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Athens Church That Split Over Gay Ministers Settles Dispute

A squabble that began three years ago in a local Presbyterian church has come to an end. The members of Alps Road Presbyterian have paid a settlement of $825,000, effectively, to the members of Central Presbyterian Church.

A majority of members and the minister of Central Presbyterian couldn’t agree with church doctrine allowing gay men and women to be ordained and serve as church leaders. Those who accepted the changes from the Presbyterian Church (USA) left the congregation and kept the name, while head minister Bob Bohler and church leaders renamed the church Alps Road Presbyterian and steered the remaining members to ECO: A Covenant Order of Evangelical Presbyterians.

For two years, the issue of who owned the campus on Alps Road festered and eventually landed in Clarke County Superior Court. The terms of a settlement couldn’t be agreed upon. Recently, though, Alps Road Presbyterian paid the Northeast Georgia Presbytery $825,000 for the property, which is valued at $3 million, according to the Athens-Clarke County tax assessor’s office. The presbytery then gave the money to a reconstituted Central Presbyterian, whose congregation has been meeting at the Presbyterian Student Center on Lumpkin.

“We’re relieved that it’s over,” said Central member Kathy Wisenbaker. She said that in addition to the money, Alps Road officials also gave the presbytery choir robes and hymnals, which have the Presbyterian Church (USA) symbol on them.  

Sunday mornings, about 40 members gather at the student center for worship. They have a minister, the Rev. Rindy Trouteaud; a choir director, Brenda Poss; a handbell choir director, David Boardman; and a parish associate, the Rev. Joe Berry.

“We’re going to be talking about how to use the money to further our mission,” said longtime Central member Sally Barnes, a member of the session. In the PCUSA, the “session” is composed of elected elders and the ministers who govern the church. “We want to be involved in the community again, to be out in the community and to share music,” Barnes said. “I don’t see us building anything.”

Central Presbyterian was instrumental in the late 1980s and 1990s in supporting Our Daily Bread, the Ark and the Athens Homeless Shelter, as well as the mission of the larger Presbyterian Church (USA). For years, Central members traveled to Mexico’s Piedras Negras, a border town near Brownsville, TX, to build houses for those in need.