Historic Corinth church begins process to leave denomination

02060760 Corinth Church

C. Todd Sherman

Randy Long, an elder and lifelong member of First Presbyterian Church in Corinth, and other members of the church are beginning the process of severing ties with the mainline Presbyterian Church (USA). The decision to break away could displace the 149-year-old congregation from the property where it has worshiped since 1957.

Elliott MUG.pdf (page 10)

FAXBOX:

HED: Presbyterian Church (USA) in Northeast Mississippi

n 67 – Number of PCUSA congregations

n 6,436 – Number of PCUSA members, as of 2005

* SOURCE: Presbytery of St. Andrew, Oxford

HED: Historic Corinth church begins process to leave denomination

n First Presbyterian Church (USA) is dissatisfied with national decisions.

By Charity Gordon

Daily Journal

CORINTH – First Presbyterian Church in Corinth is taking first steps to separate from the mainline Presbyterian Church (USA).

The action is especially controversial in this denomination, where each local church is connected and overseen by a higher governing body.

In June, a majority of the local congregation took issue with decisions made at the annual PCUSA meeting that they believe show a disregard for biblical authority.

In July seven families left the church and started a congregation in the Presbyterian Church in America, a conservative evangelical denomination still in the Presbyterian stream. Since then, many members in that PCUSA church have wrestled with staying in a denomination they think has shifted in substantial ways.

“My congregation got up to speed about what’s been going on in the denomination real quickly,” said Dr. Don Elliott, pastor of the Corinth church. “They couldn’t take it any more.”

First Presbyterian is not alone in its decision, especially in the South where more conservative members have disagreed with the more liberal denominational leadership. Some other PCUSA congregations in Mississippi are reportedly considering severing denominational ties.

Similar discord has arisen in the Episcopal Church and, currently to a lesser extent, the United Methodist and Evangelical Lutheran Church of America. No Mississippi congregations in those denominations have sought to sever their national ties, however.

On Nov. 28 the Corinth church’s 17-member session, or body of elders, recommended to start the process of disconnecting with the PCUSA.

Dr. Greg Goodwiller – head of the Presbytery of St. Andrew, the North Mississippi regional governing authority for the denomination – says the PCUSA does not want this to happen.

“We do not want them to leave,” he said. “We are continuing to have dialogue with them.”

First Presbyterian, a church of 470 members and currently averaging 215 people for Sunday morning worship, has linked up with New Wineskins, a movement of other PCUSA churches splitting from the denomination. New Wineskins is negotiating with another denomination, the Evangelical Presbyterian Church, to receive a group of PCUSA churches.

Points of disagreement

Many in the Corinth congregation insist the Presbyterian Church (USA) has moved away from its belief in the authority of Scripture, which Elliott says is demonstrated by its allowing for the ordination of homosexuals in its local churches and presbyteries, or regional governing authorities.

Other points of disagreement include the denomination’s broadened vocabulary when speaking of the Trinity, its reputed loss of missionary zeal and support of abortion rights.

Randy Long, a First Presbyterian elder and lifetime member, says the biggest problem his church has with the PCUSA is its allowance for the ordination of homosexuals.

“I don’t see it as a discrimination issue,” he said. “It’s purely the case of not being able to agree with the church’s position.”

Elliott, pastor of First Presbyterian for 21 years, says he has felt led to go with his congregation in this new direction.

Long says his session’s decision to disassociate with the PCUSA was the culmination of many denomination movements. Even though a few church members may remain loyal to the PCUSA, he thinks most of the congregation agree with the decision.

“I believe the session reflects the congregation,” he said, “and it’s an overwhelming majority.”

According to Elliott, the congregation will continue the slow process of breaking ties with the PCUSA.

“We need a period to work with our presbytery as we go in that direction,” he said. “We are members of St. Andrew Presbytery. Having to work with them is important to us and something we need to do.”

In the meantime, in the session’s written recommendation to the congregation, the church does not plan to give the annual requested contribution to the denomination or make any financial commitment to St. Andrew Presbytery. It also seeks to retain the church property, an action being countered by the presbytery based in Oxford.

“We will take all the necessary steps to maintain the property of FPC,” the church session recommended. “This calls for due diligence in working with St. Andrew Presbytery and doing the necessary legal work.”

Elliott says some in his congregation remain loyal to the PCUSA, which is difficult. However, he believes the church will lose more people if it doesn’t take this action. He remembers the church’s loss of the seven families in July.

“That set the tone of seriousness for us,” he said. “We’ve been quite a united congregation. We were at the peak of our ministry, at our highest membership, had the most active ministries, the biggest budget. Then this hit.

“We love all of our members here,” he said. “We’ve asked ourselves what can we do to all stay together.”

Elliott says since making the decision to move toward a different denomination, the church has experienced a recovery.

“It’s been gut-wrenching,” he said. “But we’re confident in where the Lord’s been leading.”

Contact Daily Journal religion editor Charity Gordon at 678-1586 or charity.gordon@djournal.com.

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