History Repeats Itself in Bitter Church Dispute

White Clay Creek Presbyterian Church
White Clay Creek Presbyterian Church

Leave it to veteran newsman Harry Themal to resurrect an image of former Vice Chancellor Jack B. Jacobs from over a decade ago.

It came during the trial involving Bishop Delbert Jackson of Delaware’s African Union First Colored Methodist Protestant Church, the first denomination of black Americans. The bishop’s hold on his congregations’ right of self-determination, particularly when it came to their properties, was the matter at hand.

A momentary stare set in at Jackson’s assertion that his AUFCMP congregations had no right to self-determination independent of his leading. That included the use of quit claim deeds to transfer some of the more than 37 church properties into the denomination’s ownership, without the knowledge of their local congregation members.

Such a move hindered the ability to use their property as collateral for building projects and took away their independence to make local decisions about programming and worship space without a consultation with the denomination. It was a galling land grab that came with considerable land value and real estate equity for the larger church body.

Chancellor Jacobs’ silent quizzical reaction spoke volumes in response to Bishop Jackson’s emphatic declaration of his rights. Most likely Jacobs was stunned at the illogical power grab of a religious leader to claim to all encompassing authority over parishioners’ religious lives so close to the dawning of the 21st century.

After all, this was no head of state position. It resulted largely by a vote from a majority of the denomination’s congregants and the political jockeying of local clergy, some whose church jobs were due to Jackson’s appointment.

And yet, both the black Methodist parishioners and the mostly white Newark White Clay Creek worshippers have common ground with Chancellor Jacobs when it comes to the freedom to disagree and make decisions about their spiritual direction apart from their denomination leaders.

In “Who owns historic White Clay Creek Presbyterian Church,” (April 7) Themal summed up the recent case and similar frustration over lack of local control: “White Clay Creek congregants contend that it was their money and labor that has maintained the church over the centuries,” explained Themal.

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SOURCE: Delaware Online – Rhonda B. Graham