(Photo: Barbara Pharr)
A congregation once affiliated with the Presbyterian Church (USA) has voted to leave the mainline denomination and join the more conservative Evangelical Presbyterian Church.
First Presbyterian Church of Hendersonville overwhelmingly approved the disaffiliation from the PC(USA) in a vote by the congregation taken last Wednesday.
Glenn Richardson, an elder at FPC Hendersonville, said in a statement that the move comes in response to the PC(USA) "drifting in a direction we can no longer follow."
"We're moving into a denomination that has been in existence longer than the PCUSA, and it has been grounded in the essentials of the faith from day one," said Richardson. "They keep the main thing as the main thing, and it has resulted in tremendous growth, both of the denomination and of individual churches."
The Rev. Carolyn V. Poteet, associate pastor FPC Hendersonville, told The Christian Post that the vote came from 332 ballots cast by voting members, in which 270 (or 81 percent) voted for re-affiliation while 60 voted to stay with the PC(USA).
Poteet also told CP that they were not the first church in the Presbytery of Western North Carolina to decide to seek dismissal.
"One other church has just been dismissed from the Western North Carolina presbytery – Riceville Presbyterian Church was dismissed in April," said Poteet.
"The most famous case in our presbytery was the Montreat Presbyterian Church, which involved a multiple year-long legal battle."
Congregants at FPC Hendersonville chose to join the Evangelical Presbyterian Church, a Presbyterian denomination founded in 1981.
"We are evangelical in our zeal for the Gospel, as well as, evangelism, missions and living obediently as followers of Jesus," reads the "About the EPC" section on their website. "At the same time, we are rooted deeply in the Protestant Reformation and especially the theological and pastoral work of John Calvin."
Dana Cadman, director of Communications and Information Services for the EPC, told The Christian Post that "since January 1, about 55 churches have joined the EPC."
Cadman also provided CP with a comment from the Rev. Dr. Jeff Jeremiah, Stated Clerk of the Evangelical Presbyterian Church.
"While I have not been in contact with their leadership, I'm pleased to learn they believe God has called them to the EPC," said Jeremiah.
With the vote to disaffiliate made, FPC Hendersonville will next look to finalizing its departure from the Presbytery of Western North Carolina, which it formerly belonged to. This will include negotiating issues regarding financial compensation for the church property.
According to the publication blueridgenow.com, FPC Henderson's congregation will likely pay somewhere around $100,000 over the next five years.
FPC Hendersonville is not the only PC(USA) congregation that has opted to leave the denomination in recent times.
According to statistics released by the Office of the General Assembly for the PC(USA), last year 110 congregations were dismissed from the Presbyterian denomination. This number was more than five times as large as the number of congregations that did so in 2011.
FPC's decision comes as First Presbyterian Church of Houston, one of the largest PC(USA) congregations in the country, goes through the discernment process for possible dismissal.