(Photo: Courtesy of HPPC)
The largest Presbyterian Church (USA) congregation in Texas has voted to leave the mainline denomination over theological differences.
Highland Park Presbyterian Church of Dallas, which has approximately 4,000 members, overwhelmingly approved a resolution recently that would involve the congregation terminating its voluntary affiliation with the PC (USA).
Eighty-nine percent of the members present at the Congregational and Corporate Meeting held at the church voted in favor of leaving PC (USA).
Last month, Highland Park Presbyterian leadership unanimously approved a resolution to begin the process of ending its affiliation with the PC (USA).
The Session recommended leaving the mainline denomination and membership into the newer more conservative body known as the Evangelical Covenant Order (ECO) of Presbyterians.
Monty Montgomery, elder and co-moderator of the Session-Appointed Discernment Coordinating Committee at HPPC, told The Christian Post that the process of joining ECO has already begun.
"HPPC's next step is to apply for voluntary affiliation and membership in ECO," said Montgomery.
Rev. Joe Rightmyer, interim senior pastor of Highland Park Presbyterian, said in a statement Sunday that 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," said 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."
Members present at the Sunday meeting also voted nearly 90 percent in favor of joining ECO. Pending the completion of the dismissal process, Highland Park Presbyterian belongs to the PC (USA) regional body known as the Grace Presbytery.
According to its website, Grace Presbytery is comprised of 162 congregations totaling about 41,000 members. This means that should Highland Park Presbyterian leave, the regional body's membership numbers will decrease by nearly ten percent.
In response to the news, Grace Presbytery posted a comment from The Rev. Joe Clifford, pastor of First Presbyterian Church of Dallas, on their website.
"Their decision to leave our denomination is heartbreaking. I grieve the loss of this important congregation and their witness as part of our communion these past 87 years," said Clifford. "Let us pray that whatever resolutions are reached, all parties involved may continue to advance the mission and ministry of the body of Christ in and for this broken world, even in the midst of our own brokenness."
The vote comes as Highland Park Presbyterian continues its lawsuit against Grace Presbytery to maintain control of the Highland church property.
"On Oct. 14, Texas District Court Judge Emily Tobolowsky granted a temporary injunction, effectively extending protections through the course of the lawsuit," said Montgomery to CP. "The injunction safeguards the congregation's exclusive rights to control and use the church property during the litigation. The lawsuit is pending in the 298th Judicial District Court in Dallas County."