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Sequim Presbyterian Fellowship begins anew

Sequim's large spiritual community continues to grow with the addition of Sequim Presbyterian Fellowship.

The new fellowship joins the ranks of Sequim's community of about 40 churches and spiritual groups.

Worship services started Sept. 12 and continue at

6 p.m. every Sunday at Holiday Inn Express and Conference Center, 1441 E. Washington St., Sequim.

Shirley Cruthers, lay pastor for First Presbyterian Church in Port Angeles, said attendance has been in the high teens and people have been very enthusiastic about services.

Corey C. Schlosser-Hall, executive presbyter for the North Puget Sound Presbytery, said the future of the fellowship and if it'll become a church hasn't been determined yet.

"At some point we'll make a decision, but we'll see if the church can grow to the place where it can be self-sustaining," Schlosser-Hall said.

"It would take some money and finding the right person and a willingness to do it part time and an openness to see where it goes."

Leadership for the fellowship is shared by North Olympic Peninsula pastors and lay people from the Presbyterian Church USA denomination.

"They could (lead Sequim) for a while longer, but they also have their own communities and congregations to attend to," Schlosser-Hall said.

The denomination has five churches in Port Angeles, Port Townsend, Clallam Bay, Neah Bay and Quilcene.

About 700 people attend services weekly among them.

All churches are self-sustaining except Neah Bay which receives funding from the denomination.

"Most of our churches get started out really small," Schlosser-Hall said.



A different path

Sequim Community Church, one of the North Olympic Peninsula's largest churches, was once funded by Presbyterian Church USA.

The church, formerly

Sequim Presbyterian Church, was founded in 1929 and supported by the denomination until 1962 when it became self-sufficient.

In May, Sequim Community Church was officially dismissed from the Presbyterian Church USA.

Dr. Scott Koenigsaecker, pastor for Sequim Community Church for 15 years, said the church had discussed leaving the denomination for three years.

"Our primary issue had to do with the authority of the Bible - how authoritative do you believe the Bible to be and how do you apply that in your life," Koenigsaecker said.

Schlosser-Hall said Koe-nigsaecker's point and other theological differences led to what he called amicable discussions on dismissal.

Denomination members have debated issues surrounding homosexuals taking leadership positions for 30 years, he said.

"Our constitution doesn't allow a homosexual person to be a minister, elder or deacon right now," Schlosser-Hall said.

"(Sequim Community Church members) felt we were heading in the other direction."

Koenigsaecker said church members were aware and in favor of leaving the Presbyterian Church USA.

Before official dismissal discussions, Sequim Community Church leaders distributed pamphlets and held meetings on potentially leaving the denomination for the Evangelical Presbyterian Church denomination based in Livonia, Mich.

A survey of members showed 86 percent in favor of moving, Koenigsaecker said.



Dismissal discussions and transition

The denominational dismissal process took about two years after the request was made in September 2008.

One of the biggest financial impacts from the process related to the church's property. Presbyterian Church USA and Sequim Community Church agreed on a five-year, $350,000 settlement for the property. Sequim Community Church paid $100,000 when it was dismissed and must pay $80,000 by May 26, 2011; $70,000 by May 26, 2012; $60,000 by May 26, 2013; and $40,000 by May 26, 2014.

If the church has paid $275,000 by May 26, 2012, then the remainder is forgiven. Koenigsaecker called the overall negotiations reasonable.

"We think we're a better fit with the Evangelical Presbyterian Church and I think the people who worked with us (in dismissal) would agree that we fit better there, too," Koenigsaecker said.

Schlosser-Hall believes it's hard to see Sequim Community Church leave.

"They've developed some really strong leadership and they're doing some fine work," he said. "That's why it's disappointing. However, at our last service we blessed them and hope they continue to flourish and grow."



Church growth

For now, Sequim Community Church is in transition for the next six months while it joins the Evangelical Presbyterian Church.

Koenigsaecker said his church is considering possible additions and/or expansions, but the dismissal process hindered progressive activity.

Despite the change, he said recent Sunday worship service numbers at about 780 - up about 10 percent from the year before.

Eight years ago, the church members voted to change the name to bring in more attendees. He said it did bring in more people and dropping a denominational name is common among churches.

"We found people who had problems with a denomination affiliation that was preventing them from trying the church," Koenigsaecker said. "People might have a stereotype of what that church is like, but most churches today don't fit those parameters anymore."

He feels the name change encourages people to better know a church and vice-versa.



Fellowship continues

Schlosser-Hall said the Sequim Presbyterian Fellowship consists not only of Sequim Community Church members but also non-churchgoers.

"Eighty years ago, it was maybe 10 people who wanted to start a church here," he said.

"That's how Presbyterians have been across the country with that mustard seed. The Sequim church is an example and this fledgling fellowship could be that."

For more information on Sequim Presbyterian Fellowship, call Shirley Cruthers at 452-4781 or 417-2009; or Ross Robson at 437-0100.

Sequim Community Church is located at 950 N. Fifth Ave., Sequim, and can be reached at 683-4194.



Reach Matthew Nash at mnash@sequimgazette.com.





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