Beverly Heights Presbyterian Church in Mt. Lebanon, Pennsylvania near Pittsburgh, has decided to take a walk, according to the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette:

By a vote of 195-4, Beverly Heights Presbyterian Church in Mt. Lebanon has decided to leave the Presbyterian Church (USA) with the intention of joining a more theologically conservative Presbyterian body.

“I think it is a fairly clear and compelling voice, which is what the presbytery asked for and what the congregation has given the presbytery,” said the Rev. Rick Wolling, pastor of the congregation, which voted at a 6 p.m. closed meeting yesterday.

“I didn’t go to seminary to do this. It’s hard. And yet I think there’s a real strength and joy in doing a hard thing that we believe God is calling us to do.”

I hear that. The Pittsburgh presbytery will likely let them go, but at a price:

The vote, which took place with four observers from Pittsburgh Presbytery present, does not end the matter. The congregation will continue working with a presbytery negotiating team to come up with a proposal for Beverly Heights to keep its building, in exchange for what the presbytery calls “a substantial mission gift.”

That proposal, with the yet-to-be-decided figures, will be presented to the June 6 presbytery meeting. It will be discussed at that meeting, but not voted on until the September meeting.”

I love it–”a substantial mission gift.” I’m sure they don’t mean it that way, but it sounds like something the Mafia would say to a local drug dealer when letting him keep his business in return for a cut of the profits. But hopefully the spirit of separation will be amicable:

Jay Lewis, stated clerk of Pittsburgh Presbytery, was one of the observers. Presbytery representatives had spoken to the congregation on April 15 in an effort to persuade them to stay but did not speak last night, he said.

“We were pleased by the formality with which the vote was taken, and with the open and above-board practices in the meeting,” he said. “The presbytery and Beverly Heights have each expressed their sadness at the end point of the vote.”

Beverly Heights’ eventual destination will likely be the EPC, though that will probably wait until at least after our June General Assembly:

Beverly Heights is part of the New Wineskins Association of Churches, theologically conservative congregations in the Presbyterian Church (USA). That group has developed a proposal for congregations that wish to leave the denomination to affiliate with the much smaller Evangelical Presbyterian Church.

The Evangelical Presbyterian Church will not be able, however, to approve that plan until its own June meeting, when it will vote on a proposal to create a non-geographical transitional presbytery for incoming congregations from the more liberal body.

Although it is his intention to seek affiliation with the Evangelical Presbyterian Church, “I’ve not had one word of conversation with the EPC yet,” the Rev. Wolling said.

Beverly Heights would be in the Presbytery of the East (if it doesn’t go the New Wineskins transitional presbytery route), and since I’m on the committee that will be dealing with churches seeking membership in the presbytery, I’ll have an early opportunity to get to know them. I hope I’ll have that privilege in the foreseeable future.

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