The congregation was dismissed from the Presbyterian Church (USA) during the March 16 meeting of the Presbytery of New Covenant to make way for affiliation with the Cumberland Presbyterian Church (CPC).
The presbytery Discernment Team report reads, “Having gone through Presbytery of New Covenant’s Procedure for Gracious Reconciliation and Dismissal, and after prayer and discussion together, it is the opinion of this Discernment Team that the congregation of First Presbyterian Church, Freeport is no longer called to be affiliated with the PC(USA), and therefore recommends dismissal of First Presbyterian Church, Freeport congregation to the Cumberland Presbyterian Church as requested by vote of the session and the congregation.”
The session of FPC-Freeport, located in Brazoria County of southeast Texas between Corpus Christi and Galveston along the Gulf Coast, voted in August 2012 to seek gracious dismissal from the PCUSA to another Reformed body.
A December congregational vote with a 30 percent quorum present was unanimous in seeking dismissal.
According to a Discernment Team report, five meetings – including one congregational gathering – took place between New Covenant and church representatives.
During those meetings, members of the church team indicated their displeasure with changes that have taken place in the PCUSA and how those changes have affected the congregation in an adverse way, notably the doctrine of Christ as head of the church and FPC’s concern with the national denomination’s current position on various issues.
“The list is endless,” said the Rev. Lee Attema, who has been a member of FPC-Freeport for three years and became its pastor in September 2012. “Changes in the Book of Order, the lack in ability of the General Assembly to acknowledge that Jesus Christ is necessary for salvation, and Scripture interpreted in a different manner than we are familiar with made us feel uncomfortable. There just does not seem to be a theological standard.
“We’re a small congregation trying to revive, and it makes it hard to evangelize when you have such issues.”
Presbytery representatives offered alternative ways to look at the issues of concern in an attempt to find reconciliation only to determine that the church wanted to move forward with dismissal procedures.
A Feb. 2, 2013, meeting of the team showed the church’s desire to leave the PCUSA for the CPC.
During a March 10, 2013, called meeting moderated by New Covenant Stated Clerk Lynn Hargrove to request dismissal, the congregation voted 21-0 in favor of leaving the PCUSA, and 20-1 to become a member of Trinity Presbytery in the CPC.
“It is a denomination that looked more like us, thinks like us, is similar in size and not as Calvinistic,” Attema said of the CPC. “It’s a good theological fit. We’re very impressed with what it has to offer and feel it is a wonderful choice for us.”
Though he did not divulge amounts, Attema indicated that FPC-Freeport is required to make payments of descending amounts over a five-year period to support and maintain ministries of New Covenant Presbytery. Some of that money will support pension funds and a children’s home. Attema said the amount requested by the presbytery was deemed very reasonable by the congregation.
A service of dismissal from the PCUSA was held at FPC-Freeport on April 27.
“This could have been an all-consuming sort of thing, but it wasn’t,” Attema said of the dismissal process. “It was something that had to happen, and it’s nice to have it past us. In spite of our differences, it was indeed a very gracious process (of dismissal with New Covenant Presbytery), and we’re very appreciative of that. It could have been an unpleasant process. We’re pretty excited about our future and what lies ahead.”