WILMINGTON — The Congregation of Fifth Avenue United Methodist Church’s lawsuit against the North Carolina Conference of the United Methodist Conference has been dismissed by a civil court in New Hanover County.
“We respectfully disagree with the court’s ruling, and we are considering all options to include an expedited appeal,” the church congregation said in a statement.
Port City Daily reached out to the congregation, the congregation’s lawyer and a UMC representative Tara Lain on the reasoning for the dismissal.
“The judge has not signed the order officially yet to the best of my knowledge,” Lain wrote to PCD in an email.
The church filed a lawsuit against the UMC in June after the conference shuttered the Fifth Avenue building. The previous fall the congregation began the disaffiliation process due to idealogical differences. The UMC has been at an impasse over “ongoing, unresolved divisions regarding homosexuality,” though the Fifth Avenue congregation have not cited this as a specific reason for disaffiliation.
North Carolina Conference of the UMC originally said it closed the church due to declining membership. However, in a brief filed in response to the lawsuit, the church’s position was that the building belongs to the UMC. Because the building was put into a trust with the intent of being a Methodist church, the UMC argues disaffiliating from the conference would violate that agreement.
When the doors closed in March, the congregation was not notified. In their court filing, church members were seeking to reopen the doors to Fifth Avenue for worship and the right to continue the disafilliation from the UMC.
The lawsuit comes as a growing number of churches are forced to take legal action against local conferences of the United Methodist Church over disaffiliation. Local churches in Georgia recently won a court ruling requiring the North Georgia Conference to allow the churches to vote on disaffiliation.
249 churches left the North Carolina conference in 2022 and another 59 voted to leave earlier this month, all through the formal disaffiliation process outlined by the UMC.
“This lawsuit was a last resort,” Fifth Avenue’s lawyer Gavin Parsons said in a press release. “Fifth Avenue gave the Conference every opportunity to do the right thing, but they refused. Hundreds of churches have voted on disaffiliation. Some chose to stay, some chose to leave, but all were given a vote. The Conference chose to seize Fifth Avenue’s property instead of allowing a vote. We look forward to restoring Fifth Avenue’s historic church to its members and allowing them to pursue a vote on disaffiliation as promised by the United Methodist Church.”
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