Md. Church Fights United Methodist Body Over Property

A predominantly African-American Methodist church in Maryland is in a dispute over its property with the Conference it split from back in November.

White Rock Church of Sykesville, a small congregation that left the United Methodist Church last November, has been fighting an ongoing battle with the Baltimore-Washington Conference over its 140-plus year old property.

In an interview with an online publication, pastor Douglas Sands Sr. of White Rock explained that his congregation is refusing to give up the property, alluding to the Occupy Movement in his words.

"We're just simply not going to move," said Sands, a 78-year-old civil rights activist, in an interview with AFRO. "We are occupying the building and just plain staying there. We are going to stand our ground to change what is clearly unconstitutional."

Last November, White Rock Church, a 35-member church founded in 1868 by former slaves, opted to disaffiliate from the UMC Conference. In 2011, Sands had told the Baltimore Sun that the cause of which was a sense that his church was being neglected by the Conference, or as he dubbed it, "the violence of insignificance."

An additional reason for leaving was the sense that the Conference was planning to close down the church and combine the small congregation with a couple other local parishes in the area.

According to an article on the Baltimore-Washington Conference's website posted in December 2011, with White Rock leaving the UMC their property must remain with the Conference.

"According to the Trust Clause, a church law which has been in effect since 1797, the title to a United Methodist local church property is held by the local church, but held in trust for the entire United Methodist Church," wrote Melissa Lauben of the Conference.

Bishop John R. Schol, then head of the Baltimore-Washington Conference, told AFRO that the Conference leadership had no intention of closing down White Rock.

"We are not closing African-American churches, and when two churches merge, both have to agree. We can't force them into that particular relationship," said Schol.

According to paragraph 2503 of the United Methodist Book of Discipline, all church properties are "held in trust" by the denomination.

"In trust, that said premises shall be used, kept, and maintained as a place of divine worship of the United Methodist ministry and members of The United Methodist Church; subject to the Discipline, usage, and ministerial appointments of said Church as from time to time authorized and declared by the General Conference and by the annual conference within whose bounds the said premises are situated. This provision is solely for the benefit of the grantee, and the grantor reserves no right or interest in said premises," reads the paragraph.

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