Another church in America may soon split from the Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.) following the recent changes in the denomination’s standards, including the allowance of gay clergy and lay leaders.
The First Presbyterian Church of North Palm Beach, Fla., is expected to begin discussions of the potential split Wednesday night among their congregants, which totals more than 1,000 members.
Ken Kirby, one of the organizers of the upcoming meeting, told The Palm Beach Post “it would be oversimplifying to reduce the decision to the issue of gay clergy.”
He, like many other Presbyterians, took issue with the entire direction the Presbyterian Church appeared to be moving in, which he felt was radically different from the traditional Reformed beliefs that once marked the denomination. “This is not the same church we were in a year ago,” he commented.
According to a letter obtained by the Post, Kirby noted that 40 percent of PC(USA)’s members could separate from the denomination soon. He also shared that 10 of 58 churches in the regional group, their North Palm Beach church included, have already started the process that might eventually lead to their break from the group.
The process, however, would take at least three months to complete, with churches discussing and voting within their congregation first before officially requesting a break from the group. Presbytery, the regional governing body, will then decide whether or not they will be allowed to separate.
The Rev. Walter Arnold, senior pastor at First Presbyterian Church of North Palm Beach, worried about the future consequences of the discussions for separation from PC(USA). He feared that differing opinions during the talks might alienate some of his congregants.
“It’s very sad,” Arnold shared with the Post. “I was meeting with a pastor from Cuba, and he said that ordination and sexuality is so 50-50 in the Cuban church that they were not going to deal with the issue. He said, ‘We can’t afford to be split up.’”
Earlier in August, the Presbyterian Church of Mexico cut off all ties to the PC(USA) as a result of the American church body’s decision to remove clergy ordination standards, terminating a 139-year relationship.
Dozens of churches in America have also left the PC(USA) over the last few years due to the group’s increasingly liberal interpretations of the Bible.
The Florida church may soon be added to the growing number of discontented congregations who have refused to accept PC(USA)’s new governing standards.