Westminster Presbyterian Church, located in Gulfport, Miss., west of Biloxi along the Gulf of Mexico, became the 17th congregation in the state to leave the Presbyterian Church (USA) for the EPC.
Information provided to The Layman in an email from Westminster’s session leadership showed that the congregation voted 92-36 to seek dismissal with its property from the PCUSA to align with the EPC on Oct. 21, 2012, following a 9-3 session vote to seek dismissal to another Reformed body.
The church was dismissed during an Oct. 25, 2012, meeting of the Presbytery of Mississippi with property and no requirement of financial payment, though the congregation voluntarily agreed to provide per capita and benevolence support to the presbytery through the end of the calendar year.
Westminster, which has 225 active members, was given provisional membership in the EPC’s Central South Presbytery on the same day, and was granted full membership into the EPC upon completion of session and ruling elder training and examinations. That membership was extended during the April 25-26 meeting of Central South Presbytery.
The email sent to The Layman indicates the congregation did not leave the PCUSA because of disagreements with the presbytery, known as being conservative and orthodox, but rather issues with the national denomination.
In a July 2012 letter to the congregation, session members wrote that their decision “is not simply about running away from a denomination that ‘doesn’t fit us anymore.’ Rather, it is one of running to a denomination that embraces the theological principles upon which this church was founded and to which it is still moored. One of the driving comments behind this move is not so much that we are leaving the PCUSA but that the PCUSA has left us, and we must find our place again.”
The letter indicated the recommendation to sever ties with the PCUSA was due to a concern that the national denomination was departing from the Lordship of Jesus Christ, the authority of Scripture, and a call to obedience and holiness in lives, including faithfulness in marriage between one man and one woman, or chastity in singleness.
Additionally, the session letter expressed a view that the PCUSA is being held together by “governance only and not be theological unity.”
Westminster continues to be involved with the Presbytery of Mississippi through cross-denominational work and support of mission programs.
That stays true to Westminster’s mission to the world: bearing witness to God’s love for the world in Jesus Christ. However, session members acknowledged in their letter to the congregation that denominational home alone is not the only way that will be accomplished, even though they deem the EPC as means to achieve such a mission.
“What we know and believe to be true is that, ultimately, our hope is not found in a denomination,” the letter reads. “We will not become a growing church or begin fulfilling the Great Commission simply because we align with the EPC. We know that God is bigger than denominations. We believe that God will continue to do His most profound work at the local, congregational level. We are simply looking for a place for our church to call home, and a denominational community of faith with which to share our core theological values through cooperation rather than conflict.”
The letter continues to explain that EPC’s acceptance of women ordained to service, affirmation of and governance by the essential tenets of the Reformed faith and the preferred form of polity used as a help rather than a hindrance were key reasons to affiliate with the EPC.
It reads, “We believe we have found these things in the EPC. We believe that we will be supported by the larger body but not hindered by top-down structures that inhibit growth. We believe that we will be able to better focus our time, efforts and energy on the work that God has called us to as laid out in our mission statement. We believe that this will be a place where we can once again proudly state that we are Presbyterians and know in our hearts that we are being faithful to God’s Word.”