New Middletown church looking for another home

Alan Morrison

MIDDLETOWN – Founding members of the new Christ Reigns Presbyterian Church took months of preparation to begin services this Sunday, but they’ve run into a last-minute problem —  they’ve been “locked out” of the building they had rented.

Pastor Alan Morrison and founding members John Truban Jr. and Charlene Truban came together just under a year ago to create a church based on a strong biblical foundation. They had all been seeking out a community that truly fit their beliefs, and they said they had been in contact with a number of individuals who felt the same.

“There were things that I really missed and there were things that I wasn’t getting,” Morrison said.

They chose to describe the new Christ Reigns as an independent church – Presbyterian, yet not necessarily lining up with the beliefs of other area churches in the denomination.

Morrison then spoke with the leadership body of Middletown Presbyterian Church about renting Cedar Creek Presbyterian Church as a home for services. The Cedar Creek church began holding services for congregations in 1732, the most recent of which was Cedar Creek Presbyterian from the late 1800s. Support from Middletown had lined things up perfectly for the new church.

“We’ve been at this about five months and we finally got everything settled down,” Morrison said.

Less than a week before the first service on Sept. 20, Truban received word from Middletown part-time pastor Tim Arnold that Christ Reigns would be “locked out” of using the historic church.

Middletown and the now-defunct Cedar Creek are both congregations in the Shenandoah Presbytery, the regional governing body of area Presbyterian churches that is based in Harrisonburg. When Cedar Creek stopped holding services, the presbytery made the historic building a chapel for Middletown.

The denomination’s Book of Order states that without approval or exemption, Middletown cannot buy, sell or encumber the building as a chapel – held in trust by the church for the denomination. Transitional Presbyter Roy Martin said that Christ Reigns’ paying rent to hold service in the chapel would count as an encumbrance.

Morrison said that the presbytery is not interpreting the rule literally and that he would consult the Book of Order. He compared Christ Reigns’ rent of the sanctuary and bathrooms to the manner in which weddings or Alcoholics Anonymous meetings use church facilities – uses that don’t require approval from the presbytery.

“I think there’s a potential difference in interpretation of the rule, and I think no matter what, they would’ve interpreted it the way they wanted,” he said.

He emphasized that Christ Reigns never intended to detract from other area churches, but Martin said that when the presbytery committees discuss requests for new churches they take that factor into consideration.

“If they would ever want to apply for membership in our denomination, that would certainly be considered by the presbytery, but I’m not sure that that’s their intention,” he said.

The presbytery’s committee on relational ministry will discuss the use of the chapel during itsc October meeting and will bring a recommendation to the presbytery during its quarterly meeting on Nov. 10.

Middletown will refund Morrison the two months of rent he had already paid on the chapel, but money and time spent on things like tuning the church piano and cleaning can’t be returned.

Having only joined Middletown as pastor in early August, Arnold had sent a letter to the presbytery for clarification and approval, but was told the approval would have to come from the entire body at the November meeting.

“At this point it’s not in the hands of Middletown Church, it’s a matter for the presbytery,” he said.

Truban said he wonders how many other churches have been in similar situations and that it doesn’t feel right – although he noted the tough position Middletown was in.

“It seems very last minute…it’s a lot to swallow here at this late date when we have a lot of people excited to come,” he said.

Morrison said he will be at the Cedar Creek chapel at 9 a.m. Sunday to update those wanting to worship and give them contact information to learn of future developments. Not wanting to simply wait until November for a decision, he and the Trubans are seeking an interim place of worship for weekly services.

“We’ve got a lot of folks caught in the middle on this one,” he said. “All of us are trying to do one thing and that is to spread the gospel of Jesus Christ…We should be supportive of one another and not demeaning of one another.”

Contact staff writer Rachel Mahoney at 540-465-5137 ext. 164, or rmahoney@nvdaily.com