The Presbytery of New Covenant (PNC) centered in Houston, Texas is the 4th largest presbytery in the Presbyterian Church (USA) and home to several of the denomination’s largest congregations including Memorial Drive, First Houston, Grace and Windwood. Like many presbyteries, the landscape is changing as congregations seek to discern their future.
On October 20, the 2,631-member Grace Presbyterian Church voted to enter the presbytery’s discernment process joining First Presbyterian Church Houston, with 3,567 members, which has been engaged in that process since January.
In the prior 18 months, six other Houston area churches have gone through the discernment process and left the PCUSA. Three congregations have been dismissed to ECO: A Covenant Order of Evangelical Presbyterians including Advent in Spring, First Kingwood, West Isle in Galveston. Two congregations have been dismissed to the Evangelical Presbyterian Church (EPC): Memorial in San Augustine and First Lake Jackson; and the Heritage church is now aligned with the Evangelical Covenant Church (ECC).
Additionally, Windwood Presbyterian Church has been engaged in litigation with the presbytery for several years disputing the denomination’s assertion of trust over property. The court recently requested new briefs in the case from both parties following the ruling of the Texas Supreme Court which favors neutral principles of law and is a significant factor in the changing landscape for Texas churches.
New Covenant is not the only Texas presbytery dealing with the potential departure of its largest churches. Following the Texas Supreme Court ruling, the fourth largest PCUSA church in the nation, Highland Park in Dallas, began seeking denominational realignment in the Dallas based Grace Presbytery. The court has set a March 2014 date to hear the case.
In west Texas, Palo Duro Presbytery has taken recent action against First Presbyterian Church in Amarillo in response to that congregation’s attempt to make a denominational change.
Suffice it to say, all is not quiet on the western front.