Conference Reaches Settlement with Break-away Church
The Oregon-Idaho Conference has reached a settlement agreement with the Ontario Community Church in Ontario Oregon. The Community church was formed in May 2010 by members of the Ontario Community United Methodist Congregation. Claiming they were no longer connected to the United Methodist Church, the new church maintained control of the building on SE Third Street in Ontario, Oregon, as well as funds and other assets which had belonged to the United Methodist congregation.
After an extended period of conversation and negotiation, the Board of Trustees for the Oregon-Idaho Conference voted to file suit in order to regain possession of the church property and funds. The rules of the denomination provide that all local church property is held in trust for the denomination and that a local congregation cannot take property and leave the denomination without permission. Suit was filed in October 2010 in Malheur County Circuit Court.
Further negotiation between the parties led to a settlement agreement which calls for the return of the church building, historical property and all funds to The United Methodist Church; and sale of the building to the new Ontario Community Church at a negotiated price.
Bishop, Robert T. Hoshibata, who oversees the Oregon and Southern Idaho area shared that, “While It is sad to see separation in a church denomination, I am glad that the legal matter has been settled and now both the Community Church and our United Methodist Church can move forward in our efforts to share the Good News of Jesus Christ.”
As of mid-October all funds had been transferred to the conference and historical documents of the United Methodist Congregation have been turned over for placement in conference archives. The property has now been sold and ownership transferred to the new church.
With this issue coming to a close, Bishop Hoshibata also expressed his appreciation for the legal response team that worked collaboratively to guide and represent the conference. The team included; Paul Cosgrove, Conference Chancellor; Greg Tollefson, President of the Conference Board of Trustees; Bill Mullette-Bauer, Director of Stewardship and Finance; Steve Ross, Oregon Trail District Assistant to the Bishop; Greg Nelson, Director of Communications; and Attorneys Nicole Hancock of Stoel Rives LLP in Boise and Heather Anderson of Arlington, Virginia. Because this lawsuit dealt with the trust relationship that a local congregation has with The United Methodist Church, the General Commission on Finance and Administration also provided legal advice and a grant to assist with legal costs.
According to Director of Stewardship and Finance, Bill Mullette-Bauer, funds from the church and proceeds from sale of the building will be distributed according to conference rules after legal expenses are deducted.
The United Methodist Church established Ontario Community United Methodist Church as an outreach to Japanese and Japanese-Americans in the area in 1945. It was first known as Boise Valley Community Methodist Church of Ontario. Property was obtained in 1946 and the first church building on the Third Street site was built in 1947. It was the first church built in Oregon by Methodists following the end of World War II. That church has had a long and distinguished history of United Methodist mission and ministry as part of the Japanese Provisional Conference and the Oregon-Idaho Annual Conference.
The United Methodist Church continues to be in ministry in the city of Ontario. Ontario First United Methodist Church, located at 312 NW Second Street continues its worship and mission under the leadership of the Rev. John Go.