A group of Beaufort-area residents is moving forward with an effort to start an independent church to provide a more conservative option to the Presbyterian Church USA and its local affiliates.
First Scots Independent Presbyterian Church leaders held an informational meeting Monday at Harmony Lodge on Depot Road.
Committee member Pat Garrett said the initiative was a response to a decision in May 2011 by the governing body of the Presbyterian Church USA to authorize the ordination of gay and lesbian ministers, as well as gay and lesbian elders.
"We had some problems with that," Garrett said. Other concerns by the audience included gay marriage and the authority of the Bible.
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Many of those forming the new church are or were members of the First Presbyterian Church of Beaufort. Several had asked to talk to the First Presbyterian congregation about breaking away from the national church but were denied, Garrett said.
The steering committee for the church is seeking not only charter members, but also help finding a place to worship and a pastor.
"In order to form this church and grow this church, we must keep a positive, Christ-centered note," former Beaufort Mayor Henry Chambers said. "What the Presbyterian Church USA has done has nothing to do with this congregation."
The Rev. Terry Johnson, pastor of the Independent Presbyterian Church of Savannah, is assisting the steering committee. He encouraged attendees to think about the long-term goal of a new church.
"There's a church on every corner, and there's a sense in which you need to be able to justify your efforts," he said. "What is it that you're going to do that will make a difference and not just duplicate what somebody else is doing?"
One question is whether the new church would be independent of or affiliated with the Evangelical Presbyterian Church or the Presbyterian Church of America.
Johnson suggested staying independent while forming and affiliate later.
Their differences from the national church center on four issues: ordination of gays, gay marriage, Jesus Christ as the sole savior, and the authority of the Bible, steering committee member Wilson McIntosh has said.
Johnson focused on the authority of Scripture and its place in worship:
"I think that you can trace essentially every problem in the church to the compromising of that issue. I think the mainline denominations in our country are committing suicide. They are self-destructing before our eyes in the name of social issues they think are of greater importance than the traditional issues, spiritual issues of the church."
Audience members had differing views, even among couples. Sandy and Tom Ogle attended First Presbyterian Church of Beaufort together for a decade before she chose to stop going this summer. She will attend First Scots services if they begin, while he is continuing to worship at First Presbyterian.
"They're trying to make everyone feel comfortable, and at the same time, they're encouraging things that are sinful," she said.
Jim Outlaw, who attends Sea Island Presbyterian on Lady's Island, came to listen to the discussion but is not interested in breaking from his church. A Harmony Lodge member with Chambers, he said lodge members respect the right of everyone to discuss issues and to disagree.
"I think it is ironic to be meeting in Harmony Lodge and talking about separation and division," he said.
Follow reporter Erin Moody at twitter.com/IPBG_Erin.