The number of churches that were dismissed from Presbyterian Church (USA) last year has increased by fivefold compared to 2011, says a recently released report.
According to statistics released Thursday by the Office of the General Assembly for PC(USA), 110 congregations were granted dismissal in 2012 in order to join other denominations; in 2011, the reported number was only 21. In 2010, at the 219th General Assembly of PC (USA), a majority of presbyteries, or regional bodies, voted to approve Amendment 10a, which lets presbyteries allow for the ordination of openly homosexual clergy. Because of this amendment, many conservative congregations in PC (USA) decided to pursue dismissal from the mainline denomination, usually for more conservative Presbyterian sects.
Emily Enders Odom, communications coordinator for the OGA of PC(USA), talked about the issue of dismissal within the denomination in a press release sent out on Thursday. Odom noted that most of the mainline protestant denomination did not experience these dismissals. "Even as congregations and their respective presbyteries faithfully, although often painfully, sought to discern their denominational affiliation in serving Christ's mission…only 29 percent of the denomination's 173 presbyteries dismissed churches in 2012," said Odom.
Others, however, see great significance in the sudden growth of conservative Presbyterian denominations in the United States.
In January 2012, the conservative PC(USA) group the Fellowship of Presbyterians gathered around 2,100 Presbyterians from 500 different congregations in Orlando. The result of the conference was the creation of a "new reformed body" known as the Evangelical Covenant Order of Presbyterians, or ECO.
Jim Miller, writer with The Institute on Religion and Democracy, wrote in February that ECO, whose member churches exclusively derived from dismissed PC(USA) congregations, was only getting stronger. "ECO held its first national Synod on January 30 – February 1, 2013 in Orlando, Florida at the Rosen Shingle Creek Hotel, and almost 1200 people attended," said Miller.
"ECO now has 28 member churches, all of which were dismissed from the Presbyterian Church (USA). There are another 48 churches are in the process of transitioning to ECO, and over 75 more are discerning a possible dismissal to ECO. A movement has launched."
Other findings from the PC(USA) statistics show a continuation of the pattern of decline in membership that the denomination has seen over the past several years.
Total membership in PC(USA) by the close of 2012 was approximately 1.84 million, versus 1.952 million by end of 2011. This represents a loss of over 102,000 members.
Also in addition to the 110 congregations being dismissed by their respective presbyteries, eighty-six churches were dissolved. This is an increase from the 75 dissolved in 2011.
In a statement, Stated Clerk of the General Assembly Gradye Parsons argued that this trend was part of the overall membership losses experienced by religious denominations in the United States.
"The fact that fewer Americans say they have a religious identity does not necessarily mean there has been an overall decrease in spirituality in America," said Parsons.
"The 2012 statistics challenge us as Presbyterians to connect with the ever-growing number of those with no religious affiliation."