Two churches in northeastern Tennessee are changing their denominational affiliations after being dismissed by Holston Presbytery, but issues regarding property have not been determined yet.
Walkertown Presbyterian Church and Bethany Presbyterian Church were released from the Presbyterian Church (USA) during the June 7 presbytery meeting.
Holston Presbytery Executive Presbyter/Stated Clerk Rich Fifield indicated that the dismissal votes for each church passed overwhelmingly.
Walkertown, located in Afton (Greene County) near the North Carolina border, was dismissed to the Cumberland Presbyterian Church (CPC), which received the 37-member congregation into the Presbytery of East Tennessee on a two-year provisional status April 5.
Bethany, which is in Kingsport near the Virginia border, was dismissed to align with the Evangelical Presbyterian Church (EPC). The dismissal of the 104-member congregation to the EPC’s Presbytery of the Southeast is effective Sept. 2.
According to presbytery documents and information provided by Fifield, the use and sale of the church properties have not been settled yet.
While both congregations continue to use their facilities, Fifield pointed out that no monetary terms have been discussed and continued use and/or sale of the property will be referred to the Holston Presbytery Trustees for future consideration.
“We’re just waiting to see what the Board of Trustees will come up with. This just seems to be one of those issues the presbytery is not dealing with in a rapid manner,” Bethany Pastor Charles Echols said. “We’re going regardless. We feel this is what the Lord wants – following Christ and being true to the Scriptures and our theological convictions.”
Echols pointed out that the overriding reasons for Bethany’s decision to leave the PCUSA were based on the centrality and Lordship of Jesus Christ, the erosion of Biblical authority and the general sense of a theological drift in the denomination away from its historic confessions.
“We hold very firmly to the belief that Jesus is the Way, the Truth and the Life, and no one comes to the Father except through Him,” he explained. “The Bible is God-breathed, and we hold it as His inerrant and infallible Word. We feel the singularity in that belief has been watered down by the PCUSA.”
Changes to ordination standards to allow homosexuals in leadership positions and changes to the definition of marriage also were factors considered in the decision to depart the denomination.
There was no requirement for a congregational vote prior to dismissal. Echols noted that Bethany took a straw poll that yielded a 104-0 result in favor of leaving the denomination, something that may have shown Holston Presbytery the solidarity among members.
Echols added that the dismissal vote by the presbytery has brought his congregation to “a place of great joy.”
“We were tired of feeling dirty, of being associated with things we believe are ungodly and don’t honor the Savior, who we believe is the King of kings and Lord of lords,” he said. “It’s a truly wonderful experience to feel that we have honestly been set free to follow Christ as He calls us to do.”
Fifield indicated sadness in the loss of the congregations.
“I think the presbytery struggled alongside these congregations concerning their requests for dismissal,” Fifield said. “It was a difficult decision for the presbytery to make, and we are saddened by their loss. The congregations also said it was a difficult decision for them.”
Fifield acknowledged the loss but indicated a prayerful concern for the churches as they begin life in their new denominational homes.
“I think Holston Presbytery grieves over the loss and brokenness in relationships, but I and others wish (the congregations) the best in their future ministry,” he said.
Both congregations were required to turn over church records to the presbytery.