UMR Poll: Should annual conferences sue to retain church property?

umrpoll-01In the past couple of weeks there have been two congregations that have opted to leave the United Methodist Church and form their own non-affiliated congregations. In one case, the conference negotiated with the congregation to come to an agreement in which the congregation was able to stay in their building. In another from earlier this week, the annual conference is suing the breakaway congregation in order to retain the building.

The trust clause, which states that the congregation holds the building “in trust” for the annual conference has been in place for many years, and churches generally understand that if they choose to leave the denomination they are likewise forfeiting their buildings. However, more and more congregations are questioning this provision, and given the current climate of the church, it is likely we will see more challenges to the trust clause.

All of this leads us to ask this week:

Should annual conferences sue to retain the building when a congregation chooses to leave the denomination, OR should other means be used to come to an acceptable settlement?

If you agree that conference should indeed use all legal means to retain church property, please vote YES. If you disagree, vote NO

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16 Comments on "UMR Poll: Should annual conferences sue to retain church property?"

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Increasingly no – Since 2013 a majority of states have adopted neutral principals as a means of resolving these disputes, and where they have they virtually always rule in favor of the local church over the governing body. For example, in Texas, trust clauses are essentially dead on arrival and are resulting in summary judgements in favor of the local church in the wake of the Masterson decision. For the most part, the trust clause is dead in Texas – and in many other states.

gary bebop

There are many churches that if abandoned would be dead weight to a conference. Aside from that, does the conference want to bog down in fighting with congregations that long to depart? Hold a yard sale, move on.

Paul W.
I didn’t vote since I think that the conference in general should not sue in cases where the full congregation (e.g., 75%+) desires to leave due to doctrinal issues, but I also strongly believe that there are some cases where it makes complete sense for the conference to sue to retain the property, e.g., where the church’s doctrinal stance represents a very recent new development, the church appears to be unduly influenced by a single individual, or where the current congregation has few, if any, family ties to the original founding congregation and a new UMC church plant would immediately… Read more »
It seems the trust clause was designed to prevent individuals or small groups within congregations from deciding to leave should they have disagreements with appointments etc. for which it has been an effective deterrent. I do not believe it is effective, or even sustainable to prevent a schism either in the forms of the establishment other denominations such as with the Presbyterians, or congregations becoming independent. 1. Can conferences afford the legal costs of trialS? If successful can they afford the costs of the properties until they are sold, taxes, insurance, basic upkeep, current debts. While some properties may be… Read more »
Riley Case
This is just the beginning of this debate. No matte what happens at General Conference we are going to have churches, either progressive or tradition, who are ready to leave the denomination. The Presbyterians and Episcopalians are suing to uphold the trust clause. They often win the battle but lose the war in terms of hard feelings and public relations. Consider: a number of bishops and conferences are now saying, no more church trials in matters of charges brought against pastors officiating at gay marriages. Church trials are costly and give the church a bad name. Will the same people… Read more »
Christy Thomas

We might see if we can learn from the PCUSA. A breakaway Presbyterian denomination (ECO) is seeking to essentially abscond with the massive First Pres Houston. Here’s the brief that has been filed with the court to stop them from doing this:

I have a couple of thoughts on this issue. The first is about the trust clause. If a congregation dates back to the earliest time in the USA and predates the trust clause, how can it be applied retroactively? My second question is that is seems that the UMC wants their cake and eat it too. If a congregation has problems and seeks help from the conference, they are told the conference does not provide assistance (legal advice, pastoral intervention, etc). but if a congregation wants to leave, the conference then is quick to stand up and say “that’s our… Read more »
Rev. Ande I. Emmanuel
Rev. Ande I. Emmanuel

This is becoming a global problem not only in the U.S. In UMC Nigeria we have similar problem, though not on doctrinal issue but on leadership tussle. My opinion is that, if people choice to leave a denomination they should be willing to surrender that denomination properties. They should not wait until they are being sued.

Rev. Brian F. Scott

I wonder if the first congregation that was allowed to keep its buildings would have been allowed to do so if they did not owe such a large amount of money on it or if the annual conference had the capital to to absorb the loan… My guess is “no.” The opinion of individuals is a mute point if an annual conference is faced with a decision to let a property go or to evict a congregation and absorb a property and its dept that will stand empty without a congregation to pay the bill.

James Medley, retired SC Conf
James Medley, retired SC Conf

Each situation should be carefully studied to view the financial reward/penalty. In one thecases that would have received nearly 4M debt. Negoiations should be attempted before bring suit.

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