Presbyterian Church (USA) Accepts Calif. Megachurch's Vote to Leave Denomination

A California megachurch's recent vote to leave Presbyterian Church (USA) has been confirmed by the mainline Protestant denomination. Menlo Park Presbyterian Church, a multi-site congregation which has over 3,000 members, recently voted to leave PCUSA.

The PCUSA Presbytery of San Francisco affirmed the vote taken by Menlo Park Presbyterian Tuesday in a meeting. Nicole S. Laubscher, spokeswoman for Menlo Park Presbyterian, told The Christian Post about the time table now that the Presbytery has approved their vote to be dismissed.

"The effective date of dismissal will occur no earlier than 91 days after the Presbytery vote, and as promptly thereafter as practicable recognizing the need to complete necessary purchase and transfer documentation," said Laubscher. "Now that our dismissal from the PCUSA has been approved, we are beginning the formal transfer process into ECO for both MPPC and our pastors. We are in regular communication with the leadership of ECO to ensure a seamless transition at the end of the 91-day waiting period."

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Last June, Menlo Park Presbyterian's leadership, known as the Session, voted unanimously to disaffiliate from PCUSA.

By October, Menlo Park Presbyterian reached an agreement with its regional body, or Presbytery, on the conditions of dismissal and set a date for congregational vote on the matter.

Earlier this month, the congregation at Menlo Park Presbyterian voted overwhelmingly to leave PCUSA for a myriad of reasons. In a vote of 2,024 in favor and 158 against, members decided to disaffiliate from PCUSA and join the smaller, more conservative Evangelical Order of Presbyterians (ECO).

"We believe that changing denominations from PCUSA to ECO will help us achieve our mission in many ways, which fall into four key areas: identity, mission, governance and property," said Laubscher in an earlier interview with CP.

Senior Pastor Steve Ortberg praised the decision in a letter released immediately following the action.

"This is a major milestone, and not an ending but a beginning," wrote Ortberg, who proceeded to thank many of the people involved in the vote. "Thank you for being part of this spiritual journey of trusting God and letting him lead us as individuals and as a church family on his great adventure."

Before the Tuesday meeting, San Francisco Presbytery spokesman Jeff Hutcheson told CP that Menlo Park "is our largest" congregation.

With their dismissal confirmed, Menlo Park Presbyterian will have to pay $8.89 million to keep their church property, whose title was owned by PCUSA.

Laubscher explained to CP that the "terms of dismissal will be funded at the close of the 91-days once all documentation has been finalized."

"The church is contributing $2.5 million from its reserves and the Church of the Pioneers Foundation, which has long supported MPPC and other Christian ministries in the Bay Area, will help to cover the rest of the $8.9 million, which includes five years of per-capita payments," said Laubscher. "We are thankful that there will be no reduction of staff or ministry."

Menlo Park Presbyterian is one of several churches that have left PCUSA after the denomination's decision to allow for the ordination of openly gay clergy. Since the 2011 decision, scores of congregations across the nation have sought and received dismissal from PCUSA.

According to statistics released by PCUSA, 110 congregations were granted dismissal in 2012 in order to join other Presbyterian denominations. This was an increased from 21 congregations in 2011.

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