Pittsburgh's Largest Presbyterian Church Votes to Split

An overwhelming majority of members at the largest church in the Presbyterian Church (USA)'s Pittsburgh presbytery voted Sunday to split from the denomination and affiliate with a smaller Presbyterian group.

Over 1,200 people attend Memorial Park Church's Sunday worship service, and of 1,051 members who voted, 958 favored a request to seek dismissal from the PC(USA) over the denomination's departure from traditional doctrines concerning the Holy Trinity and the authority of the Bible.

Dr. D. Dean Weaver, senior pastor of Memorial Park Church in Allison Park, Pa., said the members affirmed that it is time to "realign ourselves with other Presbyterians in our country and around the world who believe the same things we do and have the same passion for evangelism and for missions."

Considering the unanimous vote, a formal request was made asking the Pittsburgh Presbytery to dismiss the church from the PC(USA) in order to join the conservative Evangelical Presbyterian Church (EPC).

"We are saddened that Memorial Park members and leaders have elected to separate from the Presbyterian Church," James Mead, Pastor to Pittsburgh Presbytery, said in a statement. "However, we believe that wrestling with such painful issues is part of God's redemptive plan for the world. It is our prayer that as we move forward, our Christian love for each other will shine forth into our community as a witness to the risen Lord."

For the 93 members who did not vote in favor of the split, Mead said the presbytery and the session will work together to provide pastoral care. Meanwhile, negotiations for church property ownership may begin this week.

Sunday's vote closely follows East Tennessee Presbytery's decision last Tuesday to approve the dismissal of Signal Mountain Presbyterian Church along with its property to EPC.

Also the largest in its local presbytery, the 1,800-member church in Signal Mountain, Tenn., had voted 1,082-10 in January to request dismissal. Considering such an overwhelming majority vote to leave, an appointed administrative review committee said the church is not in schism and thus "with deep regret and sorrow" dismissed the church "with all its property, real or personal, without condition."

Like many of the dissident churches, Signal Mountain Church experienced growing dissatisfaction with the PC(USA) - the largest Presbyterian denomination in the United States with 2.4 million members - over the past two decades, citing differences with the denomination over the recognition of the absolute Lordship of Jesus Christ and scriptural authority.

Despite the split, the administrative committee further allowed the church to retain the name "Signal Mountain Presbyterian Church." The church is currently in the process of being received into the Evangelical Presbyterian Church.

Similarly, members at Memorial Park also reaffirmed their Presbyterian roots.

"At Memorial Park, we will always be Presbyterian. We are a conservative, evangelical, missions-oriented Presbyterian Church," said Jay Roy, a ruling elder and former president of the Pittsburgh Federal Home Loan Bank, in a statement. "Our motto is 'preaching the unchanging Word to an ever-changing world.' Without apology, we believe that the Bible is God's infallible Word. We are unashamed when we proclaim that Jesus Christ is the only Way, Truth and Life."

The latest vote and dismissal comes weeks ahead of the Evangelical Presbyterian Church's 27th General Assembly, scheduled for June 20-23. The conservative body had invited congregations from the New Wineskins Association of Churches – a network of Presbyterians discontent with the PC(USA) – to create a non-geographic presbytery under the EPC where churches can realign. The EPC is comprised of some 180 churches representing 75,000 members in the United States.

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