Dissenters Can’t Take Central Presbyterian Property With Them If They Leave Denomination, Commission Says

The commission has also recommended that church administrators “dissolve the pastoral calls” of Central Presbyterian Church teaching elders

“Dissent over the Presbyterian Church (USA) stance on same-sex marriage and other issues began years ago. Then in 2015 the session — similar to a board of deacons — of Central Presbyterian Church formally requested “dismissal with property” from the Presbyterian Church (USA) in late 2015, saying they wanted to affiliate with the Covenant Order of Evangelical Presbyterians, or ECO.”

 

Members of an Athens Presbyterian church who want to change denominations are free to join a more conservative Presbyterian denomination — but they shouldn’t be allowed to keep church property as they leave, according to the recommendation of an “administrative commission” appointed to consider the dissidents’ request.

The commission has also recommended that church administrators “dissolve the pastoral calls” of Central Presbyterian Church teaching elders Bob Bohler and assistant pastor Deb Trimpe, Central’s pastor and assistant pastor.

Leaders from Presbyterian churches in northeast Georgia gathered in Athens’ Covenant Presbyterian Church last week to hear the commission’s recommendations read by Travis Adams, Stated Clerk of the Northeast Georgia Presbytery. A stated clerk is the chief ecclesiastical officer of a Presbytery. A Presbytery is an administrative body representing all the churches of a geographic district.

Dissent over the Presbyterian Church (USA) stance on same-sex marriage and other issues began years ago. Then in 2015 the session — similar to a board of deacons — of Central Presbyterian Church formally requested “dismissal with property” from the Presbyterian Church (USA) in late 2015, saying they wanted to affiliate with the Covenant Order of Evangelical Presbyterians, or ECO.

The Presbyterian Church (USA), the county’s largest Presbyterian denomination, allows same-sex marriage and the ordination of gays. ECO, which came into existence about five years ago, does not.

In a vote earlier this year, a large majority of Central members voted in favor of the denomination switch and to keep the church’s 380 Alps Road property as they made the change to ECO.

But after more than a year of study and meetings with Central leaders, the nine-person administrative commission determined that enough members would remain to have a viable congregation even if many Central members departed for ECO.

According to Presbyterian Church (USA) rules, church property is held in trust by local congregations, rather than being owned by individual churches as in some denominations.

Leaders from Presbyterian churches in the Northeast Georgia Presbytery are scheduled to meet Tuesday in Greensboro to discuss the administrative commission’s recommendations, as well as the Central session’s counter-proposal. A vote on the recommendations is scheduled for another meeting in January.

According to Central’s leaders, those who wanted to stay with the Presbyterian Church (USA) could choose among several other nearby congregations if the pro-ECO group is allowed to take over the Alps Road church property. Not enough congregants would remain to keep the church afloat financially if the pro-ECO group leaves, according to Central’s conservative leaders. And if the Presbytery doesn’t allow dismissal with property, many who’d like to depart for ECO will remain at Central, perpetuating the divisions within the congregation. Efforts to be dismissed with property would continue, Central’s session warned in a proposal released last week at the same time as the administrative commission’s report.

Under the administrative commission’s recommendations, if the dissident Central members establish a new church within three months, the Presbytery would give them the entire $180,000 “John 21 Fund” along with a church van worth about $40,000 and an additional $62,738 — 5 percent above the Northeast Georgia Presbytery’s minimum compensation package for a pastor.

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