As conservative Presbyterians discontent with the PC(USA) gather this week in Florida for a conference to create a “New Reformed Body,” one church that championed the idea will not be joining the new group.
First Presbyterian Church of Orlando, which is hosting the “Orlando Covenanting Conference,” will not be joining the “New Reformed Body” but rather will remain with its present affiliation, the Evangelical Presbyterian Church.
David Swanson, senior pastor at First Presbyterian, told The Christian Post that his church had to decide on an affiliation when they left the Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.), before the NRB concept was initiated.
“FPCO was required to determine where we would be dismissed prior to asking our Presbytery to vote regarding departure,” said Swanson.
“Thus, we had to make that determination last November, and our elders chose to move to the Evangelical Presbyterian Church, but remain in full support of The Fellowship and the new reformed body.”
Swanson said that he expects First Presbyterian and the EPC “to maintain an open and healthy relationship with the NRB.”
He noted that the movement he was part of, the Fellowship of Presbyterians, did not see the creation of the NRB as its exclusive goal.
“From the beginning of my time with The Fellowship, we said that much of what will guide individual churches is their current context. What works for one may not work for another,” he commented.
In an earlier interview with CP, the Rev. Dr. Paul E. Detterman of the Fellowship said affiliation with his organization “is in no way synonymous with departure from the PC(USA)” and that “only a small percentage” of churches represented at the conference are seeking to join the NRB.
Other congregations sending representatives to the conference seek to remain in the PC(USA) as “an evangelical witness” or hold joint membership with the NRB and PC(USA).
The Fellowship was created in response to the PC(USA)’s 219th General Assembly, where a majority of the Presbyteries, or PC(USA) regional bodies, voted to approve Amendment 10-A. The amendment altered the ordination rules to allow presbyteries to approve people who were in homosexual relationships for positions in the church.
Dozens of congregations have left the PC(USA) over its liberal direction on scriptural authority and homosexuality.
Stephen Ley, ruling elder for Memorial Presbyterian Church of West Palm Beach, told CP that his congregation was sending some of its elders to the Orlando meeting, which starts Wednesday.
“Our session has voted to begin a discernment process that could result in our church leaving,” said Ley, who noted that his church also sent representatives to a previous Fellowship meeting in Minneapolis.
“We take this process seriously and the final decision is up to our congregation. However, our session wouldn't have taken this action if we didn't have strong reasons to enter this discernment process.”
When asked about his opinion of First Presbyterian not joining the NRB, Ley did not believe it would deter other congregations from doing so.
“The decision of that session was somewhat of a surprise, but each session will make a prayerful decision based on where they believe is the best context for their church to be a healthy, disciple-making congregation,” said Ley.
“Our church will be influenced more by decisions made by our nine sister churches in the Presbytery of Tropical Florida that have also entered into the discernment process.”
The “Orlando Covenanting Conference” will take place from Wednesday to Friday. Approximately 2,100 people representing 900 congregations have registered for the event.