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December 1, 2013

Embattled pastor forms church after resignation

TRAVERSE CITY — A nondenominational church broke from the First Congregational Church following a year of acrimony.

The Rev. David Walls opened the doors of Christ Church on the Sunday after First Congregational Church members overwhelmingly voted on Oct. 2 to have the Rev. Gary Hogue take over his duties as a transitional pastor. At that point, Walls already had submitted his resignation, said Donald Bell, who heads First Congregational’s new church council.

Jeff Goodwin, the associate pastor, joined Walls. He will serve as lead pastor at the new church located in the Seventh Day Adventist Church on Four Mile and Hammond roads. Walls will serve as teaching pastor, according to the church’s website.

Walls and his supporters were in the bulls-eye of community controversy after deciding last year to exclude a Muslim call to prayer from a Veterans Day performance of a piece that calls for world harmony.

Congregants said the dispute didn’t necessarily cause the parting of ways; some agreed with Walls’ opinion that a Muslim prayer didn’t belong in a Christian church.

But many congregants disliked what they termed Walls’ autocratic and polarizing style that quashed debate, an approach at odds with the more democratic Congregational church. Church members make decisions by committee and church council, which operate under church bylaws. The council is appointed by the congregation, which also has voting power.

“I loved (Walls’) sermons, but he was kind of autocratic and he wanted to be in charge,” said Dianne Walker, who stayed with the church, as she prefers its traditional service. “This is a congregational church. We are run by the congregation; everything is open and run by committee, and I don’t think that was his style.”

Goodwin declined comment on behalf of Christ Church.

But Pat Lewallen, a former First Congregational council member who moved over to Christ Church, said the break-off was the best solution for both churches.

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