By Paul Black
MOUNDS CITY – The Illinois Great Rivers Conference of The United Methodist Church has filed suit against one of its member congregations which declared its independence from the denomination in March.
The lawsuit was filed today in Pulaski County Circuit Court against Ohio Chapel Church, formerly known as the Ohio Chapel United Methodist Church based in Grand Chain in the Cache River District.
The lawsuit seeks permanent injunctive relief, enjoining the congregation from “occupying, possessing or otherwise exercising control over the real and personal property” of the former United Methodist congregation. The suit also seeks a declaration from the court that all of the property possessed by the congregation is held pursuant to the United Methodist Church’s Trust Clause and that an accounting be made to the Conference of all assets held by congregation since their self-declared independence.
The Trust Clause, which dates back to 1797, holds that, “The United Methodist Church is organized as a connectional structure, and titles to all real and personal, tangible and intangible property held …by a local church or charge … shall be held in trust for The United Methodist Church and subject to the provision of its (Book of) Discipline (Paragraph 2501). Although all titles and deeds are to include such provisions, The Book of Discipline, makes it clear that the Trust Clause still applies (Paragraph 2503.6) even if the provisions aren’t included.
On or about March 16, a letter was sent from various members of Ohio Chapel to Bishop Jonathan D. Keaton and Cache River District Superintendent Roger Russell, requesting to leave the United Methodist denomination and asking that the Conference release the congregation from the Trust Clause requirements.
On April 6, Rev. Tammy Horn, a part-time local pastor appointed to Ohio Chapel UMC for the past 11 years, sent a letter to Russell, indicating her intention of discontinuing as a part-time local pastor, effective June 30. Horn’s name is still posted on the church’s bulletin board as the congregation’s pastor.
Eight days later, Horn sent an email to Russell asking whether the congregation could purchase the church property from the Conference.
On May 31, Russell announced to Ohio Chapel that Bishop Keaton had appointed the Rev. Alan Milligan, a conference evangelist and pastor of Karnak and Olmstead UMC’s, to serve Ohio Chapel as well, effective July 1. For several years, Karnak UMC and Ohio Chapel UMC have held a joint Vacation Bible School.
When Rev. Milligan arrived on July 5 to conduct worship, he was met by members in the parking lot, advised that the church was locked and he would not be allowed entry into the building to conduct a worship service. Rev. Milligan conducted a brief peaceable prayer service in the parking lot.
On July 12, Rev. Milligan returned to Ohio Chapel to conduct worship and was met by a Pulaski County deputy sheriff, who advised Milligan that “no uninvited guests” would be permitted on the grounds of the church property and that Rev. Milligan was considered an uninvited guest by the congregation.
Rev. Milligan has continued to hold prayer services adjacent to church property weekly.
On July 14, Ohio Chapel filed documents with the Illinois Secretary of State, seeking to change the name of Ohio Chapel United Methodist Church to Ohio Chapel Church.
According to the Pulaski County history published in 1987, Ohio Chapel was organized in 1890 and held its first services in 1892. The congregation has had a continuous relationship with the Illinois Great Rivers Conference and its predecessor conferences since 1934.