Opposing Groups Emerge In Presbyterian Church Discernment Process

Several months ago we first reported that one of the nation's largest churches in the Presbyterian USA denomination is considering breaking away from that affiliation. The discernment process at First Presbyterian Church Houston is underway and is already stirring up debate.


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Back in January, members of the First Presbyterian Church Houston voted to enter a discernment process in which they would decide whether to remain with the PC (USA) or leave and join another reformed denomination.

Theological issues led to that vote, including questions over Holy Scripture, gay marriage and leadership in the church and the means of salvation.

First Presbyterian is working with the Presbytery of New Covenant, the governing body for PC (USA) churches in Southeast Texas, to implement a procedure known as Gracious Reconciliation and Dismissal.

It’s a process that allows congregations to leave the PC (USA) without schism, should they so choose, and be released into a different denomination with as little disruption as possible.

Bill Hargrove is co-chair of the steering committee handling that process for the congregation.

“Part of our objective is to calm any nervousness that people may have. This is going to take a long time.”

The discernment process can take as long as two years, although it’s likely to take much less.

Last week, a group of members who want to stay in the PC (USA) circulated an open letter to the congregation, advocating for their position. Hargrove says he spoke with members of that group and asked them not to send the letter, but rather to work within the prescribed process set out for discernment.

They respectfully declined, and released the letter alleging that the leadership of the church is trying to influence the discernment process and lead the congregation away from the PC (USA).

“The process we’re going through is intended to honor all the voices in our congregation. It’s intended to be open and accessible and it’s intended to be gracious. So that whatever someone has to say, whatever someone wants to bring forward, they should have an opportunity to do that.”

Hargrove says the steering committee and the church’s pastor are not advocating one way or another. Ultimately, it is up to the members of the church to decide whether they stay in the PC (USA) or join a different denomination.

“There’s an element of reason, there’s a lot of that that’s involved. Part of the reason we began with a prayer service is because we also believe it’s a deeply spiritual process. It’s not a process of what I want, it’s a process of discerning where God is calling our congregation and that’s not something we take lightly.”

In the past year and a half, six other churches in the Houston region have gone through the discernment process and left the PC (USA). Two weeks ago, members of First Presbyterian Church of Kingwood voted to leave and join the Evangelical Covenant of Presbyterians.

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Laurie Johnson-Ramirez

Laurie Johnson-Ramirez

News Director

Laurie Johnson-Ramirez leads news coverage for Houston Public Media across broadcast and digital platforms. Ramirez is a native Houstonian who started her career at Houston Public Media in 2002. Before becoming News Director, Ramirez held the position of Executive Producer for Daily News, leading daily and breaking news coverage, helping...

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