PCUSA's Eighth-Largest Member Church Votes to Leave and Join Conservative Denomination

(Photo: Courtesy MDPC)Memorial Drive Presbyterian Church of Houston, Texas. In July of 2016, the congregation voted to leave Presbyterian Church (USA) and join the Evangelical Covenant Order of Presbyterians..

Presbyterian Church (USA)'s eighth largest member congregation voted this month to leave the Mainline denomination over theological differences and join the Evangelical Covenant of Presbyterians, a conservative denomination that has more than 280 member congregations.

Memorial Drive Presbyterian Church, a Houston, Texas-based congregation with approximately 3,700 members, was granted dismissal by the PCUSA Presbytery of New Covenant on Saturday.

Mike Cole, general presbyter for the Presbytery of New Covenant, told The Christian Post that Memorial Drive Presbyterian's vote to leave was affirmed at the Saturday meeting.

(Photo: Mike Cole)The headquarters for the Presbyterian Church (USA) Presbytery of New Covenant, based in Houston, Texas.

"The presbytery dismissed them on a voice vote that was overwhelmingly in favor," explained Cole, whose regional body has seen other churches leave the presbytery over the past few years because of the PC(USA)'s liberal theological direction.

"Following the vote, the presbytery prayed for the congregation, pastors and leaders as they transition into another denomination."

Over the past few years, nearly three hundred congregations have decided to seek dismissal from the PCUSA in large part because of the denomination's increasing acceptance of homosexuality.

In 2012, a group of theological conservatives gathered in Florida and formed the Evangelical Covenant of Presbyterians, a conservative denomination that has more than 280 member congregations.

Eva Kaminski, spokeswoman for Memorial Drive Presbyterian Church, explained to CP that the congregation overwhelmingly supported dismissal in a vote taken earlier this month.

"Congregational survey was 79 percent to be dismissed; Session vote was 85 percent," explained Kaminski, who noted that they were joining ECO because "it is the best fit for MDPC."

The discernment process was not a smooth one, as initially the church attempted legal action against the presbytery, according to Cole.

"MDPC filed suit against the presbytery of New Covenant seeking full title to their property," noted Cole. "We settled by giving MDPC a quitclaim deed to their property in exchange for continued support of the presbytery for five years at $13,750 a month and mission support of $2,083 a month for mutually agreed upon mission partners."

The dismissal of Memorial Drive Presbyterian comes as another megachurch, this time based in Pennsylvania, is struggling to leave the Mainline denomination.

Earlier this month First Presbyterian Church of Bethlehem voted to seek dismissal from the Presbytery of Lehigh for similar reasons as Memorial Drive Presbyterian.

However, FPC Bethlehem remains in litigation with Lehigh over whether or not they can leave the denomination, as well as questions of property rights.

Jackson Eaton, an Allentown-based attorney representing Lehigh Presbytery, told CP in an earlier interview that only the regional body can dismiss the church and that Lehigh does not recognize the vote as valid.

"The position of the Lehigh Presbytery is that the actions taken to separate First Presbyterian Church of Bethlehem from the PC(USA) and to affiliate with ECO are invalid and ineffective," said Eaton.

"The validity of the actions taken in the name of First Presbyterian Church of Bethlehem will be determined by the court in a trial scheduled for this October."

(Photo: Courtesy of The Presbyterian Lay Committee)PC(USA) membership chart.