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Graystone congregation votes to leave PC (USA)

by CHAUNCEY ROSS chauncey@indianagazette.net on September 16, 2013 11:00 AM

A majority of the congregation of Graystone Presbyterian Church voted Sunday afternoon to split the church away from Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.), a church source said.

The group seeking dismissal from the main Presbyterian organization achieved more than the required two-thirds majority vote. Favoring conservative traditional values, the faction opposed the more liberal doctrines adopted in recent years by Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.).

The congregation voted 374 to 168 to seek Graystone’s dismissal from Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.).

The balloting Sunday afternoon culminated an official process that began in January but had been decades in the making, said the Rev. Rick Hurley, a senior pastor at Graystone.

The voting and the process leading up to it were dictated by a policy enacted by the Kiskiminetas Presbytery, the equivalent of a diocese in the regional Presbyterian Church structure.

It’s called a “Gracious Separation Policy,” is a guideline for “discerning God’s will in the relationship between the presbytery and the member churches,” and was composed in light of changing times.

“These are not normal times, however, that we are living in,” the policy reads. “The church and the world are changing in ways our forbearers in faith could never have imagined. Our congregations, pastors, and members are dealing with issues inside and outside of ourselves which were not issues for us a decade ago. The relational fabric of our life together in Christ is being pulled in different directions. The prospect of change is frightening for some. Others are experiencing a crisis of conscience. The threat of being torn apart is real for this portion of the Body of Christ.”

The Assembly of the Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.) in recent years had approved changes in the church such as allowing ordination of homosexuals as ministers, elders or deacons, and permitting marriage of homosexual couples.

Some held the assembly’s decision to allow insurance coverage to cover abortions for church employees as an issue of disagreement.

Local churches and pastors, however, were allowed to optionally follow the changes.

Ultimately, Hurley said, “It is really about core theological issues surrounding the lordship of Christ and the authority of Scriptures.”

Graystone, Hurley said, “is one of hundreds of churches that are going through the same gut-wrenching process throughout the country.”

The process enabled church members to study their own beliefs and values, he said.

“Obviously people on both sides have strong feelings,” Hurley said. “It was the opportunity for the congregation to vote to seek the best denominational home for what we believe is a longstanding Christ-centered legacy of witness and worship in our community.

“One of the things this did was bring clarity to personal faith and belief and where we are all best aligned,” he said. “Our people took this very seriously; they prayed, they searched the Scriptures, they explored what was important to them. Some who feel that their core theological beliefs will not be in line must make a decision about other options now.”

Graystone is likely to remain a Presbyterian Church but become affiliated with another denomination within the church, according to Hurley.

He said he does not expect all congregation members who favored staying with Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.) to depart. Some may remain with Graystone in its different form, while others may join other churches affiliated with Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.).

The nearest is the adjacent Calvary Presbyterian Church.

The Presbytery will negotiate terms of Graystone’s dismissal following predetermined protocols, a spokeswoman at the Presbytery said.

“Once the terms have been agreed upon, the Graystone Presbyterian Church will gather for another congregational meeting to vote on the terms,” said Marilyn Tully, of the Presbytery office in Yatesboro. “If approved, the Presbytery of Kiskiminetas will vote to approve the terms of said dismissal. The process may take upwards of six months.”

Tully said the Presbytery would have no further comment on the dismissal while negotiations are under way.

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