A Tulsa, Okla., megachurch lost a two-year property battle in court Tuesday when the county district judge ruled in favor of the Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.).
Judge Jefferson Sellers ruled that the the Kirk of the Hills church property belongs to the PC(USA) and the Eastern Oklahoma Presbytery, a regional body of the denomination, and not the local congregation.
The 2,400-member Kirk of the Hills congregation, which was the second largest church in the regional presbytery, has been in legal battle over the property since it split from the PC(USA) in August 2006. After an overwhelming vote to leave the denomination, citing concerns that the denomination is drifting from its biblical base, the local church sued both the PC(USA) and the regional presbytery to retain ownership of the more than 100,000-square-foot building.
Tuesday's court decision didn't come as a surprise to the Kirk of the Hills leadership.
"We are disappointed by this decision, but not surprised," co-pastor Tom Gray said in a statement. "We are hopeful that the Oklahoma Supreme Court will correct this injustice."
The church said they will appeal the decision.
"All we have wanted was to keep the property we purchased and have considered our home for worship, teaching and fellowship for these many decades," Gray stated. "We will continue to stand firm on the teachings of the Holy Bible and look to the Lord for our strength."
Kirk of the Hills, which is now a part of the more conservative Evangelical Presbyterian Church, paid for the property over the last four decades, according to the church's statement. But the PC(USA) has maintained that all property of Presbyterian churches is held in trust for the denomination, citing its constitution.
"The court affirmed the concept that individuals may leave the church, but they cannot take the church property with them," said Craig Hoster, attorney for the Eastern Oklahoma Presbytery, according to Tulsa World. "We will now begin the orderly transition of the church property to the Presbytery."
The thousands of Kirk of the Hills members will be able to worship at the church property this weekend, but the local congregation will work with the PC(USA) and EOP regarding future activities at the church during the appeal.
"We're praying for and seeking God's will," said co-pastor Wayne Hardy, as reported by Tulsa World. "The church is doing very well. The congregation is doing very well, and they're behind us."
Besides Kirk of the Hills, 23 other churches have left the PC(USA) and realigned with the Evangelical Presbyterian Church, according to the local church statement.