During a congregational meeting held Sunday, June 1, Grace’s membership voted to seek dismissal from the Presbyterian Church (USA) to join ECO: A Covenant Order of Evangelical Presbyterians.
New Covenant Presbytery’s Gracious Reconciliation and Dismissal Procedure required a quorum of 30 percent of active members be present for the vote, and an affirmative vote of two-thirds of those present was needed for the motion to pass.
According to information on the Grace Presbyterian Church web site, 51 percent of the active membership for the Houston church turned out for Sunday’s vote, with 910 of the 1,019 votes cast (89.3 percent) in favor of leaving the national denomination, far surpassing the required number of 680 affirmative ballots needed to carry the two-thirds requirement to satisfy the motion.
The church will pay an estimated amount of $203,856 to New Covenant for per capita over five years if dismissal is approved by the presbytery. Also, if more than 10 percent of the congregation votes to remain in the PCUSA and a petition is signed by more than 25 active members with a determination by the presbytery that resources exist to organize a new church, Grace would have to make a payment to fund the start of the new church. That calculation would take into consideration the insured value of Grace’s property. The congregation also could be asked to make a voluntary gift to New Covenant Presbytery, though Grace Executive Director of Ministry Support Hardie Morgan indicated there is no way to determine what such payment would be at this time.
In a letter to the congregation posted on the Grace web site, the session wrote, “We labored for well over six months in prayer and grace seeking a decision regarding our church’s denominational affiliation. It was inspiring to witness brothers and sisters in Christ ‘bearing with one another’ as God’s holy and beloved children. Thank you for your Christ-like behavior.”
Dismissal from the PCUSA will have to be addressed and approved at a meeting of the presbytery. New Covenant Executive Presbyter Mike Cole indicated in an email to The Layman that he anticipates the motion for dismissal to be on the docket for the July 19 presbytery meeting.
Morgan said the goal now is to keep the process as civil as it has been since October.
“We want this to be a great witness for the kingdom as opposed to something that degrades into a lot of anger and fighting,” Morgan said. “We’re hopeful it reflects the same kind of civility we’ve had in the process so far. We’ve tried, and they’ve tried to make it that way, and we hope that continues through July 19 and beyond. We hope to continue to do ministry with (the presbytery), just in a different form of relationship.”
Cole agreed, writing, “The Presbytery of New Covenant is saddened by the decision to request dismissal to the ECO, and we are grateful that the leadership and congregation have been respectful of our covenant to be gracious with one another throughout this process. Even as we part ways, we anticipate sharing in mission opportunities to build and strengthen the Kingdom of God.”
According to the Grace web site, pastors, elders and staff will meet with members for a prayer service in The Founders’ Chapel today at 6:30 p.m. that will focus on the future of the church as well as God’s blessings
Leadership of New Covenant Presbytery will meet with any members of Grace interested in learning about the process of establishing a new PCUSA congregation on Wednesday, June 4 at 7 p.m. at the church. The meeting is the first of several planned to determine the level of interest in such an option.
Deciding to seek dismissal
The congregational vote to seek dismissal came less than six weeks after the 28-member Grace session voted to call the meeting.
The session’s determination to make the recommendation to depart for ECO came six months after the Grace congregation voted Oct. 20, 2013, by a margin of 552-64, to enter into the discernment process of New Covenant.
The Presbytery Discernment Team (PDT) for Grace recommended that the session call a meeting of the congregation to vote on requesting dismissal from the PCUSA to affiliate with ECO. The PDT report was presented to the Grace congregation on April 13 and indicated that “a congregational vote would, regardless of outcome, offer the best opportunity for reconciliation among members and for renewed focus on the mission of Jesus Christ.”
Notification about the congregational vote for dismissal posted on the church web site April 23 listed core theology, vibrant leadership, church vitality, effective governance, church property and missional focus as key components in seeking the move to ECO.
Joining others that have left
Grace is one of the largest PCUSA churches in Texas with 2,631 members and is 22nd in the nation, according to 2012 PCUSA cumulative statistics.
If dismissed, Grace will become the fifth church from New Covenant Presbytery to join ECO along with Advent Presbyterian Church in Spring, West Isle Presbyterian Church in Galveston, First Presbyterian Church of Kingwood and Providence Church of Southeast Texas (Nederland).
Four other churches – Memorial Presbyterian Church in San Augustine and First Presbyterian Church of Lake Jackson ( Evangelical Presbyterian Church), Heritage Presbyterian Church (Evangelical Covenant Church), First Presbyterian Church in Freeport (Cumberland Presbyterian Church) – also have been dismissed by the presbytery.
Windwood Presbyterian Church in Spring is engaged in protracted litigation with the presbytery over property, and it is anticipated the church also will seek a new denominational home.