By Eric Adler, The Kansas City Star.
That’s why a small group of members of the Presbyterian Church of Stanley, part of the mainline Presbyterian Church (USA), insisted this week that their job now (at least for the time being) is to be as gracious as possible to the former members of their congregation who last year voted to break away. In so doing, they had also sought to wrest away control of the congregation’s $4.4 million building in Overland Park and its contents.
“We wish them grace and peace,” said member Ellen Crain.
In 2014, the 1,200-member congregation at 148th Street and Antioch Road went through a painful schism that split the church and friendships, and led to a lawsuit.
At root were issues of both theology and property. The congregation’s more conservative, evangelical members, including the congregation’s senior pastor, Eric Laverentz, voted in October to disaffiliate themselves from the Presbyterian Church (USA) because they believed the mainline church had long been veering from what conservative members deemed to be the faith’s Bible-based mandates. The bulk of the congregation joined in, choosing to affiliate with a different denomination, ECO: A Covenant Order of Evangelical Presbyterians.
Such schisms have become increasingly common in the Presbyterian Church, especially since 2011, when the mainline Presbyterian Church (USA) changed its rules to allow the ordination of gay and lesbian clergy.
Heartland Presbytery, the regional body that represents the national Presbyterian Church USA, filed the lawsuit in Johnson County District Court. Heartland held that the mainline denomination owned the church, its pews, its Bibles and all other property. If the ECO members wanted to leave, fine, but they shouldn’t get the building.
The ECO faction argued that the church and its contents belonged to the congregation, the entity that holds title to the building, other property and has long paid all its bills.
Judge Kevin Moriarty this month ruled in favor of Heartland Presbytery, supporting the mainline members of Presbyterian Church (USA).