(Photo: Todd McLennan)
A Florida congregation has split over the Presbyterian Church (USA)'s decision to allow presbyteries to elect non-celibate homosexuals to church positions.
Members of the Community Church of Howey-In-The-Hills and its leader the Rev. Ken Folmsbee have broken away from the PC(USA) and started a new church which meets at a lakeside pavilion.
The new congregation, dubbed Lakes and Hills Covenant Church, filed for "gracious dismissal" with the Central Florida Presbytery in order to keep their property. However, the presbytery denied their request, arguing that the regional body had not noted a large enough consensus within the congregation.
In an interview with local media, Folmsbee explained that the reason for his leaving the PC(USA) was over its growing acceptance of homosexuality.
"That goes against our convictions," said Folmsbee to the Orlando Sentinel. Don Burke, an elder who served at Community Church told the Sentinel that "I no longer believe in the teachings [of the PC(USA)]."
Community Church of Howey-In-The-Hills did not return a request for comment by press time.
Since the 219th General Assembly voted to amend their rules to allow regional bodies to appoint non-celibate homosexuals to church leadership positions, congregations across the country have voted to leave the PC(USA).
In the Central Florida Presbytery, Howey's split was preceded by two other congregations. Trinity Presbyterian Church in Satellite Beach and First Presbyterian Church of Orlando both voted to leave the denomination. Trinity Presbyterian joined the Covenant Order of Evangelical Presbyterians, which was recently created at a conference in Florida, while First Presbyterian opted for another church body – Evangelical Presbyterian Church. Both denominations are smaller and more theologically conservative than the PC(USA).
The issue of departing congregations and splitting churches affecting the PC(USA) is not confined to the United States. As Howey has its leadership and some of its members leave to form their own church, an overseas synod once associated with the PC(USA) has decided to cut its ties.
The Mizoram Synod, a leading constituent body in the Presbyterian Church of India, unanimously agreed to disassociate with the PC(USA). Christian Today India reported that last week Mizoram voted for disassociation over PC(USA)'s acceptance of gay ordination.
"Presently, the Presbyterian Church (USA) openly ordains homosexual ministers and also officiates same-sex weddings," said the Rev. Malsawmtluanga, a member of the Mizoram Synod Executive Committee.
"We are in complete disagreement over such decisions that have serious practical ramifications. We hence have decided to end our partnership with them."