12/18/2003 News media contact: Tim Tanton · (615) 742-5470 · Nashville, Tenn.
By Felix Corley
Forum 18 News Service*
Bishop Ruediger R. Minor
Bishop Ruediger R. Minor
A Korean United Methodist church in Moscow fears it
may lose its church building after the city's justice department
allowed outsiders to change the building's ownership documents.
Dec. 9, just three days after the prosecutor's office dropped its
investigation into the disputed transfer, guards loyal to the new
"owners" seized the building. The pastor and some 30 church officials
and members remained holed up inside as of Dec. 18.
staying here round the clock to try to prevent the illegal seizure,"
church administrator Svetlana Kim told Forum 18 News Service from inside
the church. "But we know they won't pay any attention to us."
Kwan Lim (Kvanrim in Russian) United Methodist Church was founded and
registered in 1991 and gained re-registration with the Moscow justice
department in December 1999. The congregation, which Kim said has some
180 members, built its own church in northern Moscow in 1995 with
financial support from Methodists in South Korea. Services are held in
Russian and Korean.
The United Methodist Church in Russia is
registered with the federal government as a centralized religious
organization. It is led by Bishop Ruediger Minor.
In an e-mail
message to United Methodist News Service, he said a "group of business
people" was attempting to steal the building.
"This is a problem
that deeply disturbs the Methodist community in Moscow," Minor told
Forum 18. "Though it seems to be one of the 'usual' business quarrels,
it has some religious undertones. Propaganda against 'this Korean sect'
and other invectives are used. And, in my judgment, the whole thing
could only happen because of some (at least silent) support from
administrative and other structures."
The Kwan Lim church center
was built with gifts from the Kwan Lim Methodist Church in Seoul for
about $1 million, Minor wrote in his e-mail. "It is really the 'gem' of
all Methodist property in Moscow."
A Christian law firm is helping the church defend its rights, he said.
our opinion, there are grave violations of legislation and procedure by
the Moscow city legal department, as they recognized the 'legal
documents' of the new 'owners,' Minor wrote. "Furthermore, Moscow
bureaucracy, well known for its slow motion and endlessly twisted paths,
did work in record speed in this case. This raises indeed very serious
doubts and questions."
Aleksandr Buksman, head of the local
registration department for religious organizations, said the ownership
documents were amended in compliance with the country's religion law. He
said the amendments to the document and approval of new leadership
occurred at a church meeting in April 2002, but church officials said no
valid meeting took place.
Kim, who signed the original founding
document, said problems began when the church belatedly discovered that
another group unconnected with the congregation managed to change the
founding document after holding a meeting in April or May 2002.
did not meet in the church, claimed to have changed all the leaders and
had no connection with us, but even so, the justice department accepted
the new founding document," she said. "No one from the justice
department even checked up with us." The new "owners" then sold the
building to others.
Maksim Zubov, an official of the federal
Justice Ministry department dealing with religious organizations, said
he was not familiar with the United Methodist case but promised that his
office would follow up the issue with the Moscow city justice
department. "No one has the right to change the founding document of a
religious organization without its knowledge," he said.
this is not the first time religious communities have faced such
problems over ownership of buildings, though the problem is more acute
in the business world.
The church's attempt to challenge the
Moscow justice department's recognition of the new founding document in
district court got nowhere. "We lodged our appeal there in September
2002, and it still hasn't been considered," Kim said.
reported that about 20 guards arrived on Dec. 9, breaking the lock and
smashing a door to gain access. She said the police came but didn't
Since the seizure, guards representing the new
"owner" have the building under their control. Kim said the church was
able to hold its Sunday service Dec. 14, but only because it persuaded
the guards to allow in church members, some of whom remain in the
building. # # # *United Methodist News Service contributed to this
report. F18 News is operated by Forum 18, an Oslo, Norway,-based
organization dedicated to promoting implementation of Article 18 of the
Universal Declaration of Human Rights, dealing with issues of religious
freedom. More information is available at http://www.forum18.org/.