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Gazette Premium Content More area Presbyterian churches consider split from organization

MARIA ST.LOUIS-SANCHEZ Updated: March 5, 2012 at 12:00 am

A vote Sunday by the largest Presbyterian church in Colorado Springs to split from the denomination’s main governing body in the United States may just be the beginning of a growing divide.

Eight churches in the region have expressed an interest in splitting from Presbyterian Church (USA), said Ronald Anderson, executive presbyter for the region that is based in Pueblo and spans much of southern Colorado. Those eight churches account for almost a fourth of the total churches in the Presbytery of Pueblo and make up more than half of the region’s total members.

On Sunday afternoon, 88 percent of First Presbyterian Church members voted in an informal poll to split with the mainline Presbyterian church and join a newly created, and more conservative, group called the Evangelical Covenant Order of Presbyterians. The vote was the culmination of several months of work by church leaders who sought to distance themselves from the main governing body after it voted in May that congregations could appoint openly gay ministers.

To officially make the split, church leaders and the Presbytery of Pueblo still have to negotiate terms and the congregation has to make an official vote, presumably in late-April.

Rev. Tom Trinidad, pastor at Faith Presbyterian church, 1529 N. Circle Drive, said his congregation is not considering a split and is sad that other churches want to leave.

“I like having people at the table to have different opinions," he said. "If the conservative churches all leave then we lose their input and we lose our accountability to them.”

He said he doesn’t know how his church representatives voted on the issue of allowing openly gay clergy, but assumes that most of them approved of the idea. That makes his church a minority in the region. Most in the region voted against it, Anderson said, but they were out-voted by other regions.

Tiny Mountain View Church, 2520 Arlington Drive, is considering a split. Rev. Jeff Baxter said the decision to allow openly gay ministers was a sign of just how far apart theologically his conservative church has become from Presbyterian Church (USA).

“I just don’t’ think we can honestly say it wasn’t a factor. It’s a whole pattern of watching the denomination we all love becoming more and more irrelevant of the culture around us.”

He’s been a minister for Presbyterian Church (USA) for almost 30 years.

“There’s a sadness that you feel like when you come to a place where you try to part as friends but the parting is none the less there.”

If all eight of the churches decide to leave it could have a huge impact on the Presbytery of Pueblo. First Presbyterian Church alone accounted for half of the administrative body’s budget, Anderson said. If the split is approved, the presbytery would give First Presbyterian its buildings if the congregation continues its normal payments to the presbytery for the next five years, an estimated $650,000 to $700,000.

Anderson said the presbytery has created a task force to reorganize and will use the next few years, while it is still getting payments, to put an action plan into place.

“We are looking at these issues and deciding what to do in the future,” he said. “There’s been nothing definitive yet.”

Trinidad is interested to see how the split will turn out. His church has already seen an increase of people in the past few months, part of which he attributes to people who don’t approve of the bolt.

Trinidad said the divide between conservative and mainstream congregations has been growing. The decision to allow openly gay clergy was the final straw for some, he said.

“This was the one thing that was the most distressing to conservative churches and this was the one thing they could no longer tolerate,” he said.

Contact Maria St. Louis-Sanchez: 636-0274

Twitter @mariastlouis

Facebook Gazette Maria St. Louis-Sanchez

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