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Northern Illinois Conference Resumes Possession of Naperville Korean UMC Property

Posted: March 24 2024 at 08:43 PM
Author: Rev. Victoria Rebeck

The Northern Illinois Conference of The United Methodist Church has resumed possession of the Naperville Korean United Methodist Church building, parsonage, assets, and bank accounts.

Judge Anne T. Hayes, who is hearing a suit brought by the conference against a breakaway group from the congregation, ordered return of the property under a temporary injunction on March 21. A final decision will come with future court action.

“We are humbled and grateful for the temporary injunction,” said Bishop Dan Schwerin,leader of the Northern Illinois Conference. “It was a painful decision to resort to the legal system to help resolve our conflict with a group from one of our churches, after attempts to work with them under church rules failed. “Now we are looking forward and, with God’s grace, discerning ways to renew a Korean-speaking ministry in that area.”

Naperville Korean Grp Crp

(Left to right): Dr. Yong Kim, Dr. KP Chung, Pastor Chung-Nam Kwak, Prof. Kwang-Je Kim, Mr. Tom Lee, and Ms. Sung Lee, members of Naperville Korean United Methodist Church, on March 22 joyfully returned to their church building on Diehl Road in Naperville, Ill.

The breakaway faction took illegal possession of the property in spring 2023. The group had withdrawn from the disaffiliation process required by the United Methodist Book of Discipline and assumed control of the property and funds that rightfully belong to the conference.

During the subsequent months, the conference worked in good faith to negotiate a return of its properties and funds. The breakaway group did not agree to any terms. Therefore, the conference regretfully took the last resort of filing a lawsuit on Oct. 10, 2023.

A temporary provision (¶ 2553 in the Book of Discipline) passed by the UMC General Conference allowed congregations to leave the United Methodist connection under certain circumstances and using a prescribed process. This provision sunsetted on Dec. 31, 2023.

The Naperville Korean church requested disaffiliation in late 2022. At that time, the conference began working with the church, following the Disciplinary requirements.

Prior to the final vote on an agreement completed in May 2023, however, the Naperville Korean congregation abandoned the disaffiliation process, blocked conference authorities from entering the property, and the breakaway faction took possession of the parsonage, church building, and church financial accounts.

The conference has contended that the property should be returned to it, according to the Discipline’s “trust clause” (¶¶ 2501 and 2503.1). This states that church property is “maintained as a place of divine worship of the United Methodist ministry and members of The United Methodist Church . . . This provision is solely for the benefit of the grantee, and the grantor reserves no right or interest in said premises.”

Those from the Naperville Korean church who did not support disaffiliation from the UMC continued as the congregation, meeting at another location and under the leadership of an appointed pastor, Rev. Chung-Nam Kwak.

The loyal members are relieved and thinking about their future. The return of the property provides “a great opportunity for this congregation to get stronger, become more united, and to do good work for the community,” said Dr. KP Chung, a physician and leader in the congregation.

“We plan to reach out not only to Korean-speaking people, but also to neighbors who may speak English, Spanish, or another language,” he said. “We have been preparing for this day and how we are going to work together and make a stronger, better church.”

Another member, Dr. Kwang-Je Kim, a university professor, concurs. “Everyone is welcome at our church,” he said.

Dr. Chung added that he is grateful for the work of conference staff, the bishop, and the lawyers—but most of all, for God’s grace.

He also thanks the court: “I believe in the justice system in this country,” he said.

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