Journey From PCUS To PCA
In June 15, 1973, present pastor, Thomas Byron Sullivan, Jr. was ordained and installed as the pastor of Seven Springs Church/McCall’s Gap Chapel of the Seven Mile Ford church. Pastor Sullivan, a 1970 graduate from King College in Bristol, Tennessee, graduated from Columbia Theological Seminary in Decatur, Georgia in 1973. Despite the efforts of this liberal seminary training Pastor Sullivan’s faith, trust in the Lord, and His Word remained steadfast. It appeared that Pastor Sullivan’s desire was to have a Biblically-based ministry.
Pastor Sullivan was the first pastor who began to inform the congregation of the liberal and unbiblical direction that the Presbyterian Church in the United States was taking. This drift or slide into liberalism of the Southern Presbyterian Church (PCUS) was also confirmed by the conservative publication, The Presbyterian Journal.
As Biblical preaching and teaching was heard increasingly from the Seven Springs’ pulpit, at Bible Study, and in Sunday School, there was a decrease of Biblical teaching and Biblical belief in the PCUS. The congregation at the Seven Springs site became uncomfortable staying a part of the PCUS. Therefore, a move to separate from the PCUS became a desirable option.
When the McCall’s Gap Chapel became aware of the Seven Springs congregation’s dissatisfaction, disillusionment and the possibility of withdrawal from the PCUS, McCall’s Gap decided that they would remain in the PCUS and organize into a church. McCall’s Gap proceeded with this course of action and was organized into a church on November 7, 1976. Seven Springs Church dismissed those members to the McCall’s Gap Church and also conveyed the property to the Trustees of the McCall’s Gap Church.
On May 21, 1978, a joint meeting of the Session and Deacons of Seven Springs Church was held. Those present were: Moderator, Pastor Thomas B. Sullivan, Jr.; Ruling Elders Bernard Owens, Jack Olinger and Sidney Parker; Deacons Dayton Owens, Sandy Gentry, Howard Warren. A discussion was held concerning the recent meeting with the Commission on the Minister and His Work from the Highlands Presbytery, and the issue of withdrawal from the PCUS was also discussed. The joint meeting ceased and the session continued to meet. Bernard Owens moved to call a congregational meeting on June 4, 1978 for the purpose of voting to petition Highland Presbytery (Old Abingdon Presbytery) to dismiss Seven Springs Church with all its property and assets to the Westminister Presbytery of the Presbyterian Church in America (PCA).
The Congregational Meeting was held on June 4, 1978. The floor was opened for discussion. Dayton Owens spoke in favor of the withdrawal. The roll was read an everyone was given an opportunity to speak in favor of withdrawal or speak in opposition to withdrawal. No one spoke in opposition to withdrawal; however, Mr. Bernard Owens, Mrs. Orie Thomas Olinger, and Mrs. Regina Gill Gentry spoke in favor of leaving the PCUS. Mrs. Julia Robinson called for the question. The vote was 48 in favor of withdrawal and zero against.
On June 18, 1978, the session elected Jack Olinger as the session representative to the Highland Presbytery meeting in Hillsville, Virginia. Sidney Parker, Dayton Owens, Jessie Warren, and Mrs. Julia Robinson were asked to go also as representatives of the Seven Springs congregation.
Highlands Presbytery appointed an Administrative Committee to look into the situation at Seven Springs to make sure that everything was done properly and that every active member voted his personal desire. If everything was properly done, then Highlands Presbytery would consider Seven Springs’ desire for dismissal.
The Administrative Committee met with the congregation of Seven Springs Church in order for the congregation to reconsider their decision to withdraw. This meeting was rather difficult, and no minds were changed. In actuality, the congregation became more resolved to withdraw. Pastor Thomas Sullivan also was interviewed by the committee. Pastor Sullivan was put through a most difficult and tension-filled interview. The year, 1978, was a very stressful year for the congregation and the pastor, but it was a year of great growth in the Word of the Lord and love of the Savior. Providentially, the congregation was going through what would be a six-year series of sermons on the book of Romans. The Refiner’s fire was at work in the congregation and in the pastor. All felt the heat, but praised the Lord because the congregation knew the Lord was present and that He was sovereign over all things large and small. All knew the Lord was sovereign over this situation at Seven Springs Church.
On September 14, 1978 in Bluefield, WV, the Highlands Presbytery dismissed Seven Springs Presbyterian Church to the Westminster Presbytery of the Presbyterian Church in America. God was the anchor during these stressful times, and glorious growth in steadfastness to the Word of the Lord, the inerrant, infallible Word of God was a blessing of this trial.
During the transitional period for Seven Springs Church and Pastor Thomas Sullivan, Pastor Preston Sartelle, Sr. and Rev. Kyle Barr served as pulpit supply. Pastor Sullivan was still a member of the PCUS and pastor of the Seven Mile Ford congregation. Because of this time of transition and the two-church field, Pastor Sullivan was technically not the pastor of Seven Springs Church, however, that was soon rectified on January 28, 1978. Pastor Sullivan rejoined the congregation as pastor in the PCA. In August of 1979, the congregation of Seven Mile Ford was dismissed from the PCUS to the PCA. Pastor Sullivan was once again shared with Seven Mile Ford Church.
In 1982, Pastor Thomas Byron Sullivan, Jr. became the first, and at this time, the only full-time pastor since the founding of the chapel in the mid 1870’s.