Almanac

News - March 5, 2014

Menlo Park church votes to switch denominations

by Sandy Brundage

Spirits were uplifted and hearts were broken after the tally for Menlo Park Presbyterian Church's vote on whether to change parent organizations came in: 2,024 members in favor, 158 against.

If the regional governing body now approves the March 2 vote, the church will switch from Presbyterian Church USA to ECO: A Covenant Order of Evangelical Presbyterians, a much smaller, more conservative denomination launched in 2012.

With about 3,400 members and a couple thousand more people attending weekly services, the Menlo Park church represents a powerhouse in the local community. Changing denominations will facilitate its plans to add five more campuses in addition to those it has in Menlo Park, Mountain View and San Mateo.

While PCUSA holds the titles to real estate property used by its churches, in ECO, the churches own the property. Transferring the titles won't come cheap. Menlo Park Presbyterian will pay $8.89 million to leave.

Another difference between the two denominations is the ease of operating multi-site churches, according to Menlo Park Presbyterian representatives, something ECO more readily accommodates.

Theological differences also factor in to the move, including a conflict over PCUSA's approval of gay clergy in 2011 and current debate over whether to recognize same-sex marriages, according to some members of the congregation.

According to PCUSA's statistics, it experienced its largest loss of membership in five decades during the year immediately after its constituents voted to overturn a ban on gay clergy.

ECO's stance on gay clergy is difficult to detect, as the organization didn't respond to requests for comment, and the same goes for same-sex marriage. Its website states that members not in a heterosexual marriage are expected to remain celibate.

One long-time MPPC member who asked to remain anonymous described the vote's outcome as devastating.

"(I) can't quite comprehend how I could feel so differently than so many people I called my friends. It's the end of a lot of friendships, but I'm done with Menlo Presbyterian and the people who go there," she said.

Debra Holvick, another member with a long connection to the church, had spoken out against the change. She said one of the Bible's greatest commandments is to love your neighbor as you love yourself.

"My hope is that someday MPPC will move from righteousness to love, following above all what Jesus himself said and commanded of those who follow him," Ms. Holvick said. "My prayer is that all God's children, including gays, will someday be treated equally."

Fifty percent of the total membership needed to participate in the vote and 75 percent of those voting had to be in favor, according to MPPC Communications Director Nicole Laubscher.

Senior Pastor John Ortberg thanked the congregation in an letter posted to the church's website after the votes were counted.

"This is a major milestone, and not an ending but a beginning," he wrote. "There's a lot yet to come of what Dallas Willard called the unique life of spiritual adventure in living with God daily — entering fully into the good news that Jesus has brought, for ourselves, and for us as a church."

The chair of the PCUSA team selected to deal with the proposed change, Tom Conrad, said they hadn't expected "such an overwhelming pro-dismissal vote."

Mr. Conrad, noting the church's public relations campaign had been in overdrive for at least two weeks, said his team "is just happy that it is over and that the congregation has spoken its collective will."

He didn't expect the outcome to be reversed once the regional governing body, the Presbytery of San Francisco, meets next week, but suggested the issue might prove more contentious than one might think.

Comments

Posted by Steve, a resident of another community
on Mar 14, 2014 at 5:14 pm

Went to MPPC for years and felt the love at that time. Had to leave a year ago after being there over 25 years. John Ortberg arrived, with an entourage, and many changes were put into place. After a long time of attending services where they started holding up hands, turning around while singing, dismissed the choir, chose not to use the wonderful organ and talent, put a want-to-be-rock band, with a want-to-be-lead guitarist in the pulpit, and I had had enough. The Presbyterian church had long been gone, and only remained in name. Their sole reason for leaving is that they want to continue the discrimination of gays and others for not accepting their life style and beliefs. This is not about them following Jesus. As all the other evangelical hypocrites, they too will expose themselves. I don't need to name them, we all know who they are and I predict this for the new Covenant Order of Evangelical Presbyterians. Ortberg can't turn around without consulting with Dallas Willard.


Posted by curious, a resident of Menlo Park: Fair Oaks
on Mar 15, 2014 at 8:13 am

What happened to all of the other comments on this topic? There were many-they seem to have disappeared


Posted by Menlo Voter, a resident of Menlo Park: other
on Mar 15, 2014 at 8:25 am

Menlo Voter is a registered user.

curious:

They're here: Web Link


Posted by MLK, a resident of Atherton: West Atherton
on Mar 15, 2014 at 10:06 am

It would be courageous if the MPPC would publicly state their position on same sex marriage - perhaps here in an open forum. Their website is vague on the subject.

Dana Allin, the synod executive of ECO does so here:

Dana Allin on Ordination Standards & Same Sex Marriage:
Web Link

Dana Allin on leaving PCUSA:
Web Link



Posted by MLK, a resident of Atherton: West Atherton
on Mar 15, 2014 at 10:12 am

I'll try again: Dana Allin, Executive Synod of ECO:

Dana Allin on Ordination Standards & Same Sex Marriage:
Web Link

Dana Allin on leaving PCUSA:
Web Link


Posted by Harry Turner, a resident of Portola Valley: Ladera
on Mar 18, 2014 at 10:48 am

he MPPC can accept new members and learn from them

The MPPC's near unanimous vote to end its Presbyterian affiliation was an exclusionary action. Yet, claiming to be a "biblically based church to follow Jesus" is a statement sufficiently vague to include or exclude anyone according to how the MPPC interprets what it means. There is no single "bible", a canon of selected writings; many bibles exist with varying contents. Some common ones are the NIV, the American Standard, and The Jerusalem Bible. There is no one unique Jesus. Four differing Jesus' are the subjects of Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John. The MPPC's chosen bible contains a plethora of contradictory statements about Jesus. The MPPC has no doctrinal discipline against which a person can be labeled a heretic (perhaps an advocate of gay marriage at MPPC) or not.

The MPPC can be an honest, welcoming institution if it is astute enough to plumb the depths of its religious world to reach out to others and learn what it means to be human.

Harry Turner
Portola Valley


Posted by Mike R, a resident of another community
on Mar 26, 2014 at 10:03 pm

The church leadership has always been clear on this topic, not just since John Ortberg arrived, but also when Walt Gerber was pastor (mppc was part of the confessing church movement in the early 2000s).

You can find this in sermons and church meetings when the topic was addressed. They say that to the best of their ability to understand what scripture teaches, that God intended for sex to be confined to the intimacy of marriage between a man and a woman. This is not a radical view, but the traditional view of orthodox Christianity for centuries. Nothing has changed with MPPC's teachings on this subject, before it was part of the pcusa and it will likely be true after it joins ECO.

This wasn't the reason that mppc left the pcusa, as the pcusa view on the topic didn't affect how MPPC was governed or otherwise impacted by being part of the pcusa. It was primarily the other topics that were stated before.



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