A Church Divided Goes to Court

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Lamont (Mich.) Christian Reformed Church is counter-suing a group that broke away from the congregation. The congregation claims ownership of the church property and also seeks compensation for damages resulting from actions of the breakaway group.

The lawsuit comes in response to one filed by the former members of Lamont CRC, who also claim ownership of the church’s assets.

The split in the congregation came after Classis Zeeland upheld the suspension of Rev. Richard Terpstra, former pastor of Lamont CRC. According to Lamont CRC’s court filing, Terpstra was suspended following a guilty plea for a charge of driving under the influence of alcohol and a subsequent discovery that he had pled no contest the year before to a charge of obscene and disorderly conduct.

Three months later the church council voted to reinstate Terpstra, but an appeal to Classis Zeeland (the regional body to which Lamont CRC belongs) by members of the church was sustained, and Terpstra remained suspended in September 2005.

It was then that the breakaway group that included some council members formed the nondenominational Lamont Community Church, led by Terpstra.

According to the claim of Lamont CRC, it was while in a position of trust in the Lamont CRC that Terpstra and council members made plans to start a new and competing church, breaching their fiduciary trust as leaders of Lamont CRC. The new congregation should thus not benefit from that breach of fiduciary duty.

Lamont CRC claims that personal property, including equipment, was removed from the church by the breakaway group.

Although Classis Zeeland ruled that the property belongs solely to Lamont CRC, the lawsuit filed by the breakaway group contends that a church property corporation, formed by Lamont CRC in 1998, is not subject to the guidelines of the CRC, which favor the faction remaining in the denomination.

Classis Zeeland maintains that those articles of incorporation were adopted in “clear violation of the Church Order” of the CRC.

According to the Christian Reformed Church’s 2006 Yearbook, Lamont CRC has 340 members. However, Dale Grooters, a spokesperson for Lamont CRC, said he could not respond to how many members the congregation currently has, since those numbers are part of the lawsuit.

The specific membership numbers, said Grooters, “will be determined by the judge.”


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