PCUSA Sues Breakaway Massachusetts Congregation in Attempt to Keep Church Property

Newton Covenant Church, a congregation located in Newton, Massachusetts.
Newton Covenant Church, a congregation located in Newton, Massachusetts. | (Photo: Newton Covenant Church)

Presbyterian Church (USA) is suing a congregation that broke away from the Mainline denomination to retain control of their church property.

Earlier this month, the PCUSA Presbytery of Boston and Newton Presbyterian Church filed a lawsuit against Newton Covenant Church over their decision to leave the denomination amid theological differences.

PCUSA is being represented pro bono by Ropes & Gray. A spokesman for the law firm provided The Christian Post with a copy of the lawsuit.

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The suit argues that the group within the congregation that voted to leave PCUSA did not properly follow the process for seeking dismissal and "have proceeded to exert unlawful dominion and control over the property of NPC."

"The individual defendants were further informed by the Presbytery that their 'self-dismissal' in disregard of the PCUSA Constitution caused them no longer to be members of NPC," argued the complaint.

"The Presbytery then completed its discernment process and determined that the NPC members wishing to remain as Presbyterians, and for NPC to remain part of the PCUSA, constituted the true NPC."

The spokesman also provided CP with a statement from Robert Skinner, attorney with Ropes & Gray who is arguing the case on behalf of PCUSA.

"The Presbytery of Boston has a legal right to determine the outcome of this dispute," stated Skinner, adding, "The break-away faction can't just walk away with what it wants."

Over the past several years, hundreds of congregations have decided to leave the PCUSA over the Mainline Protestant denomination's increasingly theologically liberal positions.

The Rev. Garrett Smith, pastor of Newton Covenant Church, told CP that his congregation had been considering departing from PCUSA for about two decades over what he called "a shift of the denomination away from our core beliefs."

In January, the Newton congregation voted 107 to 26 in favor of changing their affiliation from PCUSA to the Evangelical Covenant Church, a theologically conservative denomination.

"We are on a different page in terms of mission, theology and practice. It came to the point recently where we realized if we did not leave the PCUSA we were going to lose many people and struggle to survive as a church," said Smith to CP.

"The presbytery here in Boston is full of declining churches and we did not want to become another."

Smith also told CP that he and his congregation felt ECC was "a place that could help us in mission and help revive as a church community."

"We had trouble finding unity as a church and as a leadership on the other Presbyterian denominations," said Smith when asked about other conservative Presbyterian options like the Evangelical Covenant Order of Presbyterians or the Presbyterian Church in America.

"After a few years in discernment, we found ourselves very excited by the ECC and its leaders and churches we could be in fellowship with. We were amazed by the unity in both our leadership and congregation in support of this move."

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