Skip to comments.Virginia Methodist Bishop Wants Your Local Church Property
Posted on 02/01/2005 1:01:20 PM PST by mbarker12474
Bishop frightened of proposed legislation:
Text of the Virginia Senate Bill 1305:
(this has italics and strikeouts showing current/new)
Read it below:
From: "vaumccommunications" Date: Fri Jan 28, 2005 4:57 pm Subject: From Bishop Kammerer and Clark Williams
To: All Clergy in the Virginia Annual Conference
From: Bishop Charlene Kammerer Clark Williams, Conference co-Chancellor
Re: Senate Bill #1305 Attempt to Nullify the Trust Clause
Dear Colleagues -
A new piece of proposed legislation is currently pending in the Virginia State Senate which, if adopted into law, would have serious adverse consequences for many churches in the Commonwealth of Virginia, including the United Methodist Church, the Episcopal Church, the Lutheran Church, and the Presbyterian Church. Senate Bill #1305, whose patron is Senator Mims from Leesburg, Virginia, would purport to nullify the "Trust Clause" which is a part of the Constitution in the Book of Discipline of the United Methodist Church, as well as an essential part of the polity of other denominations, including the Episcopal Church, the Lutheran Church, and the Presbyterian Church. As you may know, the Trust Clause provision in the UMC Book of Discipline provides that for each local congregation of the UMC, while legal title is held by the local church trustees, the church property is held in trust to be used as a place of divine worship of the United Methodist ministry and members of The United Methodist Church (2000 Book of Discipline, para. 2503). Senate Bill #1305 would purport to nullify this Trust Clause, by providing that any dissident congregation may, by a simple majority vote of its members, act to separate itself from its denomination and claim legal title to the church property to use as they see fit.
This Bill slipped quietly through the Senate General Laws Committee this Wednesday, Jan. 26, without dissent. We became aware of the Bill yesterday when Bishop Kammerer happened to be visiting at the General Assembly in Richmond on United Methodist Day at the General Assembly. We were alarmed at the profound potential impact such a piece of legislation could have upon our church, and so many others. It would serve to encourage local churches to act contrary to the polity and doctrine of the larger church, and invite more schisms and disputes for church property by disgruntled local churches. Moreover, it is extremely troubling that the Commonwealth of Virginia would attempt to influence or dictate to churches and faith-based institutions concerning their polity and church organization.
Because of the fortuitous circumstance that Bishop Kammerer was already in the halls of the General Assembly on Thursday, she was able to meet with some members of the State Senate, and express her strong concern and opposition to Senate Bill #1305. But more voices need to be heard by the senators expressing concern and opposition to this ill-conceived piece of legislation. This Bill currently appears to be on the fast track in the State Senate, and could be acted upon within the next couple of days. Therefore, WE URGE AS MANY OF YOU AS CAN TO CONTACT YOUR LOCAL STATE SENATOR - IMMEDIATELY - to express your concern and opposition to this Bill, and to ask that the senator vote against Senate Bill #1305 when it comes up for a vote on the Senate floor. A telephone call to the Senator's office would be a great help. And if you happen to know a Senator personally, a personal word from you would be even more helpful. We hope that the Bill will be defeated, or at the very least, the Bill could be delayed for at least one year, to provide a proper amount of time for legislators and representatives from churches to work with the patrons of the Bill, to avoid disrupting the established and proven relationships of our churches to their founding denominations and institutions.
A summary of the provisions, history, and effect of Senate Bill 1305 is found below for your review. Thank you, so much, for your interest and involvement.
Bishop Kammerer Clark Williams
SENATE STATUS (expected) First Floor Reading 1/28/05 Second Floor Reading 1/31/05 Third Floor Reading 2/1/05 Policy Briefing Virginia Interfaith Center for Public Policy - www.virginiainterfaithcenter.org
SB1305 Religious references; determination of property rights upon division of church, diocese or society.
The Virginia Interfaith Center and Virginia Council of Churches OPPOSES SB1305 (Mims, Martin, Ruff, O'Brian) which seeks to alter Virginia code sections relating to property disputes resulting from church splits. The Bill addresses situations when churches attempt to leave a Communion, and the resulting transfer of assets and properties.
