Monday, February 16, 2009

Taking breakaway church matters before civil court is risky, Presbyterians say

From today's Pittsburgh Post-Gazette-

Leaders of Pittsburgh Presbytery believe religious liberty is endangered because civil courts are preventing presbyteries from exercising religious authority over congregations that want to take property out of the denomination.

In response they have organized a convocation, "Our Freedom of Religion at Risk -- A Presbyterian Crisis," for Thursday, from 2 to 5:30 p.m., in Beulah Presbyterian Church, Churchhill. Attendance is free, but a live Webcast for long-distance viewing costs $10. Registration is at

Over the past two years, dozens of the 10,000 congregations in the Presbyterian Church (USA), including three in Pittsburgh Presbytery, left for the more theologically conservative Evangelical Presbyterian Church. Some cases, including one in Pittsburgh Presbytery, landed in civil court.

Church law says that individuals may leave the church but property is held in trust for the denomination. Nevertheless, some presbyteries, including Pittsburgh, allowed departing congregations to negotiate to keep their property.

"We want to share what we've learned about the church as a body and property issues and what it means to be connected together" said the Rev. Bob Anderson, interim pastor of Pittsburgh Presbytery, which includes 154 congregations in Allegheny County.

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