HOUSTON -

A historic Houston church made a landmark decision not to break with their national church organization Sunday.

Members of First Presbyterian Church narrowly voted to stay with the Presbyterian Church U.S.A, rather than join a more conservative denomination.

Of those who voted to put an end to a year-long debate among church members, 1,085 voted to leave the church, 596 voted to stay with the church.

"I'm a little disappointed because I came out very passionately and very strongly," said senior pastor Jim Birchfield.

Birchfield said he's a bit surprised by the vote. He was among church members who wanted to break away from Presbyterian Church U.S.A, favoring an alternative denomination called Ecotheology. But the measure fell 36 votes short.

"We knew that this was going to be a close vote," Birchfield said. "It has been contended from the very beginning, so we always knew the congregation had the final say and now they've spoken."

The congregation's decision was different from a string of other Texas congregations that have decided to break with PC U.S.A. because they felt the church was becoming too liberal, showing support for gay marriage and gay clergy.

"We're living in this very diverse city, the fourth largest in the United States," said Maggie Stewart, a member who voted to stay with the church. "I don't understand why we're going back into a fundamentalist sort of view of things."

Birchfield now says First Presbyterian will have to move on. He says he will now focus on reconciling the two sides and the church's relationship with P.C. U.S.A.

"Anytime the Holy Spirit is present we have the ability to speak to one another, love and get to a place where we can forgive one another and move on. It won't be easy," Birchfield said.