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Southern Presbyterians Lose Third of Members

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Christianity Today — Two Presbyterian regional bodies recently lost one-third of their members with surprisingly little acrimony compared to many departures by conservative congregations from the Presbyterian Church (USA) and other mainline denominations.

The Presbytery of Mississippi has approved the dismissal of five churches–representing 1,400 people, or about one-third of its members–to the more-conservative Evangelical Presbyterian Church. The presbytery has maintained a hands-off policy toward the property and funds of departing churches since renouncing the denomination’s property-trust clause in 2006, according to The Layman.

“It would cost everybody a lot less grief if more presbyteries would follow the example we have tried to set,” Mississippi stated clerk Michael Herrin told The Layman.

Meanwhile, the Presbytery of Tropical Florida last week approved the dismissal of nine churches–also representing about one-third of its members (3,800 people)–but has required compensation of $500,000 (reflecting three years of per-capita payments to the denomination and parting offerings).

“It would be devastating to our presbytery’s mission strategy to be a reproducing, not a reducing presbytery … if we were to engage in a prolonged battle with congregations that have voted over 90 percent to request dismissal,” stated presbytery officials, according to The Layman.

Many PC(USA) departures have been marked by hard feelings or lawsuits over property and finances, but both presbyteries are conservative ones that share many of the departing churches’ views on denominational debates.

Conservative churches have been leaving the PC(USA) for a decade, but the pace has increased following a denominational vote to ordain non-celibate gays and lesbians in July 2011. Since July, 63 churches have voted to leave the PC(USA), according to The Layman.

The PC(USA) declined 3.42 percent in 2010 to 2.7 million members, a rate of decline second only to the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America among the nation’s 10 largest denominations, according to the 2012 Yearbook of American & Canadian Churches.

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