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Methodist church tries “unlawful” lockout
By WeHo News staff, West Hollywood, California
This morning the West District of the United Methodist Ministries began to lock the pastor and office users out of the church facility they rely on to do business and the West Hollywood recovery community out of a space they rely on to hold AA and associated recovery meetings.
Crescent Heights United Methodist Church is a West Hollywood cultural landmark and the second-oldest continuously operating institution in WeHo, having been founded 98 years ago. Photo by WeHo News.
Without notice and without communicating an intent to do so, locksmiths and the district’s head of facilities, Sandee Furuta appeared this morning to lock the Crescent Heights United Methodist Church at 1296 N. Fairfax Avenue to prevent its use by anyone.
The move came six weeks before the deadline of a 60 day unlawful detainer issued by the church in what WeHo News' and caretaker Pastor Scott Imler's lawyers called “an unlawful lockout.”
The church’s largely LGBT congregation had been “discontinued,” or forcibly dissolved against their will, in 2011 by the district in what Pastor Scott Imler claims to be a “land grab.”
The district superintendent, Rev. Kathey Wilborn, spoke to WeHo News yesterday and placed responsibility for the discontinuance on the previous superintendent Cedrick Bridgeforth.
However, she did claim that, because the congregation has been discontinued, the ownership of the property automatically reverts to the denomination.
Pastor Imler disagrees with that assertion.
This photo of the Crescent Heights United Methodist congregation shows the Sunday School classes at the "break-away" church. Courtesy Crescent Heights Methodist Church archives.
In a letter sent to WeHo News, he write, “the Articles of Incorporation of Crescent Heights Church, a California Religious Corporation do not contain an "irrevocable trust clause" naming the general church as the beneficiary of the property and assets held in trust by the corporation.
“While the Annual Conference has the right to revoke our United Methodist franchise -- and they did by virtue of their 2011 Session's Resolution of Discontinuance -- they have no claim on the property of CHUMC, prior to the local congregation's voluntary and self-authorized dissolution."
Claiming that the decision to discontinue the congregation the limit of the district’s legal authority, he said, “The Conference/District have already exercised all the authority that they have."
Announcing an interfaith worship service to take place this Sunday, August 19 at 11:00 am, Pastor Imler said, “Provided we don't abandon the location and the vision [for development] we cooperatively developed for it, and continue to maintain it as a place of worship they should have no standing to do anything more than they have already done.”
Yet Rev. Wilborn contends that the church property belongs to the Methodists and is theirs to develop.
Plans to develop the property have long been in the works.
Pastor Imler presented the City of West Hollywood and the West Hollywood Community Housing Corporation (WHCHC) with a plan to develop a “Gateway” development on the city’s northern border that would have included housing, an internment sit for the LGBT community (the first of its kind in the nation, community space for recovery activities and a non-denominational spiritual center.
The church itself is a cultural landmark of note for its design. The building was dedicated in 1924. Photo by WeHo News.
Some months after he began talks with the city, and while the denomination was making a case to dissolve the congregation, the United Methodist church partnered with a homeless agency - People Assisting the Homeless (PATH) - to plan a competing development.
Pastor Imler suspects that the congregation’s discontinuance was a way to clear the way for that competing plan.
“They presented drawings and plans in May of 2010,” he said, “right after they “put us in the box,” a term used for churches that the denomination is targeting for discontinuance.
Pastor Imler, who in church parlance was “relieved” of his pastoral duties in the aftermath of the congregation’s discontinuance, was kept on by the church as caretaker of the facility for those using the church property recovery groups.
Pastor Imler contends that the district kept him on as caretaker of the property, and has been given no notice of being relived of those duties, excepting the unlawful detainer that is meant to evict him from the parish house next door.
However, in his capacity as caretaker of the property, Pastor Imler has kept an office in the church proper and rented offices inside the church to other businesses (including WeHo News).
Rev. Wilborn, in a tape recorded interview, claimed that Pastor Imler was, “holding us hostage,” and “running interference,” by not providing the district with a list of the groups and their contact persons.
Pastor Imler contends that the district office has had a list of recovery groups using the facility all along. “It’s part of my job as caretaker, which they pay me for by giving me the parsonage to live in.”
Rev. Wilborn denied that, saying, “Kathy Wilborn does not have the list.”
She cast blame for that on staffing changes, contending that because, “The former district superintendent is no longer here, the former administrative assistant is no longer here,” that she had no access to the list.
This upstairs meeting hall is only one of the spaces used by roughly one dozen recovery groups on a weekly basis. Those groups serve hundreds of West Hollywood area people in recovery. Photo by WeHo News.
Sharpening her rhetoric about Pastor Imler, she then said, “…and so if [Pastor Imler] desires the district to have the list, which I’ve asked him for, he can give me the list.”
She repeatedly declined to say whether or not she asked the former superintendent, who is in another station up the California coast, for said list, bringing the discussion around again to the perceived wrongs committed by Pastor Imler.
That interview was conducted in the afternoon of August 15. On the morning of August 16, the property manager for the district, Sandee Furuta appeared at the facility along with a locksmith with the intent of locking out the independent office personnel and the recovery groups.
Ms. Furuta would not comment, despite repeated requests, on why the district decided to lock out the occupants of the church six weeks before the deadline to vacate the premises passed and legal proceedings could begin.
But apparently the district superintendent and the board members who gathered at the church to support her in her quest to rid the church of the pastor, office users and recovery groups six weeks early eventually counseled her to give up the attempt and allow the legal process to play out.
Ms. Furuta and the locksmith left the premises about one hour after arriving.
Pastor Imler intends to press forward with his legal claim on the building and the land, hoping to one day develop a community-based West Hollywood Gateway project.
In the meantime, he invites the community to the interdenominational worship service taking place at the historic church (at 98 years old, the second-oldest continuously operating institution in West Hollywood), to celebrate the vision for that community-based development.
The service is on Sunday, August 19, at 11:00 am at the Crescent Heights United Methodist Church at 1296 N Fairfax Avenue, West Hollywood – the corner of Fountain and Fairfax.