By Peter Smith, The Pittsburgh Post-Gazette.
The Pittsburgh Presbytery on Thursday approved an amicable agreement with Bellefield Presbyterian Church — a landmark congregation long associated with university student ministries in its Oakland neighborhood — that finalizes the church’s departure from the Presbyterian Church (USA).
Presbytery delegates concluded years of legal negotiations at their quarterly meeting Thursday with a near-unanimous vote, followed by a formalized liturgy of separation with Bellefield representatives, each blessing the other as they take separate paths. The vote took place at Riverview United Presbyterian Church in Perry North.
Bellefield is the latest of several congregations to leave the Allegheny County-wide presbytery over the past decade amid differences with liberal trends in the denomination.
“We grieve the loss of Bellefield congregation as part of our fellowship,” said the Rev. Heather Schoenewolf, who moderated the presbytery commission that negotiated with Bellefield. “We have been grateful for their unique ministry in our presbytery, but we trust God will continue God’s good work through them and look forward to potential partnerships as part of the church universal.”
The Presbyterian Church (USA) has had high-visibility debates over sexuality in recent decades before approving the ordination of gays and lesbians in 2011 and same-sex marriage in 2015.
But the Rev. Josh Brown, temporary pastor of Bellefield, said the congregation had more fundamental differences over its understanding of the authority of Scripture and the church’s mission.
“It was not one particular issue,” he said. Over 20 years, ”we were going a different way than the Presbyterian Church (USA) in terms of mission and ministry.”