A group of Beaufort Presbyterians that feels disenfranchised by the direction of the Presbyterian Church (USA) is breaking off and creating an independent church.
"We were going to take different approaches but this is our only avenue for right now," said Wilson McIntosh, one of the leaders of the effort.
The steering committee for the new church is made of former members of First Presbyterian Church of Beaufort on Church Street, several of whom are lifelong members. Walter Lubkin said he attended for 50 years and left when it became clear First Presbyterian would remain part of the PCUSA.
The decision comes after months of discussion, and John Gatch said it was not easy for anyone.
"It is a very emotional issue, as all religious issues are, but it's something that's going to have to happen," he said.
Their differences from the national church center around four issues: ordination of gays, gay marriage, Jesus Christ as the sole Savior and the authority of the Bible, McIntosh said.
"We're going to stress that Jesus Christ is the Lord and Savior and we're going to comply with his directions and we're going to comply with the Bible," Pat Garrett said.
Garrett left First Presbyterian when the PCUSA rules changed to allow ordination of gays, a change that went into effect about a year ago.
Gay marriage was not approved by the PCUSA General Assembly this year, but the independent group members said they feel confident it will be when the assembly meets again in two years.
"The same-sex marriage, it's an issue, but it's not the only issue," McIntosh said.
McIntosh said the group has been unable to reconcile with First Presbyterian, which, along with Sea Island Presbyterian on Lady's Island, is part of the PCUSA.
"I am excited that there are people who want to share the love of Jesus Christ in our community and that they see the possibility of doing that through the formation of a new church," said the Rev. Patrick Perryman, senior pastor at First Presbyterian Church of Beaufort.
McIntosh said the group is exploring several options, including a completely independent church modeled after the Independent Presbyterian Church in Savannah, or joining one of the more conservative Presbyterian denominations such as the Evangelical Presbyterian Church or the Presbyterian Church of America.
Leaders at the Savannah church are providing advice to the Beaufort group as well as other groups and churches in the area considering leaving the PCUSA, McIntosh said.
"TheySavannah's Independent Presbyterian Church) are one of the greatest success stories in the United States, they don't have to answer to anyone," Pierre McGowan said.
Regionally, several churches have left the Presbyterian Church (USA) during the past year, including First Presbyterian Church of Greenville, with 3,500 members; First Presbyterian Church of Florence, with 900 members and Westminster Presbyterian of Florence with 400 members.
Charles Aimar Sr., who died this summer and was part of the effort, came up with the name First Scots Independent Presbyterian Church to honor the denomination's roots, Garrett said.
The plan is to start meeting regularly at a still-undetermined location, McIntosh said, possibly with retired Presbyterian pastors to lead service. Eventually, they would like to open the new church somewhere in or near downtown Beaufort.
"This could go slow for the next year or so, or it could ramp up in a hurry," Gatch said.
He believes ongoing discussions regarding homosexuality in other denominations could drive people to the more conservative independent Presbyterian church the group intends to open.
The Diocese of South Carolina ended its affiliation this month with the Episcopal Church after Bishop Mark Lawrence challenged national decisions concerning the ordination of gays, transgender people and other issues.