An Arkansas church that voted to leave the denomination won its legal battle against the United Methodist Church that argued to keep its property.

The First United Methodist Church of Jonesboro, Arkansas, sued The United Methodist Church (UMC) Arkansas Conference last year on the grounds that the regional organization has no legal claim to the congregation's property.

Judge Decides to Side with the Arkansas Church in Court Litigation

According to The Christian Post, the lawsuit was filed because the congregation voted to leave The UMC, and they took issue with the conditions over securing their church property. However, Judge Gary Arnold decided on Tuesday not to dismiss First UMC's lawsuit and scheduled a trial for Jan. 29, 2024. This means that the lawsuit will move forward.

A few days before the ruling, Arkansas Bishop Laura Merrill appointed Reverend Britt Skarda as interim pastor for First UMC, and he assumed the role effective Wednesday until June 30.

In December, the pastor of First United Methodist Church (UMC) in Jonesboro, the Rev. John Miles, was suspended. This reportedly occurred because he held a second meeting where congregation members voted to leave the UMC.

In response to the challenges faced by the church, Arkansas Bishop Laura Merrill appointed Rev. Britt Skarda as interim pastor from Wednesday until June 30. Merrill expressed her confidence in Skarda's ability to work toward healing and strength with the church.

In the story in The Sun, a group of church leaders from First United Methodist Church filed a request for "clear title," which asks the judge to declare who owns the church property after the congregation voted to disaffiliate from the United Methodist Church. The Arkansas Conference, the statewide governing body for the denomination, asked Judge Gary Arnold to dismiss the request, arguing that the court does not have jurisdiction over church affairs.

The Arkansas Conference cited several state appellate court decisions that deferred to denominational leadership in similar cases. Attorney John Baker, representing the Arkansas Conference, quoted from a recent ruling that stated religious bodies have the power to decide matters of church government free from state interference.

Also Read: UMC's Arkansas Conference OKs 35 Disaffiliation Requests, Thumbs Down 3

The Issue of Disaffiliation Has Already Been Resolved

Holly Hall, from Stay FUMC Jonesboro, stated that the Arkansas Conference members had resolved the disaffiliation issue. According to Arkansas Democrat-Gazette, Stay FUMC Jonesboro is focused on reconciling with the congregation and helping to restore the United Methodist Church to its previous state before the conflict began. Meanwhile, Rev. John Miles said that members of his congregation are praying about the situation, and despite the difficulties, First United Methodist Church in Jonesboro is thriving.

In January, the church added a Spanish-language service attended by many Cuban immigrants, and the English-language services are flourishing. The church is experiencing high attendance, with over 1,200 people attending Sunday services and 300 attending Tuesday night services. Miles believes that the church is in revival, and they feel that God is moving and working in their church.

Related Article: Traditionalist UMC Group Dissolves, Joins New Denomination as Fulfillment of Mission