I had the honor of speaking in the convocation in Pittsburgh Presbytery this week, "Our Freedom of Religion at Risk: A Presbyterian Crisis." The meeting grew out of disputes in Pittsburgh Presbytery and elsewhere over dissenting congregations trying to leave the denomination with their property. Joe Small gave the big-picture opening address about our church's unity being based on communion. Euan Cameron talked about the British background to our denomination's history of union and dissent. This led directly to my part, to talk about the Adopting Act of 1729, which lets potential officers of the church explain their "scruples" about aspects of the church's constitution.
The most practical addresses were given by two lawyers, Mark Tammen and Jeff Tindall. They demonstrated that the legal standard of who owns church property is crystal-clear: the Presbyterian Church (USA) does. Many presbyteries, with Pittsburgh in the lead, are developing a process for negotiating with congregations that want to leave. In general, the dissenters who are willing to negotiate have gotten a good deal. Some of them, though, want the fight about the denomination's orthodoxy more than they want the property. In some cases, they bring in the civil courts to judge the case. The civil courts, for very good reasons, do not want to get into a religious dispute.
The denomination is getting better at working out ways for dissenting congregations to leave decently and order - if they want to. This convocation gives a clear account of the issues for those who want resolution more than drama.