A Maryland congregation that voted to leave the United Methodist Church has only a few weeks remaining to raise enough money to pay $4 million to keep their property or they will lose their church building.
Oakdale Church of Olney, a congregation that has existed for over 200 years and has around 250 in-person attendees every week, voted to disaffiliate from the UMC in March.
As part of the disaffiliation process, Oakdale Church has to pay the UMC mission shares for the current year plus one year in advance, any unfunded pension liability, and 50% of the property's assessed value.
Oakdale Pastor Kevin Baker told The Christian Post that because his church’s tax assessment is around $7.9, his congregation will have to pay approximately $4 million.
Baker denounced the 50% assessed value requirement, telling CP that the UMC Baltimore-Washington Conference is one of only three conferences in the denomination that mandate such a payment in order to leave.
“Oakdale Church leaders and others have repeatedly requested a meeting with the board of trustees for the BWC to talk and seek some negotiations, but the trustees have been unwilling to meet,” Baker said.
At present, according to their website, the church needs to have either $4 million “cash in hand” by Oct. 25 or $2 million “in hand” by Sept. 10 “with commitments for the other $2 million over the next 3 years.”
Baker also told CP that there is some doubt that his congregation will be able to raise sufficient funds in time, as “no lending institution was willing to lend us the $4 million needed without some additional funds in hand and/or a strong capital campaign.”
“With God’s help, we will see this great goal achieved either using our current building or from some other place,” said Baker. “Oakdale Church would very much like to remain in our current building since the members of the church have faithfully and sacrificially constructed, paid for and made their home here for centuries.”
“Disaffiliation is not our mission; serving the vision of making disciples and catalyzing a disciple-making movement is what God has called us to. We do not yet know whether God will provide what is needed to stay in this building.”
Baker added, “God is going to once again show himself faithful to supply the needs of His people as we love and serve Him sacrificially.”
“However, God’s faithfulness takes many forms, and sometimes the best answer is the one we least expected. Perhaps God has an entirely different campus for Oakdale Church that will better serve the mission we have received from Him,” Baker added.
“Perhaps God wants us to be without a building and to meet from house to house. Whatever God has for us is better than what we could plan for ourselves, and so we are praying, giving, waiting and praising.”
The Christian Post reached out to the UMC Baltimore-Washington Conference for this article, with a spokesperson directing CP to a link explaining the disaffiliation process.
The webpage led to an FAQ page on the BWC’s website, which explains that the regional body was within its rights to add to the requirements for disaffiliation, which in their case include “that half of the valuation of a church’s building be included in the cost of disaffiliation, and also creating an activity-based discernment process so that all those voting are fully aware of what they are undertaking.”
The FAQ page also states that the ability of conference leadership to add unique guidelines to their disaffiliation process was upheld by the United Methodist Judicial Council, which is the highest court of the UMC.
“The Judicial Council’s ruling said the disaffiliation process established by General Conference constitutes minimum standards, ‘which do not preclude additional procedures and standard terms created by annual conferences, provided that the latter do not negate or violate the former,’” explained the FAQ page.
The spokesperson also noted that comment could not be given at this time due to the subject being closely related to the issues at the center of litigation involving the Conference and several churches seeking disaffiliation.
Baker also pushed back against Baltimore-Washington Bishop LaTrelle Easterling's previous assertions that "racism" might be behind some of the desire to disaffiliate. Baker submitted a motion that the $10.8 million the conference receives in property payments should benefit African American-majority churches.
"In one of your statements as you addressed the conference, you said that you believed racism was behind some of this disaffiliation. We would like to make sure that no one thinks racism is at all involved in this," he said. "So, we think profiting to the African American, or historically African American churches, would show our goodwill, that we have no ill will towards anyone as we seek to disaffiliate from the United Methodist Church."
Baker's motion was dismissed by Easterling, saying the UMC policy allows the conference board of trustees to set the conference's disaffiliation requirements and doesn't allow the annual conference to "try to prescribe how the trustees would go about that process."
In March, 38 congregations seeking to leave the UMC filed a lawsuit against the BWC, arguing that the conference’s standards for disaffiliation involved “holding their church buildings and property hostage.”
“Defendants claim Plaintiff Churches’ property is encumbered by an irrevocable trust for the benefit of the UMC and the only way for Plaintiff Churches to disaffiliate without surrendering the buildings and property that are central to their congregations is by the permission of the UMC and payment of a financial ransom,” claimed the suit.
“This position is inconsistent with the decades-long pattern and practice of the UMC to allow local churches to disaffiliate and retain their church property without paying a ransom.”
In recent years, thousands of congregations have decided to leave the UMC due to concerns about the theological direction of the denomination, and its progressive leadership often refusing to enforce denominational rules against the blessing of same-sex marriage and the ordination of noncelibate homosexuals.
According to statistics compiled by UM News, more than 6,200 congregations have disaffiliated from the UMC since 2019, with more than 4,000 doing so this year alone.
Disclosure: CP's Deputy Managing Editor Samuel Smith attends Oakdale Church.