Spirits were uplifted and hearts were broken after the tally for Menlo Park Presbyterian Church's vote on whether to change parent organizations came in: 2,024 members in favor, 158 against.
With about 3,400 members and a couple thousand more people attending weekly services, the Menlo Park church represents a powerhouse in the local community. Changing denominations will facilitate its plans to add five more campuses in addition to those it has in Menlo Park, Mountain View and San Mateo.
While PCUSA holds the titles to real estate property used by its churches, in ECO, the churches own the property. Transferring the titles won't come cheap -- Menlo Park Presbyterian will pay $8.89 million to leave.
Another difference between the two denominations is the ease of operating multi-site churches, according to Menlo Park Presbyterian representatives, something ECO more readily accommodates.
Theological differences also factor in to the move, including a conflict over PCUSA's approval of gay clergy in 2011 and current debate over whether to recognize same-sex marriages, according to some members of the congregation.
According to PCUSA's statistics, it experienced its largest loss of membership in five decades during the year immediately after its constituents voted to overturn a ban on gay clergy.
ECO's stance on gay clergy is difficult to detect, as the organization didn't respond to requests for comment, and the same goes for same-sex marriage. Its website states that members not in a heterosexual marriage are expected to remain celibate.
One long-time MPPC member who asked to remain anonymous described the vote's outcome as devastating.
"(I) can't quite comprehend how I could feel so differently than so many people I called my friends. It's the end of a lot of friendships, but I'm done with Menlo Presbyterian and the people who go there," she said.
Debra Holvick, another member with a long connection to the church, had spoken out against the change. She said one of the Bible's greatest commandments is to love your neighbor as you love yourself.
"My hope is that someday MPPC will move from righteousness to love, following above all what Jesus himself said and commanded of those who follow him," Ms. Holvick said. "My prayer is that all God's children, including gays, will someday be treated equally."
Fifty percent of the total membership needed to participate in the vote and 75 percent of those voting had to be in favor, according to MPPC Communications Director Nicole Laubscher.
Senior Pastor John Ortberg thanked the congregation in an letter posted to the church's website after the votes were counted.
"This is a major milestone, and not an ending but a beginning. There's a lot yet to come of what Dallas Willard called the unique life of spiritual adventure in living with God daily -- entering fully into the good news that Jesus has brought, for ourselves, and for us as a church," he wrote.
The chair of the PCUSA team selected to deal with the proposed change, Tom Conrad, said they hadn't expected "such an overwhelming pro-dismissal vote."
Mr. Conrad, noting the church's public relations campaign had been in overdrive for at least two weeks, said his team "is just happy that it is over and that the congregation has spoken its collective will."
He didn't expect the outcome to be reversed once the regional governing body, the Presbytery of San Francisco, meets next week, but suggested the issue might prove more contentious than one might think.
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