A union within a church can mean more than a marriage.
After 38 years of service, the Presbyterian Church of Stanley, located at 148th Street and Antioch Road in Overland Park, dissolved on June 26 to become Village on Antioch, a satellite ministry for the Village Presbyterian Church in Prairie Village.
Village Presbyterian is now one church with two campuses: Village on Mission and Village on Antioch.
Kelly Thomason is now a member of Village on Antioch after spending years in the Presbyterian Church of Stanley’s congregation. She is excited for a fresh start and a chance to make new friends through this union.
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“We’re really seeing a revitalization of our church,” Thomason said. “It’s gone from a time of sadness to a time when we’re starting to experience the beginnings of joy here in our church.”
In 2014, the Presbyterian Church of Stanley had 1,050 members in the $4.4 million white modernist building. That number started to dwindle following a denominational split that eventually led to a lawsuit.
In 2011, the Presbyterian Church USA changed its rules to allow the ordination of gay and lesbian clergy. This was part of the friction that caused divisions among church congregations nationwide that was reflected locally at the Overland Park church. Hundreds of congregations in mainline Presbyterian and Episcopal churches across the country have been experiencing this same division drama in recent years. Presbyterian Church USA has lost 89,893 members since 2015.
Conservative members within the Presbyterian Church of Stanley voted in October 2014 to disaffiliate from the Presbyterian Church USA because they believed the national church was veering from what they deemed to be the faith’s Bible-based mandates. The 350 members chose instead to affiliate with a different denomination: A Covenant Order of Evangelical Presbyterians (ECO).
This split led to a property dispute in 2015 over the church building. The now disaffiliated members wanted to keep worshiping in the church with their new denomination, but the 100 members who voted to stay within the mainline Presbyterian denomination decided to put up a fight.
Heartland Presbytery, the regional body that represents Presbyterian Church USA, filed a lawsuit in Johnson County District Court against the 350 disaffiliated members. Heartland argued that Presbyterian Church USA owned the church, its pews, its Bibles and all other property. But the ECO faction believed the church and its contents belonged to the congregation, the entity that holds title to the building.
Based on Kansas’ adherence to denominational rules, the judge found that Heartland Presbytery, represented by the remaining 100 members, was the true owner of the church property.
The division and the lawsuit created a perfect storm between the two groups that caused about 600 people to leave the church entirely.
Phil Hendrickson is a former charter member and session clerk of the Presbyterian Church of Stanley. He decided to continue on as a member of the Presbyterian Church of Stanley, but was sad to see some of his friends go.
“You don’t want to go to church in the middle of a lawsuit, but that’s behind us now,” Hendrickson said.
The storm left the Stanley church to pick up the pieces with only 100 members, which wasn’t enough to support a 40,000-square-foot building.
“The question was, how much longer can we survive energy-wise and financially?” Hendrickson said. “We used to have 20 employees, then with the split we came down to one part-time employee. We weren’t sure, but we weren’t interested in just surviving. That’s not what churches do: just survive. If we doubled, we would just survive, but we wanted to flourish again.”
That’s when the standing members invited the Village Presbyterian Church to create a satellite of their congregation in the Stanley church building.
Village Presbyterian’s senior pastor, the Rev. Tom Are, saw this as a chance for the church community to grow in southern Johnson County, where it hadn’t been as active.
“The people there were very faithful, courageous and sacrificial — really in wanting to give themselves away to something new so there would continue to be a church in that place,” Are said. “I found that inspiring; I found that encouraging. So we wanted to respond to that.”
The two churches began working together in February to test out the merger. Village on Mission commissioned a group of more than 30 members to help launch Village on Antioch and attend worship services at the Antioch church until the actual union was processed. They added video sermons of Are to Sunday worships while their pastor of young adults, the Rev. Hallie Hottle, served as a bridge site pastor at the Antioch church.
Several members who had previously left amid the lawsuit began to notice the small changes the Stanley church was undergoing. Although the name hadn’t changed yet, it was clear that the remaining 100 members were working toward a fresh start. The pending partnership with Village drew 25 members back who had left because of the division drama.
By Easter, 200 people — a combination of Village and returning members — were in attendance. The Stanley church was starting to grow and the Village church was acting as the watering can.
“The gift of the Church of Stanley is that without this, the likelihood is they would not be able to be there very long, and if we didn’t do something, who knows what would happen there?” Are said. “They would sell the property and it would become whatever it would become — another church, a dentist office or who knows what.”
On June 11, a congregational vote was cast by the Village church to create its satellite ministry at Village on Antioch a day after Heartland Presbytery approved the union.
The union would not only mean one church, but also one governing body and one budget. The Village church has calculated that it will cost them $250,000 the first year and about $60,000 over the next three years to help grow the Antioch congregation. They must hire office workers and a full time pastor, and work on attracting new members through community events. But after three years, Village hopes the new church will be strong enough to carry the demand of the ministry.
“We know that the long view on this is that together we will be stronger and we will grow together,” Are said. “So if there’s a short-term stretch, in the long view we are going to be able to touch more lives being in two locations than we can if we are just in one spot.
“We’re excited to discover how to be one family in two homes.”
To mark the transition from Presbyterian Church of Stanley to Village on Antioch, members from Village on Mission held a “Service of Thanksgiving and Welcome,” at the Antioch campus on June 25, the day before the merger became effective in the state of Kansas.
The two congregations came together as one, to close the doors of the Presbyterian Church of Stanley and open the doors of Village on Antioch.
“Presbyterian Church of Stanley was born in January 1979, and we lived for 38 years,” Hendrickson said. “Now, we have been resurrected by Village Presbyterian Church as Village on Antioch.”
A church in turmoil
▪ In August 2014, the Presbyterian Church USA, which represents some 10,000 mainline Presbyterian churches nationwide, announced that clergy could perform gay weddings in states where gay marriage was legal. At this time the Presbyterian Church of Stanley had 1,051 members.
▪ In October 2014 the leadership of the Stanley church voted to disaffiliate from the Presbyterian Church USA because they believed the mainline church had long been veering from what conservative members deemed to be the faith’s Bible-based mandates. More than 300 members decided to join a different denomination, ECO: A Covenant Order of Evangelical Presbyterians, which was more aligned with their conservative beliefs. Only 100 members voted to stay within the mainline Presbyterian denomination, while the rest were undecided or uninterested in the conflict.
▪ Although the congregation was split in two, the groups continued to share the church building, separating their worships, programs, rooms and pastors.
▪ The ECO faction asked the 100 mainline members to leave the building. They believed they deserved to stay in the property they had been paying the bills for throughout the years.
▪ In March 2015, Heartland Presbytery, the regional body that represents the Presbyterian Church USA, filed a lawsuit in Johnson County District Court to gain full ownership of the church property. Heartland argued that the Presbyterian Church USA owned the church, its pews, its Bibles and all other property. But the ECO faction believed that the church and its contents belonged to the congregation, the entity that holds title to the building.
▪ In July 2015, based on Kansas’ adherence to denominational rules, the judge found that Heartland Presbytery was the true owner of the church property.