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Methodist Trust Clause enforceability is a question of fact for trial, Washington Court finds

Written by Daniel P. Dalton on April 10, 2018 Category: Church Property Disputes/Denominational Splits

In a case pending in the Spokane, Washington Superior Court captioned Mead Community Church v. the Pacific Northwest Conference, the Court decided that the enforceability of the United Methodist Trust Clause must go to trial.

The Church

Established in the 1880’s, Mead Community Church is a small church near Spokane, Washington who desires to follow an orthodox biblical theology that has been confirmed in the United Methodist Book of Discipline for the past 40 years.  Unfortunately, Mead Church is located in 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.

The Process

Mead Community 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, (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 owned the property by virtue of a Conference imposed trust stated within the Methodist Book of Discipline.

With no other alternative, Mead Community Church sued the Conference seeking a declaration that it owned its property. The Conference, in turn, filed a counterclaim against Mead Community Church seeking the title to the property of the local Church.

The Decision

On Monday, April 9, 2018, the Court issued its decision rejecting the argument by the Conference who suggested that case decided before the 1968 merger that formed the United Methodist Church bound the Court to find that the United Methodist denomination is hierarchal, as opposed to congregational.

The Conference argued that as a hierarchal organization, the local church property belonged to the Conference.  The local church argued that the United Methodist denominational is congregational as it is connectional in its form of governance, and, the Washington Supreme Court decision is not binding because it was decided before the formation of the United Methodist denomination. Further, the uncontested facts demonstrated that the local Church was the sole owner of the property.

The Court concluded that there were issues of fact that had to be determined at trial concerning the property ownership issues.  The next step, in this case, is for the parties to go through the discovery process and then trial.

We can help you anywhere in the United States

We are honored to represent Mead Community Church in the State of Washington. While located in Detroit, Michigan, we can work with you in any state in the United States to challenge the trust clause. We believe in the local church and understand why it would want to start fresh as the denomination left it.

For more information on the United Methodist Trust Clause, refer to our free guide  Other resources that you may find interesting include:

The professionals at Dalton & Tomich PLC can help your local church.   Please contact Daniel Dalton to help walk you through this process.

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