By Sara Gregory, The Roanoke Times.
By the time members of First Presbyterian Church were called together to vote on whether to leave their denomination, supporters of either side had little left to say.
In the years leading up to Sunday’s vote, the issue of whether to stay a part of the mainline Presbyterian denomination or leave for its evangelical counterpart has divided the historic Roanoke church’s congregation. On all sides, there are hurt feelings from what one member described as a “torturous” process.
So while congregants waited Sunday for the ballots to be counted and tallied, the church’s pastor, who has been a leader in the effort to leave, urged members to think of one another’s feelings and the church as a whole. Evoking the image of an end zone touchdown spike, pastor Bob Smith urged members to refrain from excess celebration, no matter the vote’s outcome.
“I hope for the sake of the unity of this body we will restrain ourselves,” Smith said, adding light-heartedly, “We are Presbyterian after all.”
In the end, the supporters who pushed for First Presbyterian to end its affiliation with the Presbyterian Church (USA) greatly outnumbered adherents who wished to stay. Out of 182 votes cast by active members on Sunday, 145, or about 80 percent, voted in favor of leaving the mainline denomination. Thirty-seven members voted to stay. First Presbyterian had 298 active members as of Dec. 31.