A major change is taking place at Highland Park Presbyterian Church that may impact the congregation forever.
By the end of the month, the church may vote to break away from its governing denomination, the Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.). But the decision has not been entered into lightly. In September, the church’s 49-member session voted to recommend a break, following summer-long discussions and a mission report put out last spring by a Highland Park Presbyterian task force.
Now the church is engaging in a series of congregational meetings to prepare for the Oct. 27 vote. Elders are calling this month a “time of discernment.”
“Concern about our denominational relationship was high on the list of things that people felt needed to be addressed,” lifelong member and church elder Monty Montgomery said of the mission report.
The purpose for the split is broken up into four main reasons: a lack of core, theological beliefs; a lack of consensus on the authority of Scripture; changing governance polices and practices; and a lack of freedom to choose future pastors.
That last reason is especially pertinent, as Highland Park Presbyterian is in the middle of a pastoral search in the wake of the Rev. Ron Scates’ retirement.
“It makes it difficult to exchange different views, share those differences with one another, and make progress towards common understand and towards a strong, shared faith,” said the Rev. Michael Walker, the church’s theologian-in-residence.
Should the congregation vote for the break, the church has its eye on joining another governing denomination — A Covenant Order of Evangelical Presbyterians — which is more aligned with its goals and beliefs.
“The session’s recommendation was unanimous, so with the unanimity comes a lot of support,” Montgomery said of the congregation’s discussions.
In addition to theological issues, there are also some legal ramifications. Highland Park Presbyterian has filed a lawsuit in Dallas County District Court to protect its property and declare the congregation’s right — as opposed to the denomination’s — to control the land. As of Monday, the issue was sent back to state district court.
But no matter the outcome of future votes and actions, the church’s main goal is to guide its congregation toward what they feel is a truer sense of its mission.
“I’ve been impressed with the way the people have engaged and they’ve asked questions — good questions,” Walker said. “It makes genuine discernment possible.”