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Challenging the Methodist Trust Clause: Mead Community Church v. The Pacific Northwest Annual Conference of the United Methodist Church

Written by Daniel P. Dalton on December 1, 2017 Category: Church Property Disputes/Denominational Splits, Religious Institutions

Established in the 1880’s, Mead Community Church is a small church near Spokane, Washington who desires to follow orthodox biblical theology that has been confirmed in the United Methodist Book of Discipline for the past 40 years.  Unfortunately, Mead Church is located within the Methodist Pacific Northwest Annual Conference, who, is in open disobedience of the Book of Discipline over theological issues.

Mead Church asked the Conference if it could leave the denomination in an amicable fashion. The Conference told them that the members were free to leave, but, they must hand over all of their property to it because the Conference, like many other dying Methodist Conferences, is hemorrhaging  cash and needs property to sell to stay afloat financially. Mead Church appealed to the General Conference, who, related the same response.

Mead Church then took the formal steps under Washington law to disengage from the denomination and notified the Conference.  The Conference acknowledged that the local church (a) paid for the property on it own, (b) owned the property outright, (c) had title to the property with no cloud on it involving a trust clause, and (d) refused to financially assist the local church in previous years, that it that it owned the property by virtue of a Conference imposed trust stated within the Methodist Book of Discipline.

With no other alternative, Mead Church sued the Conference seeking a declaration that it owned its property. The Conference, in turn, filed a counterclaim against Mead Church seeking the title to the property of the local Church. Oral argument occurred on Friday December 1, 2017 before the Honorable Timothy Fennessy of the Spokane, Washington County Court.  The Court took the arguments under advisement indicating that it will issue an opinion later.

We are honored to represent Mead Community Church, and many other local Methodist congregations, who wish to leave the United Methodist denomination as the same is walking away from biblical truths and into the abyss.  We believe the story of the local church is important to hear and urge you to read the remainder of this blog, written by the local Church, telling the story why they left the denomination – or more like the denomination leaving them.

The professionals at Dalton & Tomich PLC can help your local church leave the denomination as well.   Please contact us to help walk you through this process.

Looking to the Future of Mead Community Church

For over 130 years our church has loved and supported Mead, Washington through a Methodist connection. The former congregations remained in Mead through the decades to help people learn about Jesus and serve the community.

While our local church has remained true to biblical teaching and outreach ministries, the Methodist Church has changed. There is a schism within the Church due to conferences, including the Pacific Northwest Annual Conference where we are located, being in open revolt of the denomination. The local conference has seen its finances dwindle through declining membership, attendance and donations. A way for them to continue is to take, and then sell, the properties of local churches.

In Mead, through the past few years, as our numbers have decreased and volunteers have become limited, we’ve said many prayers and had many discussions about what to do moving forward. We made changes to worship services, held events at the church to try to bring new people in, and reached out to the community in a variety of ways.

Thankfully, God continued to provide the volunteers and finances needed to continue serving the Mead community. The Mead Food Bank is housed in one of our buildings and serves over 500 clients a month. Our church provides free meals on Wednesdays in coordination with the food bank distributions. We help support the Mead Community Action group and donate money and goods to people in need of food, gas, auto repairs, rent, help with emergency situations, etc. The “fruits” of our church have been in outreach and services in the Mead community. We’ve felt we’ve been doing God’s work here and that’s why He’s provided the resources to keep going.

In 2016 we started talking to the leaders of ONE* Spokane, a non-denominational church in our area, about partnering with that organization. ONE* was very excited about coming into Mead to reach people for Christ, and start serving the community with needed programs like AA, CoDA, Bible studies and small groups, with ideas for expanded outreach in the future. We felt they were the answer to our many prayers!

Our Pastor had been through several mergers of churches with other denominations in the past, and his experiences were very positive and successful with Methodist support. Therefore, we were very surprised and disappointed when we were told by the denomination that we would not be allowed to partner with ONE*. Instead of supporting our efforts for our church and community outreach to grow with ONE* Spokane, the denomination told the leadership at Mead that its ministry was ending, that we would have no input or control of what happened, that our assets belonged to the Conference and that the church should simply close its doors and allow the denomination to sell its property.

As leaders of the Church, we felt we had two choices. We could end our ministries, including forcing the Food Bank to find a new location, and close our doors. Or, we could follow what we felt was God’s path for us, continue honoring Jesus, teaching about Him and expand our services for the people of Mead in partnership with ONE*. This was a choice between life and death of the church.

We decided to follow God’s guidance and go down the path He put in front of us. Definitely not the easy way, but the way we felt we needed to go. We trusted that God would provide so that we could continue to do His work. That is why we have litigated this case.

Many ministries are provided today through Mead Community Church and ONE* Spokane. Two Sunday services: a Bible teaching service with ONE* Bible Teaching Institute, and a traditional Christian service by Mead Community Church. The Mead Food Bank, free Wednesday dinners and support for the Mead Action Committee and the children of Mead. There are weekly Alcoholics Anonymous meetings and Celebrate Recovery dinners and programs. Bible studies, small groups, and a Blanket Ministry for Food Bank clients. We also help sponsor and coordinate events at the Mead Boys & Girls Club, like Thanksgiving dinners and Christmas programs. The people of Mead Community Church and ONE* Spokane are all here to serve and minister to the people in Mead, and help them know Jesus. We pray this continues to grow for decades into the future!

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