A congregation in Kentucky could soon be evicted from its church building by its regional Presbyterian Church (USA) governing body after the congregation voiced disapproval with the denomination's decision to recognize and allow gay marriage.
The Presbytery of Western Kentucky has given First Presbyterian Church of Calvert City until April 19 to vacate its church building.
Paul Ambler, clerk of session and husband of the church's pastor, told The Christian Post on Tuesday that the congregation received a notice to vacate the building, which is owned by the presbytery, last week.
The notice, sent on behalf of the presbytery by a local lawyer, comes after the small congregation voted in July 2015 to pursue and negotiate with the presbytery for a gracious dismissal from the PCUSA because they disagreed with an amendment adopted by the denomination in March 2015 defining marriage as a "commitment between two people."
"We voted on July 26, 2015, and there [were] two members of presbytery there," Ambler explained. "They told us in that meeting that there were three congregations [that] had already gone through the gracious dismissal process within the presbytery. So, we would actually be the fourth."
"We were going back and forth for quite a while," he continued. "We would actually like to take possession of the building and give them money, basically a buy-back agreement. We were negotiating back and forth with presbytery representatives."
Although Ambler said the congregation never formally submitted a request to be dismissed from the PCUSA, the congregation was informed last November that the presbytery had officially dismissed it from the denomination.
From November until last week when it received the notification to vacate its building on Evergreen Street, the congregation was acting on the assumption that it was going to be allowed to stay in the church building, Ambler said.
"We were very surprised with the notice," Ambler stated. "When presbytery was initially discussing with us, they gave us the impression that it wouldn't be that big a deal because of the way it happened with other congregations. Basically, they left with all their property and they just parted ways amicably."
"They told us that they were going to take all the property, everything."
Ambler told CP that the congregation does not plan to move out of the church by April 19 and will wait until it is legally evicted to vacate the property, even though he admits that the church doesn't have much legal ground to stand on.
Although no legal action has yet been filed by either side, the congregation has hired Calvert City-based lawyer Greg Northcutt, while the presbytery has retained lawyer Thomas Miller.
Kenneth Dick, the coordinating presbyter with the Presbytery of Western Kentucky, issued the following statement in an email to The Christian Post:
"Regarding the case you have mentioned, we are seeking to follow our constitution and the Book of Order of our church to respond appropriately to a group of people who, on their own initiative, have decided to leave our denomination. It has taken a significant amount of time as we are wanting to make sure that we do all things 'decently and in order' with fairness for all those concerned."
According to Ambler, the congregation is on the lookout for other buildings to temporarily hold worship services in. Ambler even went and looked at a potential new home for the church on Tuesday.
First Presbyterian of Calvert City is one of hundreds of churches across the United States that have split from the PCUSA after it adopted its marriage amendment.
Late last month, it was reported that PCUSA Presbytery of Boston filed a lawsuit against Newton Covenant Church in an attempt to retain ownership of the church building and assets after the congregation voted in January to split from the PCUSA over differences with the denomination's increasingly theologically liberal positions.