Issuu on Google+

S E C T I O N 2 Cover Story By Sandy Brundage Almanac Staff Writer O ne hundred and forty years ago, the Menlo Park Presbyterian Church first took shape in a small building on Santa Cruz Avenue. Now, MPPC is looking for a new home — both spiritually and physically. Make that homes, plural. You probably either know someone or someone who knows someone who attends MPPC: The church, a cornerstone of the city’s community, has about 3,400 members and a couple thousand more who attend weekly services at a campus in Menlo Park, Mountain View or San Mateo. Now the church wants to add five more Bay Area campuses, an expansion that involves changing parent organizations, or denominations. Some members are questioning whether it’s not just a question of property rights, but also theological conflicts over gay clergy and samesex marriage that are influencing the switch. On March 2 the entire congregation will vote on whether to leave the denomination the church has belonged to since 1987 — Presbyterian Church (USA) — for ECO: A Covenant Order of Evangelical Presbyterians, a much smaller, newer organization launched in 2012. According to the church’s leadership, it comes down to four factors: identity, in terms of adherence to Scripture; and mission as well as governance, which relate to the process of growth in local communities. The fourth factor, property, involves who owns church real estate. Currently, that belongs to PCUSA. But in ECO, the churches hold the titles. MPPC Communications Director Nicole Laubscher said ECO’s 110 churches are organized into nine presbyteries by both geography and similarity, such as size, as opposed to geography alone as done by the Presbyterian Church (USA). “For us it’s about the pace of change,” she said. ECO offers Photo by Michelle Le/The Almanac Church goers embrace during a recent Sunday service at the Menlo Park Presbyterian Church. Church members will vote March 2 on whether to change parent organizations, or denominations, a move that has large implications for the church’s expansion plans. On the cover: Members of the Menlo Park Presbyterian Church worship during a Feb. 16 service. (Photo by Michelle Le/The Almanac.) Big changes ahead Menlo Park Presbyterian Church leadership wants to add five campuses, change its denomination more flexibility, whereas PCUSA is designed for small churches in a single location. “It creates tremendous barriers.” When MPPC first sought to expand outside Menlo Park, she said, “It was really hard. At the time, we didn’t know if we would just get a no. Instead of being supported, encouraged and helped, it was another barrier to hurdle. ... it’s just not the right framework to support a larger, multi-site church.” In PCUSA, the presbytery, or regional governing body, is responsible for planning and placing new churches. Tom Conrad, chair of the PCUSA team selected to deal with the proposed departure of the Menlo Park church, agreed the concept of opening multiple sites doesn’t fit well with that organization’s system; as a result, there are “precious few” multi-site churches. But there are also practical reasons for MPPC to stay, he said. Leaving would disrupt connections with other PCUSA churches. The denomina- tion also serves as a resource for finding pastors, promotes world-wide disaster relief and missionary programs, and provides pensions as well as church insurance. Freedom comes at a price: $8.89 million, according to MPPC, a figure arrived at after negotiations with PCUSA. Member churches hold property in trust for PCUSA, meaning the parent organization actually owns the real estate at 950 Santa Cruz Ave., for instance. This creates reluc- tance on the part of congregations to invest in additional property, according to MPPC, and also results in high exit fees to transfer ownership of the real estate upon leaving the denomination. The split is playing out across the nation. According to PCUSA’s statistics, it lost more than 102,000 members and 196 congregations left or were dissolved in 2012, compared with only 21 congregations the year before. That was the denomination’s largest loss in almost 50 years. In what may not be a coincidence, in 2011 the majority of presbyteries in PCUSA voted to allow the ordination of openly gay clergy, overturning a 33-year-old ban, and left it up to churches to decide whether to implement the change. Recognizing or performing same-sex marriages is also up for debate, although the denomination currently defines marriage as between a man and a woman, as does ECO. ECO’s stance on gay clergy is harder to parse out. The See page 19 February 26, 2014 NTheAlmanacOnline.comNThe AlmanacN17

2014 02 26 alm section2

Related publications