Central Presbyterian Church, which has been in Athens for 106 years, wants to break off from the denomination and keep the building they currently worship in.
At the same time, the Northeast Georgia Presbytery wants Central to remain a Presbyterian Church but, if they do leave, they do not want Central to keep their current building.
Central’s desire to change denominations has gradually risen over the past few years. About four years ago, there was a disagreement between Central and the Presbytery about the extent of what could be taught in Sunday School classes. Since then, the relationship between Central and the Presbytery has been on edge.
While a church trying to leave their denomination is controversial in it of itself, in this case that is not the only problem. Even though Central is trying to change denominations, one thing they are attempting to keep the same is their place of worship.
The issue is, while Central does own the property where they worship, the property is held in trust for the specific use of the Presbyterian Church of the USA, (PCUSA), according to the Northeast Georgia Presbytery. The Presbytery is an association composed of 53 PCUSA churches in Northeast Georgia.
Reverend Travis Adams the stated clerk of the Northeast Georgia Presbytery, says that the specific negotiations between the Presbytery and Central are not public.
“The Presbytery is working with the administrative commission and the Central Presbyterian Church to come to a reconciliation if possible,” Rev. Adams said.
The administrative commission was appointed by the Presbytery in January to run the operations of Central Presbyterian Church, much to the displeasure of Central church members, including Central’s treasurer Dr. Jeffrey Dorfman.
According to Dr. Dorfman, there is a procedure set by the Presbytery for leaving the denomination, and the Presbytery did not follow it.
First, there is a period of discernment, where the church is to consider and discuss leaving the Presbyterian church. Next, there is a congregational meeting and the church votes on whether to leave or stay with the denomination. Then, if the motion to leave the Presbyterian church passes, the church asks the Presbytery to leave the denomination.
Dr. Dorfman said that the Presbytery interrupted Central’s discernment by placing the administrative commission in charge of Central.
“We’re not allowed to decide anything for ourselves. They stopped our discernment process and said we cannot leave with our building, even though we had not voted or even asked to leave yet,” said Dr. Dorfman.
While Dr. Dorfman feels this way, Rev. Adams says that the Presbytery never likes to see a church leave the denomination, and that they are striving for peace.
“The Presbytery of Northeast Georgia is striving, prayerfully and with the guidance of the Holy Spirit, to reconcile the differences between the Presbytery and the congregation of Central Presbyterian Church,” said Rev. Adams.
Updates to come as the story progresses.
By: Zak Huberty