Friday, May 25, 2018

Members of Louisville's First Methodist Withdraw from UMC - Raising Issues Over Church Property

In March of 2018, church members at First United Methodist
Church of Louisville, Mississippi voted to withdraw the congregation's membership from the United Methodist Church (UMC) denomination. Members based their decision upon a number of issues including the lack of enforcement of the Conference's Discipline on homosexual leadership roles in the UMC and abortion issues that they believed were funded by the UMC.

First United in Louisville is a 180-year-old congregation. In the vote held under the guidelines provided by UMC at that time, members voted 175-6 to begin the process of removing the church from the denomination.

Louisville's church is not the first to vote to separate from UMC recently as a result of these issues. In at least two previous cases, negotiations with UMC led to the congregation attaining ownership of the church property. Methodist church properties, like many other large denominations are held as trusts and are not directly owned by the local church board.

On Wednesday, May 23, a church conference was held in Louisville with UMC leaders including James Swanson, the Bishop of the Mississippi Conference of the UMC. As a result of that meeting, UMC effectively stated that the church property in Louisville would remain as a United Methodist property and appointed a new pastor against the wishes of the existing congregation. Services as a United Methodist Church will be held on Sunday. Long time pastor at First Louisville, Reverend Mike Childs surrendered his credentials at that time.

The following is an excerpt from a statement issued by email by Bishop Swanson concerning the matter:

“After much discernment, prayer and work by our faith community formation team, a meeting was held Wednesday, May 23 at 11:00 a.m. with the leadership of First UMC of Louisville to announce the findings of the completed viability process. First United Methodist Church of Louisville is a county seat church with more than 150 years of history. After exploring the potential viability for ministry, the leadership of the Mississippi Annual Conference deemed that it is vitally important to sustain a strong United Methodist presence in Louisville and Winston County. Therefore, the conference has decided that First UMC of Louisville will continue as a United Methodist church and Rev. Carl Grubbs will serve as interim pastor there effective Thursday, May 24.”

A legal battle concerning the property is expected. Members who withdrew from UMC are expected to hold upcoming Sunday services in the chapel of Porter Funeral Home in Louisville.

As a result of the decision, UMC will assume responsibility for the more than one million dollar debt due to construction and remodeling in recent years and the maintenance and ongoing operation of the facilities.

As a response, Reverend Childs issued the following statement on social media (reprinted with permission):

"There has been much confusion and many questions about what is going on at First United Methodist in Louisville.

Many of you know that, since last August, First United Methodist Church has been seeking to withdraw from the United Methodist Church for reasons of conscience. The congregation carefully completed all the steps that the Bishop gave us. This was accomplished at a significant cost, even though the Conference changed the rules during the process more than once.

In the meantime, First Methodist Church, Inc., of Louisville (not a United Methodist Church) was organized in preparation for withdrawal from the UMC. The congregation has every intention of being a Christ-centered Methodist Congregation, but not a United Methodist Congregation.

A Church Conference was held with a “Membership Affirmation” that gave every person the choice of remaining a member First United Methodist Church or withdrawing their membership from the UMC and transferring their membership to the church of their choice. At the Church Conference, 175 members voted to withdraw their membership from the First United Methodist Church, and transfer their membership to First Methodist Church. Only 6 members voted to remain United Methodist.

This was followed by two months of silence from the Conference officials. Then the bishop asked to meet with the pastor and four of our church officers this past Wednesday. We expected some negotiations concerning a settlement of property issues.

However, the bishop dismissed the pastor. He declared that he accepted the withdrawal and transfer of the 175 members, and that those few remaining now made up the church. He appointed Dr. Carl Grubbs as interim pastor. He gave the present pastor 30 days to vacate the church parsonage.

So, how will those 175 plus members who have withdrawn from the United Methodist Church respond? First, I urge the more than 175 members who have moved their membership to First Methodist Church to respond with faith and love, not bitterness. Let us not make any personal attacks on those who oppose what we are doing, but trust God to lead us. After all, the reason we are withdrawing from the UMC is because we want to be faithful to God’s Word. What does God’s Word say? The Bible says, “Do not be overcome by evil, but overcome evil with good.” (Romans 12:21)

Second, as I told Bishop Swanson and the Conference officials, we will not do anything immoral or illegal, but we will fight for the church property using every legal means available to us, and we expect to be successful. I also informed the bishop that their next payment on the debt of more than a million dollars is June 1.

Third, our attorney is already at work to seek relief through the courts. We hope to be back in possession of our church building very soon. In the meantime, First Methodist Church of Louisville will hold its 11:00 am service this Sunday in the Porter Funeral Home Chapel. It is a holiday weekend, but we hope to have a good turnout and worship service.

We are not discouraged. If God be for us, who can be against us? All that has happened has served to unite our congregation. What our opponents meant for our harm, God has used for our good. There has been a tremendous outpouring of support from the Louisville Community. We thank our fellow Christians in the community who have expressed their love and support.

There are great days ahead for First Methodist Church. Do not be overcome by evil, but overcome evil with good."