The Enid News and Eagle, Enid, OK

Local and State News

October 13, 2011

Local Presbyterian Church congregation divided over ordination of gay ministers

ENID — Historically, churches have led the way on social issues, providing guidance to Christians on matters of conscience and social importance, referring to the Scriptures.

But when a church or denomination is divided, it can cause extreme feelings within the denomination. Such is the case with Enid First Presbyterian Church, whose members will vote Sunday after the 10:45 a.m. morning service whether to leave the Presbyterian Church USA or stay.

The main issue reportedly is the Presbyterian Church USA’s stance on ordination of gay ministers. A number of Protestant denominations currently struggle with the issue, but it has come to a head in the Presbyterian church.

An advisory committee has recommended the Enid church leave the Presbyterian Church USA.

However, one member said Amendment 10A, which is at the heart of the controversy, merely states the Presbyterian church will return to the policy pre-1996, which says local congregations get to decide who they will or will not ordain. No church will be forced to call a gay pastor, the member said. There is controversy in the church over whether the church should ordain an avowed gay minister.

In the Enid First Presbyterian Church’s October newsletter, the Rev. Roy Schneider announced Sunday’s vote. The vote will be a private yes or no vote by members of the congregation on whether to stay in the Presbyterian Church USA. In the newsletter, Schneider said the reason for the vote is because the church needs to know the true number on each side of the issue before members can determine how to proceed. The Presbytery, the governing body, has agreed to the vote.

If the vote reveals a large majority wants to leave the Presbyterian Church USA, church leaders will work with the Administrative Council toward what Schneider called a “gracious dismissal,” he said in the October newsletter.

“That would mean beginning negotiations that would allow the local church to keep its buildings and other assets as they are dismissed to another reformed denomination,” Schneider said in the newsletter.

If the vote reveals a large majority wants to remain in the church,  the debate is over, he said. If there is a close split the local church “may take the Presbytery up on its generous offer to pay for a third-party mediator to help us move forward,” Schneider said in the newsletter. Further talks with the Evangelical Presbyterian Church have been suspended until after the vote.

Schneider is remaining neutral on the issue and urged church members to vote their theology.

A report in the newsletter from the advisory committee recommended leaving the Presbyterian Church USA. Doug Frantz, a member of that committee, declined comment Thursday. Other members of the committee are Jason Reid, Dewey King, Jed Dillingham and Cathy Stocker.

“We do not want to divide over this issue. It might take a miracle for us to have a united front and all stay together, but we’re calling for one,” the committee said it its report.

The committee also pointed out the Presbytery lays claim to all of the church’s property and endowment money if members vote to leave the PCUSA. However, committee members said they hope the Presbytery will negotiate if there is a large majority vote.

“Many people of great faith and conviction want to stay in the PCUSA. Those people can join the majority who wish to leave in order to keep the congregation intact as it searches for a future,” the committee said.

Schneider would not comment for this story, nor would other members contacted by the News & Eagle.

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