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Reasons vary for churches to part with denominations

Several Oklahoma churches over the last dozen years have parted ways with their denominations, citing a variety of reasons.
by Carla Hinton Modified: January 25, 2013 at 4:13 pm •  Published: January 26, 2013

As one prominent metro area congregation considers parting ways with its denomination, it joins a shortlist of other churches who have done the same.

First Presbyterian Church of Edmond will vote to seek “gracious dismissal” from the Presbyterian Church (USA) on Sunday. The Rev. Mateen Elass, the church's senior pastor, said the congregation plans to join with another Presbyterian denomination, the evangelical Covenant Order.

Elass said his congregation began discussing the idea as early as 2005 but decided against it at that time. Elass said parting from a denomination is not a “split-second decision.”

A clergyman of another church in similar circumstances last year said much the same thing.

The Rev. Keith Falk became senior pastor of Peace Lutheran Church about a month after the Edmond church left the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America. Like Elass, he said leaving a denomination is a process church members never take lightly.

“The process is quite long and arduous and it should be,” Falk said.

“It's an important decision for a congregation to say our practices and beliefs do not align with our denomination.”

Reasons for splits vary

Typically, congregations find themselves at odds with their denomination over certain issues.

Disagreement over core Scriptural issues/ordination of clergy in same-sex relationships: A majority of members of First Presbyterian Church of Enid voted to sever ties with the Presbyterian Church (USA) in October 2011. The church's pastor at the time, the Rev. Roy Schneider, chose to retire. This week, Schneider, who now serves as secretary of the Garfield County Election Board, said the church members who decided to leave formed a new church called Westminster Presbyterian. He said the church meets in the Enid Seventh-day Adventists building.

“I did not go and work with them though they're all dear friends,” Schneider said.

Perceived departure from Scripture/ordination of clergy in same-sex relationships: Peace Lutheran, 2600 E Danforth Road, voted in May 2011 to terminate its relationship with the ELCA, the largest Lutheran denomination in the country. Church members voted to become part of the North American Lutheran Church, a denomination created by others disenchanted with the ELCA. At the time, a Peace Lutheran leader said the ELCA's churchwide assembly in August 2009 had “raised the red flag” to church members regarding the denomination's perceived shift away from Scripture. At that time the denomination's leaders voted to allow pastors in same-sex relationships to be ordained and serve in the denomination.

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by Carla Hinton
Religion Editor
Carla Hinton, an Oklahoma City native, joined The Oklahoman in 1986 as a National Society of Newspaper Editors minority intern. She began reporting full-time for The Oklahoman two years later and has served as a beat writer covering a wide...
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