Monday, July 23, 2001

Pastor's firing splits congregation

The Associated Press

        OWENSBORO, Ky. — The firing of a pastor who invited gays, lesbians and minorities into a Presbyterian church has divided the congregation and sparked a statewide debate.

        The governing board of the Central Presbyterian Church voted to fire the Rev. Michael Erwin July 1.

        The Rev. Mr. Erwin, 32, became the church's pastor last year and expanded the outreach of the historic downtown church to include Hispanics, multiracial families and gays and lesbians. Attendance grew from about 15 on Sunday mornings to around 50.

        In November, the church became a “More Light” church — one that welcomes homosexuals into all leadership positions.

        But last month, church members voted to withdraw from the “More Light” movement and to sever their relationship with the Rev. Mr. Erwin. The pastor was placed on administrative leave.

        “I felt like he'd brought this church back to life, and I'm amazed they were willing to let the church go,” said Sarijane Moorman, one of the elders on the six-person governing board who supported the Rev. Mr. Erwin.

        Members demonstrated their solidarity behind the Rev. Mr. Erwin on July 15 by holding their own worship service. The group has discussed starting its own church, with the Rev. Mr. Erwin as its leader.

        “Why fight a system that doesn't want you to be a part of it for whatever reason?” said Betsy Morton-Thomas, who is on the steering committee examining the group's options.


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