(Photo: Brian Braun)
A large congregation in Texas that voted to terminate their affiliation with Presbyterian Church (USA) over theological differences has selected a new senior pastor.
Highland Park Presbyterian Church of Dallas announced last Sunday that Reverend Bryan H. Dunagan will fill the position.
"The Pastor Nominating Committee (PNC) is thrilled to introduce our next Senior Pastor, the Rev. Bryan H. Dunagan, a native Texan who has been serving as the Teaching Pastor at Peachtree Presbyterian Church in Atlanta, Georgia," reads the announcement on their website. "...the PNC has done considerable work on your behalf searching, praying and seeking God's guidance at every turn."
In the last several years, many Presbyterian congregations decided to leave PC USA because of their opposition to what is perceived as an increasingly liberal theology. One notable example is that of the PC USA allowing regional bodies, or presbyteries, to approve the ordination of openly gay clergy, a decision made in 2011.
In a letter to the congregation of Highland Park Presbyterian, Dunagan stated that he was "humbled and grateful" to receive the position.
Dunagan also mentioned his ties to the Evangelical Covenant Order of Presbyterians (ECO), the young conservative Presbyterian group Highland Park voted to join after leaving PC USA.
"I look forward to becoming part of ECO. Through my involvement in The Fellowship of Presbyterians, I have already developed relationships within this new denomination," wrote Dunagan. "I know HPPC will be called to provide leadership in this movement of churches, and I am grateful for the renewed focus to pursue the mission that God has for the church."
On Highland Park Presbyterian's Facebook page, the news of the new pastor was received well. As of Tuesday morning, the link with the announcement received over 160 likes and more than 60 shares, as well as several positive comments.
"What a joyful morning at HPPC! Prayers for smooth move and transition as we pray for all," wrote Angie Anderson Vaughn.
"So thankful HPPC is a part of my story and my spiritual heritage! The future looks bright!" posted Pauline Meier.
"My Peachtree Pres friends speak so highly of him! We are blessed!" commented Melanie Moulin Schoenvogel.
Highland Park Presbyterian's selection of Dunagan as their senior pastor comes as the megachurch congregation readies for a court filing against their former PC (USA) regional leadership.
Last year, Highland Park filed a lawsuit in Dallas County District Court to secure their claim to the church property should they opt to terminate their affiliation with PC USA.
After the suit was filed, the congregation voted to do just that, with 89 percent of the congregation present for the vote approving a resolution.
The Rev. Joe Rightmyer, then interim senior pastor of Highland Park Presbyterian, said the move to ECO involved a "restoration" of the church's Presbyterian roots.
"By joining ECO, we are not walking away from our Presbyterian values; we are restoring them," stated Rightmyer. "With this vote to change, we will still be in the rich stream of Presbyterian theology, and we are ready to begin working with other churches in a growing denomination that is guided by the same beliefs and tenets that direct us."
With an estimated 4,000 members, Highland Park Presbyterian was the largest PCUSA congregation in Texas. Its membership also represented about ten percent of the PCUSA members in the Presbytery of Grace.
The trial hearing between Highland Park Presbyterian and Grace Presbytery to determine ownership of the church property will take place on Monday, October 20.