(By Lee Shearer, Athens Banner-Herald, GA). Presbyterian leaders from across northeast Georgia gathered in Greensboro Tuesday to consider the future of what one member called “a church with a broken heart.”
Most members of Athens’ Central Presbyterian Church want to leave the mainstream Presbyterian Church (USA) denomination and affiliate with the more conservative Covenant Order of Evangelical Presbyterians. They also want to keep the church’s property as they leave.
Central’s session, an elected group somewhat like a board of deacons, has petitioned the Northeast Georgia Presbytery for “gracious dismissal” with property. The church’s 380 Alps Road building and other assets such as vans are valued at about $3.4 million, with a $600,000 mortgage still remaining on a large addition 10 years ago.
The local congregation paid for it all, but under Presbyterian Church (USA) rules, local congregations hold property in trust for the benefit of the denomination, locally represented by the 53 congregations of the Northeast Georgia Presbytery.
The Central session offered to turn over about $371,000 to the Presbytery as part of the church’s departure to ECO.
A special Presbytery fact-finding group called an administrative commission recommended denial of the request. The commission recommended instead a settlement that would give those who want to depart about $243,000 and a church van, if the dissident members found a new ECO church within three months.
A big part of the schism is differing views on what rights gays and lesbians should have within the church.
The Presbyterian Church (USA) denomination has in recent years relaxed its historical teachings on homosexuality to permit same-sex marriage and the ordination of gays or lesbians as teachers within the church.
ECO holds to the older Presbyterian interpretation of God’s will, that marriage should be between a man and a woman and that ordained leaders should live either live in fidelity within the covenant of marriage between a man or a woman, or practice chastity if single.
The sometimes bitter schism actually goes back years.
“I want to talk about broken hearts,” said Central member Louie Boyd, quoting a former Central leader who’d described the 380 Alps Road church as “a church with a broken heart.”