Aug. 23, 2004
United Methodist News Service
5th District Court of Appeal in Fresno, Calif., has ruled that St.
Luke’s United Methodist Church is not the property of the denomination.
|For centuries, the United Methodist Church has stated that all local church property is held in trust for the denomination.|
The decision, the latest in a four-year battle between the church and the denomination, was issued Aug. 13.
St. Luke’s severed its affiliation with the United Methodist Church in 2000 but continues to meet on the disputed property.
A centuries-old clause in the United Methodist Book of Discipline,
the denomination’s lawbook, states that all local church property is
held in trust for the denomination. A Superior Court judge ruled in 2002
that the local church could not revoke the trust clause.
a statement released by the California-Nevada Annual (regional)
Conference, Bishop Beverly J. Shamana reiterated that the responsibility
of the local United Methodist Church is to hold in trust church
property "that enables us to be a United Methodist presence in the
community. We are living in stress-filled times and the United Methodist
Church, with its unique message of Open Hearts, Open Minds and Open
Doors, is a spiritual presence we want to see maintained in the Fresno
M. Shannon, trial attorney for the California-Nevada Conference said,
"We believe the trial court [in June 2002] made the right decision after
hearing all the evidence in the case and we strongly disagree with the
contrary ruling by the Court of Appeal."
Attorneys for the conference are reviewing the decision to determine what options they will exercise.
The Rev. Kevin Smith, pastor of St. Luke’s, said he feels the conference will probably appeal but he wishes they would not.
"Enough money has been spent in this case already," he said.
split between members of St. Luke’s and the denomination led to a court
battle over who owns the property. The conference and members of St.
Luke’s have been struggling with each other for four years, ever since
the congregation withheld apportionments in protest of the conference’s
decision not to discipline pastors for participating in a same-sex union
"I love the United Methodist Church," Smith said. "But they can’t just pick and choose which parts of the Discipline they want to adhere to. This has never been just about homosexuality."
In the 2002 ruling, the judge said the state Corporations Code supported the denomination’s Book of Discipline.
The latest ruling however, agrees with St. Luke’s contention "that it
could and in fact did revoke the trust which had existed in favor of the
United Methodist Church."
Smith said California’s corporate laws have always been on the side of the congregation.
"California corporate law allows us, as owners of the property, to change terms of the trust in which we hold the property."
trust clause, declaring that the title to all local church property is
held by the annual (regional) conference, has been upheld by a variety
of U.S. courts during the 200-plus history of the denomination in the
News media contact: Kathy L. Gilbert, Nashville, Tenn., (615) 742-5470 or firstname.lastname@example.org.