Issue The bill raises major concerns for the faith community:
Constitutionality The bill would likely be unconstitutional because it interferes with the hierarchy of certain churches and establishes that the Commonwealth of Virginia can influence institutional polity. The seminal case is Serbian Eastern Orthodox Church v. Milivojevich (1976). The case outcome directs that when a court decides a property dispute involving nuances of church doctrine, it must defer to the "highest ecclesiastical tribunal within the church or hierarchical polity." The polity of faith- based institutions cannot be dictated or influenced by the State.
Example: If the Episcopal Church has rules about how congregations are removed or added to the diocese, the state can not establish alternative rules including ways that properties are established, held, and disputed.
Authority The polity of a church, diocese, or society is inherently linked to membership in a recognized movement, denomination, or religious institution. Congregationalist churches promote traditions and statutes stipulating the autonomy of their own structure. They are independent by creation, design, and action. More "hierarchical" faith groups have crafted clear operating frameworks over hundreds of years. The stipulations directly address the relationship of parish to diocese or "denomination" including in property disputes.
SB1305 convolutes the traditional authority directives of the more hierarchical churches by legislating that localized entities of a church may act in congregational authority even when contrary to the tradition or practice of the founding body of the congregation. In an attempt to clarify, the bill confuses the role of parish and institution in ways that are inappropriate and actually would encourage schism and split.
Practical Working SB1305 is written in such a way that would actually increase the strain on courts given the broad credence it gives to congregations to challenge the authority of its own "mother church." While clarity was the intention of the patron it is likely that the opportunity for disgruntled parishes to act in contrary to their own policy will cause more schisms and increase disputes for property and assets.
Action The Virginia Interfaith Center for Public Policy and its protestant judicatories would like to stop SB1305 on the floor of the Senate for a period of at least one (1) year in order to provide a proper amount of time for cannon lawyers to work with the patrons in order to clarify the Virginia code section without disrupting the established and proven relationships of churches to their founding institutions.
Bill Link: SB 1305 Religious references; determination of property rights upon division of church, diocese or society. William C. Mims (all patrons) ..... notes | add to my profiles Summary as introduced: Property held for religious purposes; determination of property rights upon division of church, diocese, or society. Provides that upon division of a church or society, the congregation may vote on whether to belong to a different church, diocese, or society, or be independent of any church, diocese, or society. Currently the vote is limited to which branch of the church or society the congregation will belong. The bill also provides that a division of the church, diocese, or society is conclusively presumed when the lesser of 10 congregations or 10 percent of all congregations in the state vote within any 12-month period to separate from the church, diocese, or society, and allows the congregation to report its determination to the appropriate circuit court. In addition, the bill provides that in certain church, diocese, or society property transfers
Full Text - http://leg1.state.va.us/cgi-bin/legp504.exe? 051+ful+SB1305
Faith Communities OPPOSED to this bill include: Presbyterian Church (USA) Presbyteries Synod of the Mid-Atlantic PCUSA Virginia Synod of the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America Metropolitan Synod of the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America Virginia Conference of the United Methodist Church Holston Conference of the United Methodist Church Episcopal Diocese of Virginia Episcopal Diocese of Southern Virginia Episcopal Diocese of Southwest Virginia Christian Church (Disciples of Christ) in Virginia
Prepared by the Rev. C. Douglas Smith, Virginia Interfaith Center for Public Policy
From: "vaumccommunications" Date: Tue Feb 1, 2005 1:09 pm Subject: From Bishop Kammerer
Dear Friends, In my haste late last weekend, I incorrectly spelled Senator Mims. It is Mims, not Mills as I indicated. And of course there are additional patrons of this SB1305.
I am in continuing conversation with Senator Mims, and strongly oppose both his amendment, and the original language of the bill.
Momentum is gaining as senators are being called by our respective constituencies.
Many thanks, Blessings on all, Charlene Kammerer, UM Bishop, Va. Conference
SENATE BILL NO. 1305 Offered January 21, 2005 A BILL to amend and reenact §§ 57-9 and 57-15 of the Code of Virginia, relating to property held for religious purposes; determination of property rights upon division of church, diocese, or society. ---------- Patrons-- Mims, Martin, O'Brien and Ruff ---------- Referred to Committee on General Laws ---------- Be it enacted by the General Assembly of Virginia:
1. That §§ 57-9 and 57-15 of the Code of Virginia are amended and reenacted as follows:
§ 57-9. How property rights determined on division of church, diocese, or society.
