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Nazareth, Pa., United States

Tuesday, July 26, 2016

III. Holy War: First Presbyterian Church of Bethlehem Timelime

1875 - A group of 22 men and women form the First Presbyterian Church of Bethlehem (FPCB).

1877 - Church Charter filed

1907 - Church Charter amended, placing it under control of Presbyterian Church of the United States. This Charter requires that all real estate conveyances require majority vote of the congregation and written permission from the Presbytery. .

1952 - FPCB takes title to 52 acres along Center Street, site of current church. The Deed contains no trust clause or right of reversion in favor of the general or denominational church.

1983 - FPCB becomes affiliated with Presbyterian Church USA (PCUSA) when two national Presbyterian denominations merge in what is called the "reunion."

1984 - Congregation amends Charter again, but continues to require written permission from presbytery for any conveyance of church property.

2011 - PCUSA decides to allow gay and lesbian clergy

2012 - A Covenant Order of Evangelical Presbyterians (ECO) is formed in reaction to decision of PCUSA to admit gay and lesbian clergy. Dr. Marnie Crumpler, then a Pastor in Atlanta, is part of the task force that develops this new denomination's polity.

2016 - Rev. Alf Halvorson, Pastor at FPCB, leaves for an ECO church in Texas. Dr. Marnie Crumpler called to replace him.

June 3, 2016: An independent straw poll conducted by Lehigh Presbytery indicates that 57% of the FPCB congregation wants to dissolve its ties with PCUSA. This is below the 66% requirement, and the Lehigh Presbytery votes unanimously to attempt reconciliation.

June 10, 2016: The lawsuits begin. FPCB sues PCUSA, and a countersuit is filed by PCUSA on June 21, 2016.

June 21, 2016: Rev. Marnie Crumpler emails FPCB congregation, warning that Lehigh Presbytery plans a hostile takeover of the church and its assets, and intends to fire her and the staff. A second vote is scheduled for June 26.

June 24, 2016: President Judge Stephen Baratta issues a Court Order allowing both sides to conduct Sunday services under the same roof, but at different times. Both sides must operate in good faith, and no personnel may be terminated pending resolution of the dispute. A nonjury trial is scheduled on October 11.  

June 26, 2106: FPCB congregation votes overwhelmingly, with 76% of 1,048 members who cast ballots, to split from PCUSA and join ECO.

June 27, 2016: Rev. Crumpler and members of FPCB meet with ECO and are "joyfully received," becoming the 286th church to join that growing denomination.

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