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Disaffiliating Congregation Disengages with Required Process

Posted: June 1 2023 at 11:16 AM
Author: Victoria Rebeck

Korean United Methodist Church in Naperville has taken extraordinary steps to end its relationship with the denomination, officials of the Northern Illinois Conference of The United Methodist Church say. The conference—the judicatory to which KUMC is accountable—plans to continue toward an orderly resolution.

An NIC staff member arrived at the church on May 28 as previously scheduled to introduce the congregation to their new pastor, Rev. Sam Park. Some of the KUMC members—along with police officers they had summoned—blocked the NIC representatives’ entry into the building at 2403 W. Diehl Rd., Naperville.

KUMC’s previously appointed pastor (who had not yet been ordained) had been relieved of his clergy credentials with the NIC on May 23, through the denomination’s prescribed process. To fill the pastoral opening, the bishop appointed an interim pastor, Rev. Sam Park, and conference staff arranged for a May 28 introduction to the church, per United Methodist practice.

The congregation, the product of a merger of two previous congregations, has worshiped at the Diehl Road site since 2014.

In November 2022, Korean United Methodist Church informed the NIC of its desire to disaffiliate from The United Methodist Church, a 13-million-member international denomination.  Authorized conference representatives then began conversations with the congregation.

The denomination established a disaffiliation process in 2019. It permits an orderly separation from the United Methodist connection, acomplished by the annual conference's releasing the trust clause. The opportunity to disaffiliate expires on Dec. 31, 2023.

The trust clause, which is to appear in church building deeds, declares that the property and assets of a local church are held “in trust” for the benefit of the entire denomination.  It has been part of Methodism since the 18th century. 

Because a local church holds its property in trust for the denomination, it has a legal obligation to maintain and protect that property so it can continue to be used as a United Methodist church in the future.  When in the opinion of the bishop and Cabinet the church no longer is responsive to oversight and has ceased serving the United Methodist mission, the cabinet can act to close the church. The property and all assets of the church transfer to the annual conference board of trustees. 

After conversing with conference leaders, the congregation took the next step of considering the requirements and discerning whether it would continue to pursue disaffiliation. On April 23, 87 percent of those present at a special-called church conference voted to sever its relationship to the denomination. Since that time the NIC Trustees have been working with the church on a disaffiliation agreement that meets denominational standards.

The church’s request to disaffiliate was to be considered by the voting lay and clergy members of the NIC at its regular annual session, June 6-8, in Schaumburg, Ill. This is one of the final steps.

However, KUMC halted the process by ending its communication with the conference, hiring an attorney, barring conference staff entry into the building, and changing the building's locks. The NIC Cabinet voted with regret to discontinue the church due to exigent circumstances (per The United Methodist Book of Discipline, paragraph 2549.3[b]).  When a church closes, ownership of the property transfers to the annual conference.

Members of the congregation who wish to remain United Methodist will now be led by Rev. Sam Park, appointed interim pastor to this faithful group, pending resolution and reclamation of the church and parsonage.

“I am grieved by this hostile turn of events,” says Bishop Dan Schwerin, NIC’s episcopal leader. “The conference has treated the people of Korean United Methodist Church in Naperville with respect and dignity.

“Those who have declared themselves non-United Methodist and taken over conference property have stepped beyond the bounds of civility and appropriate remedies will be sought. We have a duty to protect the mission of the annual conference. Please pray for this congregation that is suffering with complicated loss, and for our capacity to live into God’s vision for us all.”

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