A. If a division has heretofore occurred or shall hereafter occur in a church, diocese, or religious society, to which any such a congregation is attached, the members or communicants, pewholders, and pewowners of such congregation, over eighteen 18 years of age, may, by a vote of a majority of the whole number, determine (i) to which branch of the church or society such congregation shall thereafter belong; (ii) to belong to a different church, diocese, or society; or (iii) to be independent of any church, diocese, or society.
B. A division shall be conclusively presumed when the lesser of 10 congregations or 10 percent of all congregations in the Commonwealth that are attached to a church, diocese, or society vote within any 12-month period, by a majority of the members or communicants of such congregation that are over 18 years of age, to separate from the church, diocese, or society. The vote to separate may be combined with the vote to determine the congregation's future allegiance as provided in subsection A.
C. Such determination shall be reported by the congregation to the circuit court of the county, or circuit or corporation court of the city, wherein the property held in trust for such congregation or the greater part thereof is; and if the determination be approved by the court, it shall be so entered in its chancery order book, and shall be conclusive as to the title to and control of any such property held in trust for such congregation, and be respected and enforced accordingly in all of the courts of this Commonwealth, unless the deed or deeds to such property explicitly vests title in the church, diocese, or society, or a bishop or other representative thereof, rather than the congregation.
D. If a division has heretofore occurred or shall hereafter occur in a congregation, which in its organization and government is a church or society entirely independent of any other church or general society, a majority of the members of such congregation, entitled to vote by its constitution as existing at the time of the division, or where it has no written constitution, entitled to vote by its ordinary practice of custom, may decide the right, title and control of all property held in trust for such congregation. Their decision shall be reported to such court, and if approved by it, shall be so entered as aforesaid, and shall be final as to such right of property so held.
§ 57-15. Proceedings by trustees or members for similar purposes.
The trustees of such church diocese, congregation, or church or religious denomination, or society or branch or division thereof, in whom is vested the legal title to such land held for any of the purposes mentioned in § 57-7.1, may file their petition in the circuit court of the county or the city wherein the land, or the greater part thereof held by them as trustees, lies, or before the judge of such court in vacation, asking leave to sell, encumber, extend encumbrances, improve, make a gift of, or exchange the land, or a part thereof, or to settle boundaries between adjoining property by agreement. Upon evidence being produced before the court that it is the wish of the congregation, or church or religious denomination or society, or branch or division thereof, or the constituted authorities thereof having jurisdiction in the premises, or of the governing body of any church diocese, to sell, exchange, encumber, extend encumbrances, make a gift of, or improve the property or settle boundaries by agreement, the court shall make such order as may be proper, providing for the sale of such land, or a part thereof, or that the same may be exchanged, encumbered, improved, or given as a gift, or that encumbrances thereon be extended, and in case of sale for the proper investment of the proceeds or for the settlement of such boundaries by agreement. When title to such land, as evidenced by the deed or deeds, indicates that the property is held for the use of the congregation, evidence of the wish of such congregation shall be sufficient proof for granting the transfer.
When any such religious congregation has become extinct or has ceased to occupy such property as a place of worship, so that it may be regarded as abandoned property, the petition may be filed either by the surviving trustee or trustees, should there be any, or by any one or more members of such congregation, should there be any, or by the religious body which by the laws of the church or denomination to which the congregation belongs has the charge or custody of the property, or in which it may be vested by the laws of such church or denomination. The court shall either (i) make a decree for the sale of the property or the settlement of boundaries between adjoining properties by agreement, and the disposition of the proceeds in accordance with the laws of the denomination and the printed acts of the church or denomination issued by its authority, embodied in book or pamphlet form, shall be taken and regarded as the law and acts of such denomination or religious body or (ii) at the request of the surviving trustees and after notice in accordance with law to all necessary parties, make such order as may be proper providing for the gift of such property to any willing local, state or federal entity or to a willing private, nonprofit organization exempt from taxation under § 501 (c) (3) of the Internal Revenue Code, provided the court finds that (a) the property includes a historic building or landmark so designated by the Commonwealth and (b) the purpose of such gift is historical preservation of the property.
