Texas Presbyterian Megachurch Votes to Leave PCUSA for Conservative ECO

A Texas megachurch has approved a measure to seek dismissal from the Presbyterian Church (USA) and to join the theologically conservative Evangelical Covenant Order of Presbyterians.

(Photo: FPC)First Presbyterian Church of Houston, Texas.

Earlier this month, the approximately 3,000-member congregation of First Presbyterian Church of Houston passed a resolution to leave the PCUSA nearly three years after a similar proposal narrowly failed.

Celeste Lanier, director of communications for FPC Houston, told The Christian Post in an interview on Tuesday that the recent decision to leave PCUSA was based on the vote the congregation took in February 2014.

In February 2014, FPC Houston held a vote on a proposal seeking dismissal. In order to pass, the measure needed a two-thirds majority.

Of the 1,681 ballots cast, 1,085 were in favor of the resolution and 596 were against. This meant the measure failed to get the needed two-thirds majority by a small number.

(Photo courtesy FPC Houston)First Presbyterian Church of Houston, Texas.

"A significant majority of FPC members voted to seek dismissal from the PCUSA in a vote held in February 2014. The tally failed by 31 votes to reach the two-thirds supermajority required at that time for dismissal from the PCUSA under the discernment process required by the PCUSA at that time," explained Lanier.

"When the dismissal process requiring a supermajority was later determined by the PCUSA to violate its own constitution and was replaced, the Session of FPC Houston prayerfully determined it was time to revisit its denominational affiliation."

Over the past several years, hundreds of congregations have voted to leave PCUSA over the increasingly liberal theological positions the Mainline denomination has taken, especially regarding homosexuality.

Founded in the 19th century and once belonging to the PCUSA Presbytery of New Covenant, FPC Houston began their discernment process for seeking dismissal from the liberal denomination in the spring 2013.

"We are very early into the discernment process, which we expect to take at least a year," explained FPC Houston Senior Pastor Jim Birchfield to CP back in May 2013, who noted that a major concern for his church was that PCUSA was "drifting theologically."

"We have been very intentional in working to include all voices within our congregation on a number of working teams that will help define the issues before us and then create a series of events (town halls, classes, etc.), which will allow us to discuss them as a congregation."

FPC Houston is not the first large congregation based in Texas to leave PCUSA over theological differences. Last year the 2,200-member First Presbyterian Church of San Antonio voted overwhelmingly to leave PCUSA and join ECO.

FPC San Antonio Clerk of Session N. A. Stuart III argued in a 2015 letter that "our denomination is not what it once was, and it has wandered from its biblical and confessional moorings."

"Ultimately, after years of prayer, discussion, and input from our members, on Oct. 12 the Session of FPC voted to recommend to the congregation that we leave the PCUSA and join the ECO: A Covenant Order of Evangelical Presbyterians — a rapidly growing Reformed Presbyterian denomination," wrote Stuart.

"In contrast to the theological concerns and membership declines within the PCUSA, we find ECO to be a vibrant, growing Presbyterian denomination which shares this church's historical vision for teaching, evangelism and mission."

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