Battle to Protect the Central Presbyterian Church

Merced, CA But a recently filed lawsuit may end up trumping any decision from the council.

The majority of Central Presbyterian Church members want to tear down the old sanctuary and build a bigger one to meet their needs. However, others want to protect the church because of its historical value. The council is set to vote on the issue for the fourth time, but now a superior court judge will also have a say in the final decision.

The debate over this downtown sanctuary has now moved from city hall just a few blocks away to the Merced County courthouse. Central Presbyterian Church is suing the city claiming the council does not have the right to grant the 91 year old sanctuary historic status.

Ken Robbins, Church Member/Attorney: "It basically boils down to this, when in this country did someone walking outside of a church's right to look at the building trump the worshippers inside of the church's right to use the building for religious purpose? That's what it really boils down to."

Most church members want to tear down and replace the sanctuary because they say it's too small and a fire hazard. But others argue its architecture is irreplaceable and some aspects, like the organ, and stained glass would be difficult and costly to move.

Linda Gilbreath, Church Member: "It really is a gift from God, this was quite a unique church when it was built."

In March the council voted to take steps toward granting the historic designation, and a final vote was set for April. But that vote has been delayed on more than one occasion. Now a superior court judge says the council must make a decision. However, if they vote to grant the historic status, the judge has also issued a temporary restraining order that will allow the church to keep fighting that decision.

If the council does vote Monday night to designate the church as a historic resource, the issue will be back in court later this month.

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