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UM Officials Lock Faithful Congregation Out Before Court Decision Of Church Ownership

Whose church is it?

Court case could have broad implications for relationship between local congregations and their denominations.

(Kalamazoo Michigan) ''Those churches which did not accept the merger were allowed to choose their own path,'' Spigelmyer states. ''After much debate and a close vote,'' their church was ''persuaded to go along with the merger.''

Even so, ''we never agreed to their discipline or to their contention that they owned the church,'' Spigelmyer said. ''We began as a German congregation, and we've always been very independent.''

Over the years, Lane Boulevard has been at loggerheads with the UMC over its administrative policies and its more liberal stances on a range of issues, including the ordination of women and acceptance of gays, Lane Boulevard church members said.

''The Methodist hierarchy is pretty left,'' said Robert Clark, a church member and also an attorney. ''We have our way and they have their way and our way isn't their way.''

But the denomination's stance on broader issues didn't lead to a break, Clark said.

Decision was forced

That happened earlier this year when they learned that the UMC wanted to remove their pastor, Dyke, from the pulpit. Dyke, a former Catholic priest, has been their minister for several years. He is well-liked and has helped the church grow to its current membership of more than 120 people.

''We were planning to go to court at some point, but that decision forced'' the church to file suit over the issue of ownership, Clark said.

Clark said the church will likely go back to court to ask Johnson to throw out the preliminary injunction, given that the UMC changed the locks and, instead of using the church for Methodist worship, has rented the facility to the Pentecostal congregation.

Samuel Field, the attorney for Lane Boulevard, sent a letter on Dec. 6 to Shearer, the UMC lawyer. In it, he wrote that Johnson's preliminary injunction ''did not give your client authority to change the locks. It did not give your client authority to interfere with (his client's) access to the building. It certainly did not give your client authority to rent the building to some non-Methodist group.''

Local Methodist officials say they have not violated the preliminary injunction and continue to claim that the denomination, not the individual church, controls the building and property on which Lane Boulevard Church and a nearby parsonage are located.

''The WMC is part of a hierarchical church organization and the plaintiff local church is under its jurisdiction and control,'' writes Shearer in a brief for the case.

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