A large Texas congregation will soon vote on whether or not they will leave Presbyterian Church (USA) over theological differences.
First Presbyterian Church of Houston, founded in the 1840s with an estimated 3,000 members, will vote on a measure to terminate its affiliation with the denomination next Sunday.
Jim Birchfield, senior pastor at First Presbyterian, told The Christian Post that if the congregation votes to disaffiliate, it intends to join the new, more conservative Evangelical Covenant Order of Presbyterians.
"We believe that affiliation with ECO will better allow us to fulfill our mission of 'carrying the gospel to Houston and the world'," said Birchfield. "ECO believes in living out the whole of the Great Commission -- including evangelism, spiritual formation, compassion and redemptive justice. Thus, the mission of ECO clearly supports FPC's mission to carry the gospel to Houston and the world and aligns well with our goal of becoming a more Gospel-centered, missional church as defined in Vision 2020."
Last year, First Presbyterian began the process of discernment for consideration of terminating their affiliation with PC (USA). The move was spurred in part over the 2010 decision by the denomination's General Assembly to allow non-celibate homosexuals to serve in church positions and receive ordination.
"The issues that prompted our season of discernment include a sense that the PC (USA) may be drifting theologically," explained Birchfield to CP last May.
Birchfield noted that the process was not going to be a quick one, as First Presbyterian held multiple discernment meetings last summer.
While still part of PC (USA), First Presbyterian falls under the jurisdiction of the Presbytery of New Covenant, which encompasses much of southeastern Texas.
Mike Cole, General Presbyter for New Covenant, told CP that Sunday's vote "concludes the dismissal phase" of the process for discernment.
"First Presbyterian Church is in the final stage of the procedure to seek dismissal," said Cole, who noted that the Houston congregation was the second largest church under the Presbytery.
"It is sad that the leadership of a congregation with a 175 year covenant relationship with the Presbyterian Church (USA) and its predecessor denomination would focus so much attention in the last year on the few issues of the day that divide us rather than mission that unites us."
In the event that First Presbyterian joins ECO on Sunday, it would not be the first large Texas congregation to do so in recent times.
Last October, Highland Park Presbyterian Church of Dallas, which has an estimated 4,000 members, voted to leave the PC (USA) Grace Presbytery for ECO.