Negotiations Continue In Climate of Distrust
A quick update before I leave for a week to run RCP Sr. Hi Camp (ironic, isn't it? 220 mostly UMC youth being directed by an ex-UMC pastor).
There is some reason for hope, but a lot of prayer needed. KUMC [Kingsburg United Methodist Church] trustees and KCC [Kingsburg Community Church, formerly KUMC] Directors met last night with two Conference trustees, the Conference Treasurer and the District Superintendent, Rick Plain. It began as a tense encounter. We asked for explanation of the deceptive manner in which KUMC funds had been seized last week. All we got was evasion and blame-passing. All I heard was the Nuremberg defense: we were just following orders. It came out that the DS had indeed been primed to declare the church abandoned last week. He didn't even tell the District Board of Church Location and Building. We were set up. I will pray that the DS grows some integrity through this process.
Nonetheless, the good news is that we were able to move from the details to talk about the big issue. That is, we agreed that there was an unknown sum of money that will make the whole issue go away. It was clear that if we could agree on the price, the conference trustees were ready to clear the whole thing up last night. This is very good news. They aren't thinking of making an example of KCC by leaving the building empty to punish us. They are, however, looking to make enough money on the deal to make it seem to the Annual Conference that they "won." We talked money, but I promised I wouldn't disclose the amounts. I can tell you that I thought that the amounts were less than market value between willing buyers and sellers. However, the amount the Conference wants is pretty far from what the KCC can or will pay. I feel that the KCC Board Chair was right when he observed that the Conference does not want to give us any credit for moral ownership of any of the property. I do not know if we will be able to find agreement when we feel that 80 years' of building, paying for and caring for the buildings makes them ours regardless of the Discipline and they feel that the buildings were built for the Annual conference.
I pointed out to the trustees that the UMC has a long history of supporting land reform in Central and South America. The UMC has taken the position that generations of working the land and living on it gives peasants a moral claim on it regardless of the legal title held by the rich absentee landowners. In my opinion, the situation we are in is analogous. The family of faith in Kingsburg built these buildings. I have a 71 year old grandmother in the church whose grandfather scraped out the basement with his mule team and a scraper. Her mother came across the street from school every day to nail lath to the beams before the plasterers went to work. Last night, over half of the group of 16 indicated that they had been married in the sanctuary, many over 50 year ago. Over the past 7 years that I have been in Kingsburg, we have spent $500,000 on improvements, carpet, air conditioning, structural repair and the like. The Conference has never spent a dime on the buildings in Kingsburg. Yet, they believe that they own them. This is an evil system or maybe a system being used in an evil way! The land belongs to the peasants.
I repeat my previous observation that if we didn't have sufficient reason to leave the UMC before, we sure understand why we left now. How could we have remained a part of something so immoral for so long? How could we have supported it with our membership and our apportionment dollars? Pastor GL Johnson of People's Church in Fresno, the largest church in these parts with about 3,000 on Sunday morning, preached last Sunday mentioning our struggle and commending me by name. He also pledged that if we had to buy our buildings, he would take up a collection. Other churches in town have pledged fund raisers and bake sales to help us buy the buildings. To me that is the heart of God for the true Body of Christ. There is no legal obligation for a former Assembly of God church to help out a little country church in Kingsburg, but GL and those like him see it as being faithful to a higher trust, being faithful to God. The Cal-Nevada AC has no faithfulness to God left, so it insists on a corrupt faithfulness to the Book of Discipline and the letter of the law. The rest of my ministry I will spend working together with other Christian families of faith not because I am compelled to, but because we share a burning passion to be Jesus' servants in this world.
Blessings on you. Keep praying for us. I'll let you know what happens as soon as I know something.
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