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Crescent Heights Methodist Church was too gay
By WeHo News staff, West Hollywood, California
Crescent Height Methodist Church was “too gay” and is now a fly in the ointment, says Pastor Imler. Photo by WeHo News.
An architectural detail from the Crescent Heights United Methodist Church in West Hollywood. Photo by WeHo News.
Several years later, after much infighting and acrimony, the district had pressed its case to close down the congregation against its will and set forth to use its 2011 international conference to make the decision.
When the Crescent Heights United Methodist Church’s congregational Charge Conference (or what was left of the now-dispirited organization – many had left the congregation due to the continued controversy) met on June 5, 2011, they voted 11-2 against involuntary discontinuance.
“I’m an openly-gay, anti-Proposition 8 pastor,” Pastor Scott Imler said at the time.
“The United Methodist Church is becoming increasingly conservative due to exponential growth of congregations in Central and South America and Africa,” he said, “and the denomination's nearly 40 year march toward full inclusion is coming to a halt.”
He cited his congregation’s successful efforts to gain a No On Prop 8 endorsement from the California Conference and the feelings of embarrassment and resentment that Proposition 8’s victory raised in the national and international conference as the underpinning for motive to discontinue that congregation and remove him from his mission.
Still, in a seeming effort to placate the threatened group, Dr. Rev. Bridgeforth assured the congregation that while Pastor Scott Imler would be “relieved” of his pastoral duties, he would stay on as the On-Site Supervisor of the property.
This building, while protected under the West Hollywood Cultural landmark ordinance, will be redeveloped. Just how, whether in the way WeHo residents wish or how outsiders wish stands at the heart of the controversy now erupting over the building's use and who holds title. Photo by WeHo News.
Furthermore, he promised that the user groups could remain, that the congregation could continue to gather for fellowship, that they would have an ongoing voice in the future development of the property, they would be given an opportunity to have a representative speak to the forthcoming Annual Conference to oppose the discontinuance, and that nothing was changing except there would no longer be a Sunday morning worship service.
Rev. Dr. Bridgeforth repeated the same commitments at the “final worship service” held on August 21, 2011 that was widely attended by members of the community, including West Hollywood then-Mayor John Duran.
Pastor Imler contends that none of those commitments were upheld and the minute they got their Annual Conference vote of discontinuance all bets were off.
The district says it intends to maintain the sanctuary for use by a future congregation, just not the congregation the church had under Pastor Scott Imler, from whom they stripped pastoral duties. Photo by WeHo News.
Four months of wrangling ensued that included a mysterious arson fire, a Temporary Restraining Order against the Pastor that was withdrawn before the scheduled hearing, and back and forth negotiations over a written Caretaker Contract proffered by the District that ultimately would never get a signature.
It came to a head on November 5, 2011, when Dr. Rev. Bridgeforth and a group of “volunteers” showed up at the church for a “District Clean-up Day.”
Pastor Imler recalls, “They said they were coming to clean the place up to prepare it for ministry in the community – as if we hadn’t been doing any and they would be. They were like locusts. For six hours they were everywhere. It was all I could do to keep them from completely trashing the place.
“At the end of the day I knew I had failed, when I found my mother’s urn, which was temporarily interred with several others in the corner of the sanctuary, lying broken on the floor and a stack of NO on 8 lawn signs shredded and scattered across the classroom floor. It was institutionalized bullying at its finest, meant to send a message that there was a new boss in town.”
Two days later, at a hastily called and illegally noticed trustees meeting Dr. Rev. Bridgeforth attempted to get the church trustees to transfer title of the property to the District and then dissolve the corporation in violation of state law.
Nevertheless, the trustees balked, raising all the questions one might imagine after all the broken promises.
Pastor Imler heard nothing from the District until January 26, 2012 when he received notice of a certified letter.
The letter informed him that all negotiations were suspended from that day forth, that Pastor Imler was relieved of his duties as caretaker and he had 45 days to vacate the premises.
Pastor Imler sent a written protest, informing Dr. Rev. Bridgeforth that 45 days were inadequate to the task of removing the many clients of the church’s Midnight Ministry (a targeted outreach program to youth and young adults coming out of addiction, prostitution, domestic violence and homelessness) residing on site.
Saying such a move would, “destabilize their already fragile lives merely to satisfy the District's gratuitous chest thumping,” he refused the order.
Pastor Imler continued to do his job, maintaining the facilities, renting to and monitoring user groups, repairing stained-glass windows, undertaking long deferred repairs, fielding calls and inquiries from constituents and neighbors, filing tax returns, and sorting and re-cataloguing the church archives and tending the substantial flower and vegetable gardens on the church’s back lot.
Pastor Imler would like to utilize the sanctuary for a mixed- or inter-faith congregation that is more open to gays and lesbians than the Methodist Church seems comfortable serving. Photo by WeHo News.
In late May Dr. Rev. Bridgeforth paid Pastor Scott a visit at the church and apologized for what happened to his mother’s cremains, but also made it clear he wasn’t apologizing for anything else.
When Dr. Rev. Bridgeforth raised the issue of his departure, Pastor Scott said he had no place lined up to go, and even if he did, he had no financial way to get there.
