One new face and a duo of new names this month: Two of Yakima’s Presbyterian churches have undergone considerable change.
First, “First Pres” is no longer. The First Presbyterian Church of Yakima is now called Grace of Christ Presbyterian Church. Signs reflecting the change were erected this week at the structure, which sits at the corner of South Eighth and Yakima avenues.
A new associate pastor has also been named there. The Rev. Cindy Carter filled the position earlier this fall after the Rev. Jim Erickson, former associate pastor, retired.
Farther west, at 6015 Summitview Ave., the former Westminster Presbyterian Church is now called Yakima Covenant Church.
The name changes, which reflect different denominational affiliations, have been contemplated for quite some time. Both churches underwent a process called discernment, reflecting on what it meant to remain in their original denomination or to choose another. After a period of study, the congregations voted on whether to seek dismissal from Presbyterian Church USA, or PCUSA, their denomination at the time. Both did.
In May, nearly 600 members of the 900-plus First Presbyterian congregation cast ballots on the issue. More than 90 percent, or 543, voted to join another Presbyterian affiliate, called the Evangelical Covenant Order, or ECO.
After fulfilling the process of being dismissed by the old affiliate and accepted by the new, the church is now officially called Grace of Christ Presbyterian Church. That ended more than 125 years of being called “First Pres”; the church held its first service here in 1885.
“We had to retrain ourselves to say it (the new name),” said Pat Erickson, who, along with husband Fred, is a longtime member of the former First Presbyterian. “It’s a little hard to get used to, but we understand, and there’s been a lot of peace about it.”
Fred Erickson agreed: “There were no fights over it at all.”
In June, a majority of the members of the former Westminister church voted to end their affiliation with the Presbyterian Church altogether and instead aligned with a denomination called Evangelical Covenant Church, or ECC.
In order to become part of the Evangelical Covenant Church, the Rev. Duncan MacLeod, who has led Westminister since 2009, agreed to transfer his ordination to the new denomination and take additional classes to make that possible.
Members of both churches had expressed concern over their original affiliation with Presbyterian Church USA because of changes made by the national governing body in the last several years. Many members of First Presbyterian said last fall that they didn’t support new wording that offered additional paths to salvation and relaxed fidelity standards for ordained leadership.
At the former Westminster church, there was a general view that PCUSA had become too polarizing, MacLeod said last spring. The evangelical denomination allowed for greater variation in theology and more local governance, he explained.
Leaders of both churches said the expectation that PCUSA would ordain gay clergy in the future did not weigh heavily in their decisions.
Even with new names, the mission and sense of community remain the same at both churches, leaders said.
Grace of Christ’s new denomination (ECO) strives to build “flourishing churches that make disciples of Jesus Christ,” Assistant Pastor Carter of Grace of Christ said.
“While we don’t anticipate significant changes in how we worship or make a difference in the community, our hope is that being a part of ECO will enable and equip us to live out our mission even more effectively than before.”
Carter will be serving with the Rev. Jack Peebles, senior pastor at what is now Grace of Christ since 2008.
A native of Spokane, Carter spent the last 21 years working at Shadle Park Presbyterian Church there. She has a bachelor’s degree in economics from Stanford University and worked as a supervisor and computer programmer for Pacific Bell in Northern California before leaving to study for the ministry.
Carter, 54, earned a Master of Divinity in 1987 from Fuller Theological Seminary in Pasadena, Calif., where she met her future husband, Greg Carter, also a seminary student. They served together in churches in Montana, Arizona and Spokane before he retired earlier this year.
Cindy Carter is also a licensed marriage and family therapist. The couple has two grown children, Emily and Tim.