A former Presbyterian Church (USA) congregation that ceased operations and allowed the presbytery to take control of its property has found new life in a different denomination.
Church of the Covenant (CotC) in Macomb Township, a northeast suburb of Detroit near Lake St. Clair in Michigan, could not foot the bill on the mortgage for its building that was purchased by Detroit Presbytery at a cost of $1.1 million in 2000 for use by what then was a 125-member congregation.
But with $650,000 remaining on the mortgage, CotC leaders deemed it would not be possible to pay off the debt and chose to close the doors to the church on June 1 with several of those leaders starting a transitional church plant of the Evangelical Presbyterian Church (EPC).
“We had a huge debt hanging over us and knew there was no way we could touch it,” said Jason Huff, pastor at Church of the Covenant since 2008. “We sought assistance from the presbytery in the summer of 2013, but the trustees did not see the church as viable.”
Taking that consideration into account as well as theological differences with the PCUSA in regard to the authority of Scripture and Lordship of Jesus Christ, the church opted to close.
“We realized the only way we would be able to move forward would be to close and start over,” Huff said. “It was very clear to our session that we could not continue in the PCUSA and be taken down a road where we didn’t hear about Jesus anymore. We could not afford the building and had theological issues, so it was better to close.”
Because members of CotC did not want to cease being a Christian fellowship after the decision to close, elders of the church approached EPC officials about becoming a transitional church plant, which allowed it to become a separate fellowship known as CrossWay EPC.
“Essentially, it’s who wanted to continue as a church and start something new, to be part of something different,” Huff said.
Huff requested to be released from the PCUSA to the EPC as a pastor rather than having to renounce jurisdiction, which Detroit Presbytery approved at its Aug. 26 meeting.
Lack of growth, need to seek
When the CotC building – constructed in 1984 for an Assemblies of God congregation – was purchased in 2000 by the presbytery, it was bought in good faith in an area that was anticipated to be in the middle of growth and development.
However, development came to a screeching halt as the bottom fell out of the housing market. Growth expected in the church did not occur. Maintenance on the building led to the depletion of funds that otherwise might have been applied to the mortgage, furthering hampering the congregation’s ability to keep the doors open to Church of the Covenant.
When all that was taken into account, the congregation found itself with a steep price to pay. Ultimately, it proved to be too much.
“We went to the presbytery and said our best option would be to close and that we did not want the building,” Huff said.
Now, the majority of the congregation is part of a new denomination and holds its services on Saturday nights at nearby Bethel Church of the Nazarene.
“They are charging us very little in rent and have been very gracious to us,” Huff said of CrossWay’s host. “This has been a huge blessing.”
And unlike their situation at the former location, CrossWay’s members are not waiting for people to come to them as anticipated years earlier. Yes, they are seeking a site to call their own but trying to do so in the area God calls them to minister.
“We have to find where God is calling us to be and get there,” Huff explained. “We have to go where the people are to find the lost. We can’t expect them to come to us. They did not come in droves before, why would they now? We have to seek the lost.”
Property of the presbytery
Shedding the weight of financial burden and theological differences has freed CrossWay to do that through a departure from the PCUSA that Huff said was handled graciously by Detroit Presbytery’s Administrative Commission, which agreed the church should close and recommended that Huff be allowed to transfer to the EPC as requested.
Huff noted that the property was held in trust for use by the denomination so it would have belonged to the presbytery even if his congregation had paid off the mortgage.
“We are a separate entity and took nothing with us, though we did buy a few things from the presbytery,” Huff said. “The presbytery now has the property and will decide what to do with it.”
The property has been listed for sale with a price tag of $749,000.
He added that there had been some offers made on the purchase of the property for figures in the neighborhood of $110,000-150,000 before the closure of the church but nothing panned out.
Ministry remains a draw
Since leaving the PCUSA and becoming CrossWay as an EPC missional plant, attendance at worship services has ranged from 25 to 70 with an average of about 40. Even with a disparity in numbers week to week, the congregation continues in its ministry and mission.
“We just continue to operate each week by the Grace of God, ministering to those who show up and serving God the best we can,” said Huff, noting that he and the forming members of CrossWay left less than two weeks before the start of the 221st General Assembly just down the road in Detroit.
Some of the draws for many people in the area are the meal and movie night offered with services once a month and a food pantry that is open on Saturday evenings, providing other means of sharing Christ with members of the community.
On the meal and movie night, a meal is served following the Saturday evening worship service, with the showing of a movie wrapping up the events of the day.
The distribution of food, toiletries and paper products to those in need occurs every Saturday. It is the continuation of a ministry started at CotC and stills draws many people.
“Some of the faces are the same and others are new,” Huff explained. “God brings these people to us and allows us to minister to them. It’s a way for us to help the community, not just with physical needs but also in helping meet the needs these people have for Christ.”
Sharing the message
While there is a desire to have their own church building, Huff reiterated the desire to go in search of those in need of Christ.
“Discerning where the Spirit would have us land is a concern, and there always is that desire to have a building,” he said. “But Christ wants us to reach out to people. Whether we find a building or not, we still have to go where the people are. They need to see we care for them and are sharing the message that Christ is seeking them.”
Huff even suggested the possibility of adopting an area like a mobile home park and taking the love of Christ to residents who live there as a way to reach out beyond the walls of a building.
“At Church of the Covenant the building became a liability that ran our ministry and eventually stopped it. That’s something we don’t want to see happen again,” Huff said. “If God has a place for us to minister and a building we are supposed to be in, he’ll provide it. Until then we’ll keep praying and sharing the love of Christ with those who need Him.”