SACRAMENTO — After the vote, some church members wiped away tears. Others said they were relieved it was finally over.
Members of Fremont Presbyterian Church — the largest Presbyterian Church in the Sacramento region — ended months of speculation Sunday when they voted to leave their national denomination and join one that church leaders said reflects more traditional beliefs.
By a vote of 427 to 164, members voted to seek dismissal from the Presbyterian Church USA and join the Evangelical Presbyterian Church.
Church leaders said their denomination had strayed from biblical adherence, most recently in July when the national denomination permitted the ordination of openly gay clergy.
"Let me make it clear that Fremont didn't leave the PCUSA, they left us," said senior pastor the Rev. Donald Baird shortly before the vote.
For two months, members have been in turmoil about the vote to leave the national denomination which ordained Scott Anderson – a former Sacramentan – the first openly gay minister in the Presbyterian Church last week.
The Presbyterian Church (USA) has about 2 million members and is one of a growing number of mainline Protestant churches that have voted to accept gay clergy.
The list includes the United Church of Christ, the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America and the Episcopal Church. The United Methodist Church is still debating.
Fremont becomes the seventh church in the Sacramento area – including churches in Roseville, Fair Oaks and, most recently, Redding – to leave the Presbyterian denomination in the past couple of years. About 100 congregations nationally have left in the last five years, according to the Presbyterian News Service. Many joined the Evangelical Presbyterian Association.
Sunday afternoon, nearly 800 people packed into the Fremont church – across the street from Sacramento State's main entrance – for the largest congregational meeting in church history. The mood was cordial but at times tense. Over two hours, members on both sides of the issue headed to the microphone.
Supporters of the vote to leave said the PCUSA had strayed from biblical teachings and no longer reflected their church's views.
Mark Eshoff, executive minister, said the issue was more than gay ordination; it was about Scripture and remaining focused on Christ.
Clair Parsh, a member for 50 years who also favored leaving the denomination, said, "This is a day of rejoicing. It frees us from the controversy that has split the church."
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