The church still owed him $9,000 in back salary, had not given him $2,800 already paid by the insurance company for his personal property losses in a September 2011 arson fire nor the nearly $80,000 in medical bills he incurred as a result of personal injuries he sustained extinguishing the fire.
Dr. Rev. Bridgeforth said he would look into it and get back to him.
Before Dr. Rev. Bridgeforth left that day, Pastor Imler recalls asking again a question to which he never received a credible answer - “why in the spring of 2008, when the Crescent Heights church was perfectly solvent, stable, and growing did the District target it for discontinuance?”
Dr. Rev. Bridgeforth replied. “That’s all water under the bridge, Scott. Suffice it to say that I have a vision for ministry at Fountain and Fairfax in West Hollywood and you are not in it.”
Pastor Imler said he was flabbergasted by the rank arrogance and implied homophobia of the pronouncement.
A few weeks later Pastor Imler received a letter from a local attorney saying “You have been living rent free for six months and have done no work and you must leave. The district is prepared to help relocate you.”
Soon word came that District Superintendent Dr. Rev. Bridgeforth was relieved of his duties in Los Angeles and was being relocated to the Santa Barbara area as part of an annual conference downsizing.
In late July, 2012, Pastor Imler received a call from the new LA District Superintendent Rev. Kathey Wilborn.
Rev. Wilborn was “cordial,” the pastor said, but made clear that the district wanted him and his husband Dr. George Leddy out of the parsonage and the church.
Pastor Imler told her that he was willing, but reluctant, to leave given the myriad of outstanding issues that the church seemed unwilling or unable to address, including outstanding financial obligations and the future of the property as a historical community and cultural resource.
The West Hollywood-based plan for redevelopment of the property would include an LGBT internment center, the first of its kind in the nation, as well as housing and making the complex a "Spiritual Gateway" to the city. The Methodist Church wants to limit their plan to low-income or affordable housing. Photo by WeHo News.
Still, Pastor Imler agreed to meet with Rev. Wilborn’s husband Leonardo, a local real estate agent and pastor of Compton United Methodist Church, to assist them in finding suitable accommodations.
When the Reverend Leonardo Wilborn showed up unannounced at the door of the parsonage the next day, ostensibly to firm up a time to meet with the pastor and his husband Dr. George S. Leddy, an Environmental Science and Policy professor and the Sustainable Development Curriculum Coordinator for the Los Angeles Community College District, Wilborn hand delivered the demand letter to vacate the premises by September 30, 2012.
Two days later when Pastor Imler, his husband Dr. Leddy and Leonardo Wilborn met for lunch, the Compton UMC pastor asked, “So how long have you two been married?”
Before either could answer, Pastor Wilborn offered up his relocation assistance - in the form of two free rental magazines available at the door of most local supermarkets.
“That was it,” Pastor Imler said. “And finally the light went on. I had done my level best for four years in the face of insult after insult, broken promise after broken promise, and hostility after hostility to remain cordial, constructively engaged; and giving them every benefit of the doubt that they had our community’s interests at heart. But no amount of cooperation had resulted in anything, just more of the same -- lies, broken promises, aggression and disrespect.
“Call me slow on the uptake, but it was finally clear to me. The lingering question was finally answered,” he said.
“The reason they put us on the “dead-church walking” list, said Pastor Imler, "was all just one big fraudulent charade to swindle us and the City of West Hollywood out of our church property before the federal courts put the final nail in the coffin of Proposition 8 and our church could authentically extend the grace and love of God to the community we were called to serve.”
Pastor Imler and the now interfaith congregation intend to press forward rebuilding the congregation in a multi-faith context and to pursue their dream to one day building the community-based West Hollywood spiritual Gateway project.
Pastor Scott Imler is something of a hometown hero in that he wrote the Proposition that allowed for Medical Marijuana Dispensary's existence and co-wrote with then-Asembly member Paul Koretz AB 420, the state law that codified dispensary's operations. Photo by WeHo News.
According to Pastor Imler, “The LGBT Cultural Heritage Center and Memorial Park is that new vision for the our church property and the two adjoining properties to the south on Fairfax and the east on Fountain.
“The campus would include a new multi-faith worship space, internment facilities with garden grottos named after tribal heroes, a narrow tall wall building to provide a permanent display site for rotating chunks of the AIDS Memorial Quilt (now rolled up in a darkened warehouse in Atlanta), a new performing Arts facility with offices and meeting rooms 12 steps and other groups, and a gallery for LGBT historical exhibits, and a sizable permanent supportive housing development for homeless emancipated LGBT foster youth and young adults.”
“We worked with Crescent Heights Church on plans to redevelop the site,” she told WeHo News, “but we also understand that the ownership of the land is in question and Hollywood Methodist wants to build a homeless shelter in partnership with People Assisting The Homeless (PATH).”
She said that WHCHC would work closely with whichever credible organization ends up with the title to the land and a desire to move forward.
In the meantime, Pastor Imler invites the community to a “WILL YOU BE THERE” an Interfaith Service of Thanks and Renewal 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 19th, at 11:00 am at the Crescent Heights Community Church of West Hollywood at 1296 N Fairfax Ave. @ Fountain.