The court may make such order as to the costs in all these proceedings as may seem proper.
Bishop Kammerer doesn't like this, and uses the resources of her office, staff, and IT services to encourage opposition.
Problem is that she has no authority to use episcopal resources to engage in this political lobbying effort, or speak on behalf of the Conference in a matter that hasn't been put before the Conference.
Bigger problem is that it just ain't right. It is the inherent right of men to break bonds with those with whom they've contracted, and remove their property with them.
In the Virginia Conference, local congregations have darn good reason to.
Mike Barker King George VA
Story of interest to you and your pinglist. Proposed Virginia legislation dealing with property ownership during a split.
There's the problem right there. Is she also a sexual pervert?
Obviously the UMC has lost it's way
I'm not familiar with how churches own and hold property, but wouldn't it depend on who (local congregation versus the larger "church") initially purchased the property and holds the deed? I'd need more background and info before deciding whether this bill should be supported or not.
I do agree with your point that Bishop Kammerer may be abusing resources to lobby the General Assembly on behalf of the church it hasn't been put before the Conference.
Makes sense to me...
A much more important question for we Virginian Methodists is how we keep promoting these secularists to extremely high positions in the church? I'm an ex-Methodist as a direct result of the vast drift to the socialist left that the church as a whole has taken. I sure wish someone'd lead the Methodist church back to God's teachings...
The trustees of the local church hold the deed in trust for the denomination. By UMC law (via our Book of Discipline), the deed contains a "trust clause" stating that title to the physical property remains with the United Methodist demonination in perpetuity, and with the Conference should the local congregation disband.
Virginia law (rightly) conflicts with the big church's claim on property.
Local congregations have successfully argued that the big church has abandoned principles of the faith, removed themselves from the UMC, and held on to their property.
These problems wouldn't exist if people would eschew un-Biblical denominational hierarchies.
The local members buy and build and maintain, with some occassional support from conference funds. In any event, the property might be 100+ years old and purchased by members long-dead.
In a practical sense, the property comes from the blood, sweat, toil, and money of the locals.
I wonder if the legislation has anything to do with local Episcopal churches wanting to break away from the National organization because of the appointment of a homosexual bishop.
Thanks for clearing that up - I must've misunderstood the whole process somewhere along the line. :)
x, what's your take on this?
"What's Ours is Ours, and what's yours is Ours because We say God says so. Amen."
Detestable organizations all. NOT the individual Congregations or their Congregants; but the Organizations atanding upon the backs of the Congregants. I thought the Middle Ages were over.
This is an excellent piece of legislation that, it appears, would break the financial grip liberal churches have on conservative congregations.
Actually, Episcopal churches are built and paid for by the local congregation. In many cases, the facilities were well established long before the time the "money grab" trust clauses were added.
Thanks for clarifying that as well. I must've greatly misunderstood how that has traditionally worked. :)
I can't believe a mainstream church caught this; a freep and prayer is certainly in order.
Maybe we should all just convert to Catholic. *sigh*
Great! We'll sponsor you. And St. Luke's has a major building fund drive coming up this spring, too! :-).
If you read the Pillars of the Earth, (Ken Follett), you would certainly have been left with the impression that the "Mother Church" footed the bill for the local congregations.
In actual fact, Cathedrals, which often are the seats of Bishopdoms, are paid for with pooled funds, but that is rarely the case for local facilities. There are some mission churches around.
The oldest deductions are starting to talk about getting confirmed Catholic, but they still say "yuck" to transubstantiation. 8-)
You hit the nail on the head TR. This ownership issue is the only thing standing in the way of the more conservative churches simply breaking ties with the conferences. I know for a fact that most of the small conservative U.Meth. churches in our area would split tomorrow if they thought they could hold on to their properties, which incidentally were mostly United Brethren before 68 and all over 100 years old. They can't give up their ancestoral burial grounds and the buildings so lovingly built and kept going by their grandfathers. So they still call themselves United Methodists, but they no longer feel any connection to the larger conference.
When you come over in February (what day was that? I finally found the calendar!) I'll give them a book :-).
Same thing happened in my former church. Good, solid Bible teaching church, with a Reformed minister and wonderful worship services. The UMC heirarchy are, for the most part, idiots.
