United Methodist Church regains control of breakaway Illinois church property

Naperville Korean Methodist Church in Illinois.
Naperville Korean Methodist Church in Illinois. | Screenshot: Google Street View

An Illinois-based regional body of the United Methodist Church regained control of church property that was involved in litigation with a group that broke away from the denomination.

Last month, a judge ruled in favor of the UMC Northern Illinois Conference in a legal battle over who rightfully owns the accounts and property of Naperville Korean United Methodist Church.

The breakaway group, known as Naperville Korean Church, was part of a wave of thousands of congregations that have disaffiliated in recent years from the UMC amid the longstanding schism over the denomination's stance on homosexuality.

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The Rev. Victoria Rebeck, director of communication for the conference, told The Christian Post on Thursday that while the "case is ongoing," they are currently in control of the property.

"The Northern Illinois Conference is grateful for this decision and is using this opportunity to actively work towards reconciliation with the members and leadership of the Naperville Korean Church," explained Rebeck.

"Members of the Naperville Korean United Methodist Church who have wanted to remain with The United Methodist Church have been holding worship services in the building since Palm Sunday. All people, including new visitors as well as people who had long been part of the congregation, are welcome."

Rebeck directed CP to a statement made by the conference last month, which noted that Judge Anne T. Hayes had issued a temporary injunction in favor of the UMC regional body.

The conference accused the breakaway group of illegally taking possession of the church property last year, having discontinued the formal process for leaving the denomination.

Disputes over the church property and assets eventually led to the UMC regional body filing a lawsuit last October. 

Dr. K.P. Chung, a physician and leader in the congregation loyal to the UMC, said the return of the property gives them "a great opportunity for this congregation to get stronger, become more united, and to do good work for the community."

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

Over 7,600 UMC congregations have left the mainline Protestant denomination since 2019. Although the UMC Book of Discipline prohibits same-sex marriage and the ordination of noncelibate homosexuals, theologically conservative churches have objected to progressive leaders within the denomination refusing to follow or enforce the rules.

While most churches faced little obstacles in their quests for disaffiliation, other congregations have had to pay large sums to their UMC regional bodies to keep control of their properties. Dozens of churches nationwide filed lawsuits claiming the process set up by their UMC regional bodies has been unfair. However, many of those churches have had their complaintsdismissed.

In one instance in Arkansas, the regional body removed a church pastor after rejecting the congregation's dissafiliation vote. A court ordered the congregation to vacate the premises by Aug. 1 last year. The pastor was replaced with a pastor loyal to the UMC.  

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