(By Lee Shearer, Athens Banner-Herald). A judge promised to rule within a week after a nearly seven-hour hearing in a legal dispute over an Athens Presbyterian Church Thursday.
Members of an Athens Presbyterian Church want to leave the Presbyterian Church (USA) denomination, the country’s largest denomination, and keep control and ownership of their building, grounds and equipment as they leave.
But under the rules of the Presbyterian Church USA, local congregations may own the property, but promise to hold it in beneficial trust for the denomination.
In a meeting of the more than 50 churches in the Northeast Georgia Presbytery earlier this week, delegates voted overwhelmingly that the church should remain in the denomination, because there are enough members who want to stay in the mainstream PCUSA to form a viable congregation at the $3.6 million church complex at 380 Alps Road.
But the day before the vote, the Central Presbyterian Church session (similar to a board of deacons or elders) voted to secede from the PCUSA, change the church’s name to Alps Road Presbyterian Church, and join a new, more conservative denomination called the Covenant Order of Evangelical Presbyterians, or ECO.
Unlike the PCUSA, ECO does not sanction same-sex marriage or the ordination of lesbians or gays, among other differences.
The session also filed a lawsuit earlier this month asking a Western Circuit Superior Court judge to prevent the Northeast Georgia Presbytery from assuming temporary control at Central and rule the property should stay with the dissident congregation, a majority of whose members voted last year to join ECO.
Western Circuit Superior Court Judge Eric Norris earlier this month issued a temporary restraining order preventing the Northeast Georgia Presbytery from taking steps to rebuild a PCUSA congregation at the Alps Road church.