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Members of Crossbridge Church Key Biscayne, which for five decades has been the island’s Presbyterian congregation, will vote Sunday on whether to leave its denomination over the issue of female ordination.

The church has been a member of the Presbyterian Church in America since that denomination’s founding in 1973.

The church is central to Key Biscayne and its history. 

On the front lawn sits a bell  U.S. President Richard Nixon once rang to announce the end of the Vietnam War.  The church also sits on pristine coastal property – with a tax exempt value of $28.5 million – and is the site of the church-run Key Biscayne Presbyterian School. 

Key Biscayne Presbyterian Church members voted in 2017 to affiliate with Crossbridge, a family of Presbyterian churches, some of which were members of the Presbyterian Church in America (PCA) earlier this year.

The main Crossbridge congregation in Pinecrest voted in June to leave the PCA and explore joining the Evangelical Presbyterian Church (EPC). 

The South Florida Presbytery, the regional body of the PCA, sanctioned Crossbridge’s Rev. Felipe Assis in May along with two assistant pastors for allowing a woman to preach at the Pinecrest campus. 

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Now the congregants of the Crossbridge Church Key Biscayne will vote on Sunday whether to leave the PCA and to start the exploratory process of joining the EPC. Another Crossbridge Church in Miami Springs is a member of yet another Presbyterian denomination known as ECO.

The EPC does not believe that the issue of the ordination of women “is an essential of the faith,” leaving it up to the congregation of its individual churches. The PCA has stood steadfast over its lifespan that it does not ordain women.

“As we have shared in the informational meeting that took place on Oct. 8, 2023, we believe the EPC is a better fit for our church,” stated the email signed “the Elders of Crossbridge Church Key Biscayne.”

The session at Crossbridge Church Key Biscayne is down to two members: Charlie Gadala and Eric Volavicius. Neither returned phone calls for comment.

Rev. Assis also declined comment on Monday.

Josh Youssef, a member of Crossbridge Church Key Biscayne, said he generally opposes leaving the PCA over the issue of women in the pulpit. He said the EPC leaves a clear path for future leadership of his church to change their stance on “a very important theological matter.”

Youssef said despite an informational meeting in October it is important the congregation really knows what is at stake this Sunday.

“It’s incumbent upon the leadership to ensure that everybody has a balanced theological understanding of the issues. They should present both the EPC perspective and the PCA perspective on the issue,” Youssef said.

The votes on changing denominations come at a time when Crossbridge Church Pinecrest is building a large new church on Kendall Drive, the fruit of a $14 million land swap with private Gulliver Prep school .

While many churches have long allowed women to preach – such as Episcopalians and Methodists — the issue is front and center in 2023 for others. In February, the Southern Baptist Convention ousted Saddleback Church,  the second largest congregation over the issue. 

The Crossbridge Church Pinecrest under construction. The church did a $14 million land swap with private Gulliver Prep school to facilitate the new church. (KBI Photo: John Pacenti)

More recently, the Roman Catholic Church announced it is exploring ways to open up more opportunities for women leadership at the Vatican, although the question of female priests remains  off the table. 

Opposition to even discussing a change in women’s roles was tied to Pope Francis’s decision to relieve Texas Bishop Joseph Strickland from office this month. Strickland was critical of the discussion and other ministry changes the pope has been discussing.

The debate over whether allowing women in the pulpits often comes down to Biblical interpretations, particularly 1 Timothy 2:12-14 where Paul’s words are taken by some denominations to mean women cannot hold leadership positions in the church. 

Other parts of the New Testament, though, speak to women who were church leaders – such as Junia, Phoebe and Priscilla.

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John Pacenti

JOHN PACENTI is a correspondent of the Key Biscayne Independent. John has worked for The Associated Press, the Palm Beach Post, Daily Business Review, and WPTV-TV.

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JOHN PACENTI is a correspondent of the Key Biscayne Independent. John has worked for The Associated Press, the Palm Beach Post, Daily Business Review, and WPTV-TV.