Courts dismiss Fifth Avenue Methodist Church lawsuit against conference

Courts dismiss Fifth Avenue Methodist Church lawsuit against conference
Published: Sep. 14, 2023 at 6:18 PM EDT
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WILMINGTON, N.C. (WECT) - Wilmington’s Fifth Avenue Methodist Church is attempting to disaffiliate from the United Methodist Church Conference, but the process for this has been anything but simple.

The congregation sued the UMC, and that lawsuit was just thrown out by the New Hanover County Civil Courts.

The lawsuit came after the conference shut down the church. The goal of the lawsuit is to be able to attend normal services and continue with the disaffiliation process. Members of the congregation said the UMC Conference took control of the property and placed locks on the doors.

Gavin Parsons is a legal representative for members of the Fifth Avenue Methodist Church congregation. He said that members of the congregation are still hopeful to reopen their doors.

“To the congregants of Fifth Avenue, it is not just dollars and cents, but it was their home. It’s where they worshiped for most of their decades, they grew up there. So there was a strong emotional attachment; it was their home on Sundays,” said Parsons.

The UMC Conference said that this was done because of a decline in membership for fifth avenue church has been on the decline. Parsons said that the civil courts dismissed the lawsuit because it was the not right place to hear the claims.

“The defendants argued that these claims were affected religious issues, and that the Civil Courts of North Carolina under the First Amendment and the ecclesiastical abstention doctrine, do not get involved in purely religious disputes,” said Parsons.

Essentially the the UMC Conference argued against the lawsuit on religious grounds, but the congregation says it’s a property matter.

Parsons also said that the congregation plans to appeal the decision as quickly as possible. He said that the disaffiliation process will need to be completed before New Year’s Eve according to the Book of Discipline from the United Methodist Church.

The North Carolina Conference of the United Methodist Church said once the dismissal is finalized they will release a statement.