Congregation granted land after splitting from church

Posted: Friday, September 03, 2004

FRESNO, Calif. (AP) A Fresno congregation that quit the United Methodist Church has been granted ownership of its property under a unanimous state appeals court ruling that overturned a lower court.

Secular courts usually side with control by denominations when, like the Methodists, they have "connectional" rather than "congregational" governments.

If the ruling stands, that could conceivably affect an ongoing dispute over three California congregations that left the Episcopal Church last month, largely over the gay issue, and joined the Anglican Church of Uganda.

The Episcopal congregations, in Long Beach, Newport Beach and North Hollywood, rejected a demand from the Los Angeles Diocese to surrender by this week their buildings, financial records and membership lists.

The former United Meth-odist congregation, now named St. Luke's Community Church, walked out in 2000 after the California-Nevada Annual Conference took no action against 68 pastors who defied church law and conducted a union service to bless a same-sex couple.

A lawyer for the United Methodist Church told The Fresno Bee the denomination will likely appeal to the state Supreme Court. The denomination contends that Methodist law (known as the Discipline) and tradition give it control over congregations' properties.

The Rev. Kevin Smith, pastor of St. Luke's, said in United Methodist News Service, "They can't just pick and choose which parts of the Discipline they want to adhere to.";

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