Presbytery of the James (POJ) dissolved the session of New Hanover Presbyterian Church (NHPC) during a Feb. 10 meeting and has assumed original jurisdiction of the church.

During that meeting, the session of NHPC expressed its unanimous intent to leave the denomination and graciously indicated its desire to help the AC provide for the transition of members wanting to leave the church and pray for those who choose to remain. Because of the session’s unwillingness to stay and serve what the AC deemed to be a viable PCUSA congregation, the Commission took action and assumed original jurisdiction.

The action by the AC came about 15 months after the session of New Hanover unanimously voted (November 2011) to seek dismissal from the Presbyterian Church (USA) to the Evangelical Presbyterian Church (EPC).

“I think we felt like this would be the result,” said Associate Pastor Billy Craig, who has shared moderator duties for NHPC along with fellow Associate Pastor Jeff Lee in the absence of a full-time head pastor. “There were some vocal members of the congregation early on who wanted to stay (in the PCUSA). Our impression was they would do all they could to retain the property and to ensure the location stayed a PCUSA congregation.”

While not exactly the way they had planned to leave the PCUSA, those no longer affiliated with NHPC are excited about what the future holds, even if they do not have property or buildings. That future is now coming into view with the formation of a new EPC congregation.

“We’re relieved that it is finally over; it’s been a pretty rough process,” said Kevin Smith, a former elder at NHPC. “We’re excited about starting a new church, even if it is somewhere else. We were prepared for this possibility. We’re just excited to be moving forward.”

He said the two main issues in seeking dismissal were the Bible being the true Word of God, and Jesus being the only way to salvation.

H. Carson Rhyne Jr., stated clerk and general presbyter for Presbytery of the James, did not respond to phone calls or emails from The Layman. In a statement printed by the Richmond Times-Dispatch, Rhyne indicated the presbytery was “deeply saddened by the irreconcilable differences that have occurred at the New Hanover Presbyterian Church.”

“May those who depart from the (Presbyterian Church USA) go with God’s grace and blessings as they seek to serve Jesus Christ,” he added.

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