On Monday, (5-23-16), the session of Memorial Drive Presbyterian Church (MDPC) in Houston, Texas voted 47-8 (85% to 15%) to disaffiliate from the Presbyterian Church (USA).
The session will now ask the Presbytery of New Covenant to dismiss the church to ECO: A Covenant Order of Evangelical Presbyterians at its July presbytery meeting.
Just last month, the MDPC settled a lawsuit it had filed against the presbytery, which asked the civil court to reaffirm that the church, itself, owns its property as “supported by established law in Texas.” The church agreed to pay the presbytery $950,000, while the presbytery agreed to release “any interest in MDPC’s property,” and also stated that it will not take any disciplinary action against MDPC’s pastors, elders, staff, trustees or session.
A letter (click “The results of the MDPC session vote) signed by Senior Pastor Alf Halvorson and Clerk of Session Jere Overdyke called the vote “a significant decision, and one not entered into lightly, but only after months (years, really) of dialogue and discernment.”
“Know that a main reason for making this move is so MDPC can stay the course regarding our core foundational principles: devoted to radical generosity, committed to outreach through dollar-for-dollar, faithful to daily prayer for members and mission partners, and energized by Christ’s Great Commission in Matthew 28:19-20,” the letter read.
The session voted on the matter only after it have evaluated an opinion survey of the congregation conducted by a Houston-area polling firm ReconMR, which showed that 79 percent of the congregation was in favor of affiliating with ECO.
Of the 1,168 people surveyed, 921 (78.85 percent) expressed support for ECO, while 247 (21.15 percent) showed support for the PCUSA.
Addressing both sides of the vote, the letter said:
“For those who agree with the strong majority of the congregation and session on affiliation with ECO, this is a time to humbly recommit to Christ’s work through MDPC using our time, talent, and treasure. And for those who are disappointed with this decision, I have always been counseled by mentors to pause in the wake of real grief. Remember that this move to ECO requires nothing additional in the way of confessional allegiance or prescription. ECO has the exact same theology and polity as The Fellowship of Presbyterians within PCUSA (which MDPC has been a part of for several years). You have my commitment that all voices will continue to be valued, and that we will seek further ways to be welcoming to all. In this spirit, I’ve asked Pastor Rick Myers to organize reconciliation opportunities to light our congregation’s path as we move forward faithfully.”
MDPC’s discernment team was made up of three individuals who wanted to stay in the PCUSA; three who wanted to leave the PCUSA; four who were undecided; Halvorson and Paul Nazarian, a representative of the presbytery. The discernment team agreed that it “represented the demographics of MDPC and the various positions around discernment. We talked, wrestled, studied, resolved differences, and earnestly attempted to provide a process and factual information to the congregation so informed decisions could be made.”
The 3,461-member Memorial Drive Presbyterian Church began discerning its future in the PCUSA in early 2015, when the congregation voted 839-277 to enter the presbytery’s discernment process. However, the church was searching for a new pastor at the time, and put the process on hold until a new pastor was called. In August of 2015, the Halvorson became the senior pastor and during the first two months of 2016, the church leadership began meeting with representatives from the presbytery and exchanged four proposals.