Largest Presbyterian Church in Texas Sees Hope in New Conservative Affiliation

A congregation that was once the largest Presbyterian Church (USA) church in Texas has been encouraged by its new affiliation with a more conservative body.

Highland Park Presbyterian Church of Dallas, which terminated its voluntary affiliation with PC (USA) earlier this year over theological differences, decided to join the Evangelical Covenant Order of Presbyterians, (ECO), a recently created and more theologically conservative Reform body.

The Rev. Joe Rightmyer, Highland Park's interim senior pastor, told The Christian Post that the relationship between his congregation and ECO has been going strong.

 "Highland Park Presbyterian Church (HPPC) has had a very active season since it joined ECO on October 28, 2013," said Rightmyer. "The new relationship between HPPC and ECO has already been encouraging. The theological unity gained by this change has lifted the spirit of HPPC's congregation."

Rightmyer also told CP about how "planning has already begun for several joint efforts between HPPC and ECO."

"[These include] local and world missions efforts, leadership training, HPPC's Senior Pastor search, and the ECO National Gathering taking place August 18-20 in Dallas, Texas," said Rightmyer. "Reverend Doctor Dana Allin, ECO Synod Executive, will also be a guest preacher at HPPC on both February 9th and February 23rd, during our Sunday morning worship."

Leaving PC(USA)

Highland Park Presbyterian began a voluntary affiliation with Presbyterian Church (USA) back in 1983, falling under the regional body of Grace Presbytery. With approximately 4,000 members, the Dallas-based church was the largest PC (USA) church in the Lone Star State.

In September, Highland Park filed suit against Grace Presbytery, seeking legal confirmation that they could keep their property if they ended their voluntary affiliation. Later that month, the leadership of Highland Park unanimously passed a resolution recommending that the congregation end its affiliation with PC (USA).

In late October, a resolution to end their affiliation with PC (USA) and join the Evangelical Covenant Order of Presbyterians passed with 89 percent of the vote.

Janet M. DeVries, M.Div, D.Min., General Presbyter for Grace Presbytery, told CP in an earlier interview that Highland Park's leadership was not doing the proper dismissal process.

"While Highland Park's session can recommend dismissal to another Reformed body, Highland Park's lawsuit circumvents and interferes with the established ecclesiastical dismissal process," said DeVries. "The constitution of the Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.) and the Just and Gracious Dismissal Policy of Grace Presbytery provide for a process which enables the congregation to hear and discuss both the PC(USA) and the Covenant Order of Evangelical Presbyterians (ECO)."

Lawsuit Over Property

Even as the congregation has moved past PC(USA), Highland Park remains in the legal battle over the church property.

Rightmyer of Highland Park told CP that at present the Texas State District Court where the lawsuit is being decided has granted a temporary injunction barring PC(USA) involvement in the HPPC property.

"The parties are now conducting the discovery phase of the law suit by exchanging further information and documents," said Rightmyer. "In preparation for court-ordered mediation, both sides have recently appointed mediation teams, and mediation will be scheduled as soon as sufficient discovery has been completed."

Rightmyer also told CP that while there were those who voted against ending the voluntary affiliation, Highland Park remained united since joining ECO.

"We still see many of those people each Sunday morning, and we have been encouraged that we have not noticed a change in our attendance records," said Rightmyer. "We are grateful that there is an overall sense of unity at Highland Park Presbyterian Church as we look to our future. In fact, HPPC's recent vote has brought new people to inquire about our church as a result."

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