A group from First Presbyterian Church of Columbus has started a new congregation in response to the recent defeat of an effort to break away from the PC (USA).
The new group, which has adopted the name Grace Church of Columbus, held its first Sunday worship service on April 26, just a week after the controversial vote.
The service was held at Shearith Israel Synagogue, 6727 River Road, attracting about 70 members from First Presbyterian, according to some who attended. The group plans to meet at the location regularly and already has a Facebook page and a website announcing its location and service times. Child care is provided, according to the website.
Members of the group had been among those seeking to separate from the PC (USA), which has become more liberal about same-sex marriage and other doctrinal issues in recent years. They had hoped to join the Evangelical Covenant Order of Presbyterians, a new denomination formed out of churches that have separated from the national denomination.
Members of First Presbyterian, a 900-member congregation at 1100 First Ave., voted 266 to 146 in favor of separating from the denomination at an April 19 meeting. However, the resolution fell eight votes short of the two-thirds required for dismissal.
Cathy Bickerstaff, 67, helped organize the new congregation. She said the group hopes to join the Evangelical Covenant Order of Presbyterians once legal matters are addressed.
"It may be six-nine months before we could join them," she said. "But we have been in contact with them and they are very willing to help us."
Bickerstaff said many have been shocked at how quickly the new group has mobilized. She said discussions about separating from First Presbyterian began the Wednesday following the vote when a group met at her home. Those who attended were concerned that some families would leave First Presbyterian and go to other churches in the area, so they decided to come together and start a church of their own.
"We had a meeting Wednesday night and I just would say it's incredible how God has worked this out so far," she said. "Somebody at First (Presbyterian) said, 'You all must have been planning this for a long time,' and we had not, because we were actually praying that the vote was going to pass to dismiss. We just didn't expect it to be like it was."
Bickerstaff said same-sex marriage has been portrayed by some as the main reason for members wanting to leave PC (USA). But that is not the case, she said.
"Our big issue is the reinterpretation of Scripture that the PC (USA) has taken on," she said. "They don't feel Jesus Christ is the only way to salvation and I don't agree with that. I also don't like their political involvement."
The Rev. Chuck Hasty, pastor at First Presbyterian, said he first heard about the new group forming the week after the vote.
"Upon learning of the formation of this group I was surprised and I'm amazed at the speed with which this has happened," he said.
He said members of First Presbyterian are still trying to come to grips with what has happened in the aftermath of the vote and are hoping for things to settle down so the church can move forward. He said the leadership desires reconciliation with the group that has left, but the focus now is those who remain.
"There are people who are very much desirous of the church staying together and continuing ministry at First Presbyterian," he said. "I think on a larger scale the church has always endured conflicts within and from without and has been shaped by those events and learned how to recommit itself to the core of the Gospel.
"I believe that God has grace enough to see First Presbyterian Church prosper and, if it be God's will to see another expression of faithfulness in this new community prosper for Kingdom purposes. God's sovereignty and grace is large enough to bless and encompasses all of that. And we may not understand it, but we know God works good in all circumstances for those who love God and are called according to his purpose."
Bickerstaff said it's not easy leaving First Presbyterian, especially for those with family ties spanning several generations. She said she is a second-generation member of the church and her husband, Rennie, is a third-generation.
"I was 2 years old when my parents moved to Columbus and I have been there ever since, except for two years out of college when I lived in another city and was a member of another church," Bickerstaff said. "I've been an elder there. I've been a Sunday School teacher there, very involved in a lot of the activities that go on there. And it is very sad to me."
"But I'm very excited about this new venture and it's a happy place, which is nice," she added. "We've been in turmoil for months. So it was very refreshing Sunday to have a wonderful service with people of like-minds, who really want to serve the Lord. We are anxious to follow the Biblical word, the principles of the Bible that God has set forth, and we believe that God, through the Holy Spirit, has written the Bible through different individuals and we believe it."
Alva James-Johnson, 706-571-8521. Reach her on Facebook at AlvaJamesJohnsonLedger.