Our district superintendent (the guy between the local pastor and the bishop) even told us to lie about our membership numbers on our annual charge conference reports. We wanted to scrub our rolls, so as to give the district an honest picture of our church. It would have halved the "membership" of our church, and the DS told us that the only way he would allow it is if we "replaced" the names with new members.
That's about when I left the UMC and joined the Presbyterian Church in America.
Why? They're big on owning everything in sight too (among other things).
Corin, P-M has studied a situation in California that has addressed this same issue.
I personally think a local church that has purchased and cared for property should have a large say in its disposition. However, there is also the danger of an outside group infiltrating an existing church and voting a building unto themselves by simple majority vote.
That is the reason behind the trust clause.
On the other hand, some groups are very sinister and infiltrate not a local church but a denomination. They then set about ignoring that denomination's founding documents and taking it in directions that no way resemble the intent of the original denomination founders. They manipulate this "trust clause" to their nefarious ends.
Therefore, there must be a remedy for local churches within a denomination that has been led astray, but the church vote to depart must be higher than a simple majority.
California has settled this by simply addressing such items that come before their courts as a property law case. Marlowe can explain that better than I can.
Additionally, I'm concerned with any legislative body making any laws regarding a religious establishment or denying them the right to practice their faith in their own way.
That is a bad precedent, so I'd probably oppose this Virginia legislation on that principle.
California's law, though, is based on neutral principles of property law and are not designed specifically for religious institutions.
They have pointed in the right direction. Just my 2c worth.
'Pillars of the Earth' by Ken Follett is a masterpiece! It is a long book that takes little time to read it, if you do as I did - read it in long, continuously intermittent sessions - it is hard to put down once one starts reading.
As for ownership, Cathedrals in Ireland changed hands regularly for a while, when Ireland was all a part of Great Britain and when the church switched back and forth between Roman Catholic and Church of England (or Ireland). The ancient Cathedral of St Patrick (Seat of the Church of Ireland Archbishop of Armagh, Primate of all Ireland) in Armagh was a Roman Catholic cathedral, but was in the hands of the Church of Ireland when this sort of switching ended. A much newer (Victorian) St Patrick's Cathedral in Armagh is the Seat of the Roman Catholic Primate in Ireland. This is just one of numerous examples of that sort of thing.
In 1979, when Pope John Paul II visited Ireland, he did not go to Armagh, because Armagh is in Northern Ireland, and at that time it was not politically correct for him to do so. Cardinal Tomás Ó Fiaich met the Pope and travelled with him in the Republic of Ireland only.
Agreed. A bit slow getting here due to travel preparations, but better late than never.
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Can't speak for the other denominations, but what TaxRelief says about the "money-grab" clauses is exactly right in the case of the Episcopal Church USA. In 1979, ECUSA decided to adopt a complete rewrite of the 1928 Book of Common Prayer & begin ordaining women as priests. The schism that resulted cost ECUSA something in the neighborhood of 100,000 parishoners. Worse (for ECUSA, that is) they lost property & endowments when some whole congregations left. The loss had to run into millions. As you can imagine, the national church was more than a little upset that 100,000 had left, taking their wallets, their property & their endowments with them. The "Dennis" Canon was passed at national convention & implemented 8 years later. This is ECUSA's "money-grab" clause that says: while legal title is held by the local church vestry, the church property is held in trust to be used as a place of divine worship of the Episcopal Church USA. Since most of the clauses seem to be "carbon copies" of one another, I wouldn't be surprised to find that ECUSA "money-grab" clause was the benchmark for the others.
But, it's not the history of this that's important. The bottom line is this...the Methodists, Presbyterians, Lutherans, etal. are all following ECUSA down the same destructive path...namely, total acceptance of ordaining non-celibate homosexuals to the ministry & same-sex "marriage." They can see the disaster this has wrought in ECUSA & they understand very well that many more Episcopalians would have left that denomination over the past year & a half, if ECUSA had not been able to hold their church property hostage. More importantly, without that "land grab" clause, the Methodists, Presbyterians, Lutherans, etal. will be left with no way to bludgeon their orthodox believers into "accepting" the pansexual agenda that is sweeping through their denomination - just as it has already done in ECUSA.
These clauses nothing less than ecclesiastical EXTORTION. What do you suppose Jesus would have to say about that?
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