During a meeting Tuesday, April 22, Grace’s 28-member session voted to call a congregational meeting for Sunday, June 1. The purpose of that meeting will be to request dismissal from the PCUSA to join ECO: A Covenant Order of Evangelical Presbyterians.
The session also voted to recommend that Grace members vote in favor of joining ECO, the newest Presbyterian denomination that started in January 2012.
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.
Reaching the decision to vote
The decision to call the meeting came just nine days after the Presbytery Discernment Team (PDT) for Grace recommended that the session do so to vote on requesting dismissal. The PDT report presented to the Grace congregation on April 13 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.”
A notice sent to members of Grace Presbyterian indicated that only active members on the rolls of the church as of April 23, 2014, can vote at the congregational meeting in June. A quorum of 30 percent of the active members is required for the vote, and an affirmative vote of two-thirds of those present is needed for the motion to pass.
The session’s determination comes after six months of active prayer, discussion and study, which began when the Grace congregation voted Oct. 20, 2013, by a margin of 552-64, to enter into the discernment process of the New Covenant Presbytery’s Gracious Reconciliation and Dismissal Procedure.
According to a notification of the decision to have a congregational vote for dismissal on the church web site, the session listed core theology, vibrant leadership, church vitality, effective governance, church property and missional focus as key components in seeking the move to ECO.
Information provided also gave an estimated amount of $203,856 to be paid to New Covenant Presbytery for per capita over five years if Grace is dismissed. 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.
A series of town hall meetings will take place from now until the vote on June 1.
Dr. Dana Allin, ECO synod executive, will share additional information about ECO during a meeting on April 28.
The Grace staff leadership team and session members will share views and answer questions about joining ECO during a May 4 meeting, and a gathering on May 18 will feature representatives from ECO, the PCUSA and church leadership in a discussion about the two denominations.
Eighth church to leave?
If its dismissal is approved, Grace would be the fourth church from New Covenant Presbytery to leave the PCUSA for ECO in the last two years. Advent Presbyterian Church in Spring, West Isle Presbyterian Church in Galveston and First Presbyterian Church of Kingwood all have been dismissed by the presbytery.
Additionally, Memorial Presbyterian Church in San Augustine and First Presbyterian Church of Lake Jackson have been dismissed to the Evangelical Presbyterian Church (EPC), Heritage Presbyterian Church has left to join the Evangelical Covenant Church (ECC), and First Presbyterian Church in Freeport is now part of the Cumberland Presbyterian Church.
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.