WENATCHEE -- The Wenatchee Valley's oldest church has changed its name and affiliation in a move to preserve what it says are traditional Christian beliefs threatened by progressive policies of its national denomination.
The 120-year-old, 500-member First Presbyterian Church of Wenatchee renamed itself Saddlerock Evangelical Presbyterian Church on Jan. 1 and shifted affiliation to the Evangelical Presbyterian Church, a more traditional and conservative denomination.
"These changes have been coming for nearly 10 years," said Pat McElroy, senior pastor of the Saddlerock church. "We've been struggling with issues of belief and practice with the previous denomination for at least that long."
McElroy said previous local affiliation with the Presbyterian Church of the U.S.A., the nation's largest Presbyterian denomination, had eroded through the years as the mainline group shifted toward more liberal interpretations in defining God, the Bible and the divinity of Jesus.
"We could no longer in good conscience remain part of the PCUSA," said McElroy. "Our own classical beliefs on the Bible, the Trinity and the Word of God were not fitting with their more diverse interpretations."
Saddlerock is not the only church in the United States to face the decision of withdrawing from the national organization. According to the Associated Press, there has been a growing concern among many conservative Presbyterians about the direction the church is taking, including its stand on gay ordination and using church funds to help support progressive causes.
Changes in the local church, established in 1892, come amid upheaval in the PCUSA, said McElroy.
As many as 700 of the denomination's 11,000 congregations are considering a transfer of their affiliations to more conservative groups, according to McElroy and online sources. Meanwhile, remaining traditionalists within the PCUSA are working to establish a more conservative direction for the group or form entirely new denominations.
Despite difficulties at the national level, Presbyterians in central Washington have remained mostly unified in their basic beliefs, said McElroy. The Yakima-based Presbytery of Central Washington has been a strong voice in the PCUSA for a more traditional ministry.