Windsor church, denomination settle lawsuit

Published 10:19 am Wednesday, May 19, 2010

WINDSOR TOWNSHIP — A years-long disagreement between a local church and the denomination it was a part of for more than a century has been settled.

Donald Capper, attorney for the Windsor United Methodist Church, said Tuesday that congregation and the West Ohio Conference of the United Methodist Church should finalize with a week or two an agreement that will allow the local church to remain open but not be a part of the Methodist fold and pay only $100 in damages.

Windsor Methodist treasurer Diane Duncan said the disagreement began several years ago when the trustees at Windsor voted to leave the Methodist conference because the local congregation objected to what it considered a more liberal turn in church doctrine, namely the ordination of homosexuals.

West Ohio conference leaders objected to the decision, saying the church itself belonged to the conference, not the local community.

“We met with the superintendent and said to show us proof and he said ‘I’ll have it in two weeks.’ Well, two weeks went by and he didn’t have it and then years went by,” Duncan recalled. She said the local congregation has its deeds to the church — which was opened in the 1830s — and there was no proof the denomination held this control. In the meantime, the local church ceased making its regular contributions to the conference.

The conference filed a lawsuit in 2006, claiming the local congregation was “allowed to use the property and assets of Windsor so long as they were associated with the United Methodist Church” and that the local trustees breached their fiduciary responsibility.

The lawsuit asked for compensatory damages in excess of $25,000 and punitive damages of more than $100,000.

The trustees were to have given depositions in the case Thursday. Capper said Tuesday he had reached an agreement with the conference to drop the lawsuit in exchange for $100. The church will no longer be a Methodist congregation.

“They started out wanting to take the church away and asked for more than $25,000 and now it’s down to $100 and they will no longer be Methodist,” Capper said. “It’s ($100) not even a nuisance amount. It’s miniscule. The depositions would cost more than that.”

Capper said this agreement allows the Windsor congregation to get back to what they do best — help people.

Duncan said Vacation Bible School starts in June and the church will collect book bags and hopefully donated Bibles to give to homeless people.

Columbus attorney Phillip Moots, who represents the West Ohio United Methodist Conference, was contacted for comment on the story but referred the matter to Waverly attorney Paul Price, who was handling the lawsuit. A message was left at Price’s office. The call was not immediately returned.