Trustees Call In Police To Prevent Takeover of Campgrounds By Pro-homosexuality Church Leaders
Trustees of controversial campground lock out church leaders
Aug. 13, 1999
By Linda S. Rhodes*
DESPLAINES, Ill. (UMNS) -- On Saturday, Aug. 7, about 40 Northern Illinois Conference* clergy and laity arrived at the Historic Methodist Campground in DesPlaines to attend the annual meeting of the Campground Association.
Some were expecting to vote as delegates, others wanted to observe or speak out against alleged incidents of discrimination against a gay couple.
But instead of a meeting, the group found locked gates, more than 25 tactical police units barricading roads into the campgrounds, police with attack dogs patrolling fence lines and huge professionally produced signs declaring that the campground was closed.
Locked outside were the Rev. Phil Blackwell, conference program officer, and the Rev. Todd Singley*, pastor of Irving Park United Methodist Church* and co-chair of the conference board of church and society, which is currently investigating charges that the campground discriminated against a homosexual couple in violation of the United Methodist Church's Social Principles.
Also locked out were Nancy Duel*, conference lay leader and member of the board of church and society investigating team; Linda Rhodes*, conference communications director; about a dozen pastors, and a number of lay members of churches from across the conference.
Calling the situation "distressing," Singley* called the action by the campground trustees "grossly inhospitable, disrespectful to a process that has sought mutual understanding, and a violation of our good faith and trust."
Singley* said Marjorie Cilley, president of the campground trustees, had given verbal consent for representatives of the investigative team to be present at the annual meeting as observers. "We assured her that we would not vote or act as mediators," Singley* said, "merely as observers of the process. We were greatly distressed by this violation of her word given to us, presumably, in good faith. We came to attend the meeting in good faith."
Those locked out of the campground formed a prayer circle in front of the locked gate, holding hands and praying and singing. All the while, they were videotaped by uniformed security guards and monitored by armed police with guard dogs.
Standing outside the locked gate, the campground's attorney, John E. Juergensmeyer, said the lockout was due to "specific threats against board members and the campground." Only people entitled to vote at the meeting or those who are residents on the grounds were being admitted, he said.
Capt. Bernie Wolter, commander of the DesPlaines Police Department's tactical team, said police were admitting only cottage owners whose names were on a list.
Wolter said Juergensmeyer told police "there might be 500 to 1,000 demonstrators" attempting to disrupt the campground meeting. As a result, DesPlaines Police, Cook County Sheriff's deputies and Cook County Forest Preserve Police staked out the entire area.
"We were merely there for security purposes," Wolter said. "We were there to preserve the peace."
Although he could not quote an exact figure for the cost of the security patrol, Wolter said it "cost a lot," because most of the police were working on overtime pay. He said all costs will be covered by the city of DesPlaines and Cook County.
Wolter noted that the 40 or so people kept outside the gates "were very peaceful. We had no problems whatsoever."
While remaining peaceful, many of the pastors were angered that they were locked out of the campgrounds.
Blackwell noted that he sent a fax to all Northern Illinois* churches inviting them to the meeting at the request of Cilley and the other trustees.
"They informally asked me if I would reiterate on behalf of the association that this was an open afternoon and everyone was welcome," Blackwell said. He said the turn of events "suggests an attitude on their part of unilateral authority. It is symbolic to me of how they see themselves as an independent entity."
"We must disassociate ourselves from this madness," said the Rev. Dwight Stewart*, pastor of Euclid Avenue United Methodist Church* in Oak Park. "We must not allow the United Methodist name to be on this place. I hope the bishop (C. Joseph Sprague*) will encourage pastors not to conduct worship services or preach on this ground. This is unholy ground."
The board of church and society's investigation follows a resolution approved at the June 8 session of annual conference* in DeKalb, Ill. The resolution called for the investigation due to allegations that campground trustees refused to rent a cottage to Robert Carroll and Russell Elenz because of their sexual orientation. Campground trustees are also accused of trying to evict Bill and Nanette Graham and their two children when they befriended Carroll and Elenz. (UMNS News Story)
During the investigation process, a dispute arose over who is eligible to vote at the campground's annual meeting where trustees are elected.
Campground association by-laws state that qualified voters at the association annual election meeting include the resident bishop, district superintendents and clergy of the Northern Illinois Conference who "shall each be entitled to one vote."
The by-laws also state: "Any church in the Northern Illinois Conference* choosing to be represented at the Association Annual Election Meeting may be so represented by one lay member whose appointment must be reported in writing to the Secretary of the Association by the Pastor, Secretary of the Administrative Board/Council of such church at least 20 days before the date of the Association Annual Election Meeting. A lay member shall continue to serve as such until written notice is received from their church advising change or replacement."
Under a section headed "Conduct of the Election," the by-laws stipulate that entry checkers are to use "a copy of the current year Directory of the Northern Illinois Conference* for the purpose of verifying the identity and validity of Conference clergy including the Bishop* and the District Superintendents*."
Also allowed to vote in the election, according to the by-laws, are the nine association trustees and resident owners of the cottages on the campground.
Despite the by-laws, campground trustees decided to allow only trustees and cottage owners to vote at this year's meeting, according to Robert Matson, husband of trustees vice president Martha Matson.
Saying that the by-laws do not agree with the campground's 1867 charter, Matson said, "there are some serious impediments in the (United Methodist Book of) Discipline that we have to overcome."
Based on a report from the campground's credentials committee, Matson said, trustees passed a resolution stating that "the credentials sent by the various churches for the annual election meeting of August 7, 1999, are not supported by necessary evidence that a local church has chosen to be represented in our Association by a resolution of their annual charge conference.
Such credentials cannot be, nor will they, be approved unless or until a covenant relationship between the Conference and the Association exists and the necessary 'commission' is agreed to by both the Conference and the Association."
Two churches, Epworth United Methodist* in Chicago and Covenant United Methodist in Evanston, Ill., had rented groves on the campground to hold picnics before the annual meeting. Neither picnic was permitted.
The Rev. Bettye Mixon*, pastor of Epworth*, said she was called the day before the scheduled picnic and told that the campground was being closed "because there were going to be all these people out here and they were afraid the elderly people on the campground might have a heart attack."
Singley* indicated that the investigation into the campground's activities is not completed. "We will be meeting again," he said, "particularly after the events on Saturday, which add a whole new layer to all this."
In an Aug. 10 statement, Singley* and Cecelia Long, co-chairs of the conference board of church and society, said the trustees "violated two points of understanding agreed to by the trustees' chairperson and the investigative committee."
In addition to denying investigating team members access to the annual meeting, trustees violated a "good faith agreement" with the investigative committee that no action against the Graham family would be taken for the remainder of the summer season, Long and Singley* said. However, they noted, the Graham family has been denied access to their cabin, and locks on their cabin were changed.
Regarding the lockout, Long and Singley* said: "Such a fearful response of calling police and canine units against representatives of the Church of Jesus Christ is faithless and is condemned in the strongest possible terms."
Rhodes* is communications director of the Northern Illinois Annual (regional) Conference* of the United Methodist Church.
United Methodist News Service (615)742-5470 Releases and photos also available at http://umns.umc.org/
Members of the Reconciling Congregations Program identified in the above story
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