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Mt. Bethel Church and North Georgia Conference of Methodists Reach Settlement Over Church Property

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The North Georgia Board of Trustees of the United Methodist Church (UMC) has reached a settlement with Mt. Bethel Church in East Cobb, Georgia.

The two groups have been in conflict since April 2021 when the church sought to disaffiliate from the denomination over the reassignment of its pastor, Rev. Jody Ray, against the congregation’s wishes. Mt. Bethel was the largest UMC church in the Atlanta metropolitan region with over 10,000 members.

The North Georgia Conference sued the church in September to take control of its assets, claiming that good faith efforts at negotiation had failed. 

The settlement agreement filed this week in the Superior Court of Cobb County has been consented to by both parties and ends the lawsuit.

According to the terms of the settlement, Mt. Bethel will pay the North Georgia Conference trustees $13,100,000 within 120 days of the agreement. The largest sum, $11,941,000 will be paid in cash and the remaining $1,159,000 will be paid by turning over the control of an endowment from an estate given to the church.

In exchange for the payment, Mt. Bethel will receive title to all of the property included in its main campus. One restriction on the property is that it cannot be used as the headquarters for another denomination for 7.5 years.

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Additionally, the church will continue operating under Mt. Bethel, but it may no longer use “United” or “United Methodist” in its name. Nor may it use the cross and flame insignia associated with the denomination.

Furthermore, a statement by the church emphasized it will “no longer be associated with the United Methodist Church.” 

Also included in the settlement agreement was a preamble wherein both parties acknowledged they are part of the “universal church in service to Jesus Christ.” They agreed to encourage members to focus on the mission of the church and not on “past actions and alleged transgressions.” 

Both the church and Conference agreed to refrain from “publishing or making any comments or remarks…that could reasonably be expected to adversely affect the reputation of the other.”

An email by the “Friends of Mt. Bethel UMC” clarifies that the north campus of Mt. Bethel has not belonged to the church since June 2021. Although it originally owned and controlled the academy that occupies the property, “[i]n June 2021, the Mt. Bethel UMC Administrative Council voted to divest the Mt. Bethel Christian Academy, which means Mt. Bethel UMC no longer controls that corporation or its assets.”

If Mt. Bethel wishes to use the north campus property, it must get permission from the academy, the email explained.

Concluding his email to the Mt. Bethel members about the settlement, Ray emphasized his gratitude. “We praise God for His provision and offer gratitude for all the parties involved in reaching this peaceful resolution. We extend abundant thanks to our members and to our faith community and partners who have been praying for a God-honoring outcome.”

He continued by looking forward: “We reiterate our great hope in the future of Mt. Bethel’s mission and ministry to share the Gospel of Jesus Christ, which we pray each and every one of you will be a part of.”

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Kim Roberts

Kim Roberts is a freelance writer who holds a Juris Doctorate from Baylor University. She has home schooled her three children and is happily married to her husband of 25 years.