Litigation in Ohio Chapel trust clause case continues


MOUND CITY -- A decision is expected some time in September from a Pulaski County judge on whether the Conference's case against a breakaway congregation can proceed.

Counsel for the conference and for the former Ohio Chapel UMC will submit briefs summarizing their arguments for a decision by Judge James Thurston. A two-hour hearing was held in Pulaski County Circuit Court Thursday concerning a motion to dismiss the complaint made by the church.

During the hearing, testimony was offered by two church witnesses that the Ohio Chapel property is owned by a land trust separate and apart from the church as evidenced by the deeds of record. The deeds show that the Trustees of the Ohio Chapel Methodist Church as the holder of three parcels of ground. Further, the two witnesses testified that at no time did Ohio Chapel sign any paper by which the church agreed to accept the UMC trust clause and has operated as an entity separate and apart from the IGRC and was generally unaware of The Book of Discipline.

On cross-examination by IGRC counsel Kirk Laudeman, the witnesses conceded they could not produce documentation to buttress their claims, that they had never seen such a document but that it was an oral agreement and that there was no lease between the church and land trust to justify its occupation of the property.

The witnesses also conceded that Ohio Chapel had represented itself as a United Methodist Church for years, that it had accepted pastors under appointment from the resident bishop, had paid apportionments to the conference and had the opportunity to send lay members to the annual conference session. 

Laudeman also pointed to a March 2015 letter signed by church members to Bishop Jonathan Keaton, asking to be "released from the trust clause."

IGRC Director of Communication Ministries Paul Black testified about the structure of The United Methodist Church, the role of The Book of Discipline, the trust clause  and its related provisions. Black pointed out that all local churches enjoy the benefit of the denomination's federal tax exemption and the conference's group sales tax exemption and that Ohio Chapel, as recently as 2014, submitted annual charge conference reports to the IGRC.

Should the conference prevail in the court denying the church's motion to dismiss, the substantive merits of the case will then be heard. 

See earlier UMNS story...