Members of First Presbyterian Church in Orlando voted 1759-185 at a congregational meeting on Jan. 29 to join the EPC. That vote follows a unanimous vote by the church’s session in late 2011 to ask Central Florida Presbytery to dismiss the congregation from the PC(USA) to the EPC.
The Orlando church’s move to join the EPC, under consideration for months, is part of a wider backlash against the PC(USA)’s decision last year to allow ordination of non-celibate gays and lesbians.
David Swanson, the Orlando church’s pastor, was one of seven ministers who in February 2011 released a “white paper” that launched the Fellowship of Presbyterians. But the session of First Presbyterian Orlando did not wait to act until the Fellowship met Jan. 18-20 and created a new denomination, called the Evangelical Covenant Order of Presbyterians.
In a document to congregation members called “Discerning God’s Way Forward,” the session wrote that the new denomination the Fellowship is creating “was of considerable interest to us, but the timing of its formation did not meet the needs of our current situation. While we wholeheartedly affirm the work of The Fellowship of Presbyterians and the creation of a new, Reformed body, we did not believe this new body was developed to the point that we could honestly recommend it as being best for First Presbyterian Church. There are simply too many unknowns.”
The action by First Presbyterian Orlando makes it the second of the seven congregations whose pastors released the white paper to choose the EPC.
In November, more than 90 percent of the members of the Chapel Hill Presbyterian church congregation in Gig Harbor, Wash., voted to leave the PC(USA) for the EPC. Mark Toone, the congregation’s pastor, also was one of the seven original signers of the white paper.
At the Fellowship’s Covenanting Conference in January, representatives of about 100 congregations indicated their churches are likely to leave for the new denomination. And more evangelicals could follow – going both to the EPC and the Evangelical Covenant Order of Presbyterians – in the months to come.