(By Lee Shearer, The Athens Banner-Herald). An assembly of Northeast Georgia Presbytery leaders emphatically denied a breakaway Athens congregation’s request to leave the Presbyterian Church (USA) denomination and take the local church property with them as they join a more conservative denomination.
But the effect of the vote remains to be seen.
Church leaders Monday night said some members of Athens’ Central Presbyterian Church’s breakaway faction filed a pre-emptive lawsuit in Clarke County Superior Court, and a judge issued a temporary restraining order that would prevent the presbytery from taking control of Central’s Alps Road property, valued at more than $3 million.
Under the rules of the Presbyterian Church (USA), also called PCUSA, church property is owned by local congregations, but agree to a covenant that property is held in trust for the benefit of the denomination.
Presbytery leaders also received letters Monday from Central pastors Bob Bohler and Deb Trimpe renouncing their affiliation with the denomination.
Nearly 200 people gathered in Winder’s First Presbyterian Church for Tuesday’s meeting. After more than four hours of discussion and debate, they voted by about a 5-1 ratio to deny the dismissal with property request of Central Presbyterian’s “Session,” a local governing body like a board of deacons.
In a January 2016 vote, Central members voted overwhelmingly in favor of leaving the mainstream PCUSA denomination. But some former members and others speaking Tuesday described an atmosphere of hostility and aggression that some felt was a deliberate campaign to drive out members who didn’t agree with the conservative side that wanted to leave the denomination.
Related article: Central Presbyterian in Athens Disaffiliates from PCUSA; Joins ECO