First Presbyterian Provides a Safe Harbor for All
Despite a recent split in the congregation, the historic church has stuck to its all-inclusive beliefs.
Ginny Ellis understands that a church congregation, like any other segment of society, is going to experience differences in opinions that cause people to make tough decisions.
But Ellis, head pastor at First Presbyterian Church of Safety Harbor, believes that sticking by your principles is more important than bowing to pressure or abandoning your beliefs.
That’s how the downtown church, which was founded in 1918, has survived a recent split in the congregation that stemmed from the inclusion of people of all races and nationalities, regardless of sexual orientation.
“We’re smaller now because the church split a few years ago because some members were against our policy of openness,” said Ellis, who came to the church two years ago.
“I see Jesus as accepting of all people. I don’t see any other way to do ministry.”
The history of the Presbyterian religion has always been inclusive, according to Ellis. She says Presbyterians have always been forward thinkers, avid readers and people who were in tune with the situations of the times.
But like all religions and society in general, the church has been grappling with issues of sexuality and acceptance, among other polarizing topics, in recent years.
She also believes it's important to deal with such issues in a way that doesn’t compromise your core beliefs.
“The reality is the Presbyterian Church, like many others, is struggling with issues of sexuality,” she says. “A year and a half ago, our denomination decided to remove restrictions for gays to be ordained. So it affected us here in Safety Harbor.”
While Ellis, who was brought in in part to help the church recover from the split, says many members did leave, she also says many others have come to join the church.
And even though the congregation might be smaller because of the split, those who remained and those who have joined since have made the church stronger thanks to their solidarity.
“It’s a struggle to be in the position,” Ellis admits. “In my lifetime, the world has dealt with divorce, integration, roles of women in the community, the way children are treated, birth control ... all of these issues have made us think about how we live.”
“But this church has a rich history ... and this is a great community for a Presbyterian Church,” she adds. “We are now a safe harbor for all people on life’s journey.”
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