Members of a Presbyterian megachurch in Tulsa, Okla., have decided overwhelmingly to withdraw from the Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.), agencies reported this week, making it the largest congregation to do so.
Just over one-thousand members of Kirk of the Hills Presbyterian Church turned out and voted 967-to-36 to affirm a vote by church elders to leave, the Associated Press reported Thursday.
The group then voted to request affiliation with the Evangelical Presbyterian Church (EPC) – a smaller denomination with less than 200 churches and about 70,000 members. The members also affirmed the Revs Thomas W. Gray and Roger Wayne Hardy as co-pastors of the 2,700-member church.
The decision to change affiliations comes after the General Assembly of the Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.) adopted a policy that some pastors say will allow gay pastors in the church.
On his personal web log, Gray explained the reason for separating from the PCUSA. "We at the Kirk are holding to what Scripture clearly teaches," he said, according to the Presbyterian News Service. "The PCUSA has left this critical foundation. We, therefore, no longer recognize the authority of the PCUSA over any congregation that chooses to hold to the traditional authority of Scripture, as once held by the PCUSA."
Kirk of the Hills is one of a handful of PC(USA) congregations that have voted to withdraw from the denomination since this year's 217th General Assembly adopted an authoritative interpretation of the church's Constitution that grants ordaining bodies greater leeway in determining individual candidates' fitness for ordination. And at 2,700 members, it is by far the largest, the Presbyterian News Service noted.
"While not all congregations like us have made this move, many are preparing for it," Gray wrote on his web log. "For those who stay with the denomination, it is a tacit, yet conscious, affirmation of the denomination's departure from Truth.”
AP noted, however, that there are reasons for the 2.3 million-member church to stay intact, despite all the tumult. Schism would waste both time and vast sums of money in property lawsuits.
Still, after decades of steady decline, denominational officials prudently projected a membership loss of 66,000 in 2007 and 85,000 in 2008.