A Sacramento church has voted to split from Presbyterian Church USA over the national denomination’s decision to ordain openly gay clergy.
After months of discussion, members of Fremont Presbyterian Church voted 427 to 164 on Sunday to join the more conservative Evangelical Presbyterian Church.
“Let me make it clear that Fremont didn’t leave the PCUSA, they left us,” said the Rev. Donald Baird, senior pastor.
About 800 congregants attended church Sunday for a meeting about the pros and cons of what is technically known as seeking “dismissal” from the mainline Presbyterian fold. Supporters of the separation argued that their denomination had drifted away from biblical teachings with its decision to allow gay ministers.
Scott Anderson became the denomination’s first openly gay minister when he was reordained last week in Wisconsin. He served as a Presbyterian minister in Sacramento for seven years before he came out to his congregation and resigned in 1990.
“This is a day of rejoicing. It frees us from the controversy that has split the church,” Clair Parsh, a member for 50 years who favored leaving the denomination, told the Sacramento Bee.
Cindy Harris, who is preparing to become a minister herself, was on the side of those who expressed reservations about joining the Evangelical Presbyterian Church.
“I think God can and will call whoever he wants to call, regardless of sex or orientation,” she said, wiping away tears after the vote.
Fremont, with weekly attendance of about 1,400, is the seventh Sacramento-area church to leave the mainline Presbyterian Church over doctrinal issues in the past few years, according to the Bee.
Regional church leaders plan to meet with Fremont’s staff to discuss what will become of the church’s property and other assets.
In an interview with The Associated Press this month, Anderson predicted that accepting gay clergy would make the Presbyterian church stronger in the long run.
“It really says to the wider culture, here we have a church that not only talks about being created in the image of God and you’re all created to be in relationship with one another, but also wants to live that message,” he said.