Blount County Judge Steven King has yet to rule on the Oct. 1 case involving the United Methodist Conference and Oak Grove Methodist Church, but the multipleyear case is still weighing heavily on church members’ minds.
Five years ago, Oak Grove Methodist Church members voted to withdraw from and stop supporting the United Methodist Conference. Following this decision, all locks on the doors of the church were changed by a United Methodist District superintendent in order to deny access to the members.
Some church members say the church’s deed clearly defines ownership and control of Oak Grove Methodist Church while other church members and the conference representatives disagree.
Church member Brad Martin claims more deeds than just that one were written. In the first deed, filed in 1882, the first acre which the church originally sat on was to be owned by the church, he says.
However, a second deed was written after more property was bought, and the church was moved. In this deed, the church signed on with the conference, but church member John Bobby Green said no other document had been brought to the court other than the original deed that exists.
“The conference has the right to the property that the church is actually on,” Martin says.“I was asked to remain quiet about the second deed since, if it was never spoken of, the church would win in court. I don’t lie, and frankly, I’m sickened that so many went along with this case while knowing about it. Not only that, but some of the members who voted to remove the church from the conference were members who were rounded up and hadn’t been regularly attending the church. I want the church to remain with the conference, primarily because you need accountability, which is something difficult to have in a family-run church.”
Martin says even the locking doors situation has been taken out of context.
“The church members who wished to remain in the conference and those who wanted to leave agreed to share the church until the hearing,” he says.“One group was meetingduringa9a.m.servicewhileothers met at a later time. It was only after a member taped over the United Methodist part on our sign and also removed the road sign that the conference superintendent decided it wouldn’t work, and they would have to meet somewhere else. After this occurred, they changed the locks.”
A civil action was filed by Oak Grove on April 3, 2009, which challenged the United Methodist Conference’s claim to ownership. Since that action, numerous motions and court hearings, consisting of two court volumes, have been filed.
Initially, a Blount County judge ruled in favor of Oak Grove, however, the conference filed an appeal and the case was sent back.