Presbyterian Pastor Seeks to Restore Hope in Dwindling Church

A Virginia pastor wants to restore hope in the Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.) as he runs for the position of chairing next year's General Assembly.

"Our denomination at this time really needs to have a sense of hope," said the Rev. Bill Teng, pastor at Heritage Presbyterian Church in Alexandria, Va., according to the Presbyterian News Service.

The PC(USA), the largest Presbyterian denomination in the country, has reported continual membership losses and currently numbers 2.3 million members. Baptisms have also declined in recent years.

Moreover, six churches were dismissed from the denomination over the past year, up from three or four the previous years, and more congregations discontent with the national body are voting to withdraw and opting for more conservative Presbyterian bodies, including the smaller Evangelical Presbyterian Church.

A network of discontent Presbyterians called the New Wineskins Association of Churches reported last month that 46 churches out of the network's 180 congregations voted to leave the PC(USA) over the denomination's liberal direction on Scripture and theology.

Churches began to leave the denomination when the PC(USA) General Assembly in 2001 did not affirm Christ as the only way to God. Last summer's 217th General Assembly created further dissension within the denomination when greater leeway was granted for the ordination of homosexuals.

Amid losses and divisions, Teng sees a need for "someone who could stand up and remind our church what its primary calling is."

"[A]nd that is to go back to the basics, to put our emphasis on mission and evangelism," he said.

The National Capital Presbytery, which includes churches in the Washington Metropolitan Area, has endorsed Teng's candidacy to become moderator of the 218th General Assembly, which takes place in June 2008.

The General Assembly is the highest governing body in the denomination and takes place every two years.

As a fourth-generation Presbyterian pastor from Hong Kong, Teng said he has a great sense of "gospel debt" to the denomination that led his great grandfather to Christianity.

"I look at myself as a product of Presbyterian mission," he said, as reported by the Presbyterian News Service.

Representatives will congregate for the 218th General Assembly on June 21-28, 2008 in San Jose, Calif., under the theme "Do justice, love kindness, walk humbly with your God." There, they will also elect their next stated clerk as the current PC(USA) head, the Rev. Clifton Kirkpatrick, steps down.