North Valley Church Controversy

3/13/2008 Merced This historic house of prayer is now a house divided over whether the 92 year old building should be demolished and rebuilt. Those who want to renovate Central Presbyterian say its too small and a fire hazard. But others argue the architecture is irreplaceable.

The Merced City Council recently voted in favor of protecting the downtown sanctuary, but the controversy continued when parishioners received a recorded phone message from their pastor.

In the message, Pastor Henry Greene says "I know some of you have been wondering, and perhaps worrying, about what the vote of the city council on Monday night means for our building plans. Take heart, and be encouraged. The lord's at work. The session isn't discouraged and neither am I. And in a few days you'll be getting a letter telling you about the session's plans for moving forward, which is what we're doing."

Linda Gilbreath, Central Presbyterian Parishioner, says "I was a little taken aback but not terribly surprised. I had a lot of questions because they just said they would be coming up with some information and a letter would be following."

Gilbreath supports preserving the church and says the message seemed to contradict the council's decision. But she hoped the letter would address her concerns.

"Then oddly enough we did not get that letter so we were wondering why," says Gilbreath.

But parishioners who support the renovation did receive the letter. A church spokesperson, who did not want to speak on camera, says both the note and the phone message were simply meant to reassure church members that fundraising efforts would continue because the council's vote was not final.

City spokesperson Mike Conway says the decision was in favor of a writing a resolution to protect the church, but another vote will take place on April 7th.

"So it could be settled at that point, or it could still be referred back to staff for additional information," says Conway.

If the council grants the church historic status, it will make demolishing the sanctuary an uphill battle, but still not impossible.

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