United Methodist Church Conference Files Suit Against 195-Yr-Old Calvary Church; Threatens Historic Landmark

From Calvary Church:

In a current day classic battle of David against Goliath, the Baltimore Washington Conference of the United Methodist Church has filed suit against a small congregation and historic treasure, Calvary Church (circa 1821) in the Circuit Court of Harford County. The powerful and avaricious Baltimore-Washington Conference of the United Methodist Church is trying to strip this small historic church from the hands of its congregation, as it does to many other churches, most of which just give up in defeat, each year. The common self-serving practice of the Conference is to forcibly use all possible UMC rules and legal maneuvers to rip churches from the hands of local congregations in order to sell the properties. Congregations, whose members and families have loved, trusted, guided and supported their church for hundreds of years are disregarded and destroyed in the process. Money is the ultimate goal and guiding principle of the Conference, not the religious tenets they espouse.

Since the Spring of 2014, Calvary Church has resisted the greed of the Conference to destroy it. Without any fair and open discourse, the congregation was unilaterally informed by the Conference that their church was being discontinued. This is the mechanism used by the Conference to take property from the congregation, which for many years the Conference did not financially support, did not provide an ordained Methodist minister and respected leadership, did not guide or participate in church activities. The Conference did nothing for the church. The Conference has no equitable stake in the church. The church was its people, its congregants, its community. As it has for almost two hundred years, Calvary Church has continued to operate, provide church and community services, maintain its cemetery and historic structures and charitably support the local needs in Harford County. The church members continued to financially cover all costs, bills continued to be paid, insurance paid, extensive repairs made (always a factor in a 195 year old building with a large historic and active cemetery) cemetery maintained including ongoing funerals, as well as complying with all required licenses and certifications.

There was virtually no contact from the Baltimore –Washington Conference for almost a year and a half until the Baltimore-Washington Conference of the United Methodist Church filed suit against Calvary Church’s Trustees stating that they own the building and all the assets (money, property and land) and demanded it be turned over to them immediately so they can exercise their right “to dispose of all such property”.

The Church was inventoried and recorded as a historical site HA-997 in May of 1969 in the Maryland Inventory of Historic Places. In 2010, Harford County Government designated it as a Harford County Landmark, thus giving it special protection under the law. In complete and utter disregard of the churchgoers and communities, the United Methodists are closing thousands of local churches across the country and selling the properties to supplement their income as a result of declining Methodist enrollment. The United Methodists financially benefited from local churches that paid annual stipends, but now, the significant property values tempt its leaders to fill the coffers of the UMC. Instead of promoting its good Christian heritage, beliefs and qualities, the Conference of the United Methodists marches on to destroy its honest and hardworking members in order to keep its leaders in the riches of the privileged.

Calvary Church, a small country family church, has humbly and faithfully served the residents of Harford County since it was built by hand in 1821 by the Richard Webster family, neighbors and two veterans of the War of 1812 out of the nearby quarry. It is protected by the State of Maryland as well as Harford County as it one of the few surviving examples of early places of worship in America. It is thought to be the oldest, continuously operating, originally Methodist church in Maryland and perhaps the mid-Atlantic area and remains virtually unchanged. In 195 years the church itself has hosted many famous ministers and orators of their time. The church has had 159 ministers which include veterans of every war, including the War of 1812; both sides of the Civil War; Chaplin’s for the State Police, Walter Reed, and National Guard (including rank of Brigadier General), Clerk for the Maryland House of Delegates, Clerk for Circuit Court, Methodist Bishops, U.S. State’s Attorney, Chaplin for the United States Senate and many, many more. The cemetery is the final resting place for many prominent citizens, veterans from every war, including the War of 1812, having earned combat medals including Distinguished Flying Crosses, Star Silver, Bronze Star and Purple Hearts as well as ordinary citizens who worked and lived in Harford County. Many members of the church belong to families whose very roots are in the origin of the church.

The public is encouraged to support Calvary at a hearing on June 13 at 11 am at the Circuit Court in Bel Air, Maryland. For more information about Calvary Church visit our FB page: historic Calvary Church. The congregation would be happy to answer any questions and would be delighted with any help and support individuals or groups could give to fight the Baltimore-Washington Conference of the United Methodists and save this early American Christian treasure.


  1. Hans Solo says

    I think because you are designated an historic site the property and structure are covered under certain protections. You should fight for your property. With that said did you just sit back and watch other churches go through the same and say “glad it’s not us”? if so I hope others don’t do that to you but come on.

    • archeobot says

      There are protection for sites that eligible for the National Register of Historic Places. This church is only on the state register which offers little help.

      • The Money Tree says

        Little is an axaggeration. The state inventory was done to document the rapidly disappearing history and nothing more. If we can bulldoze the oldest standing structure in the county, this church stands now chsnce. There are however federal laws around unearthing cemetaries. They’ll burn the church but the cemetery will stay.

  2. W.T.F.? says

    Church politics…..SSDD.
    Oh well, they can always pack it in and join the Mt. Zion mega “double giant white tent” Church.

  3. B. Krause says

    What about the cemetery? What about the people buried there?
    Keep the money hungry away from this church.

  4. A Perry says

    Are there services being conducted at the church now? I was under the impression it was closed and they just were using it to rent out the social room. Who can we contact to offer support?

    • Mary D. says

      Yes, we still have services every Sunday at 9:00AM. We are non-denominational now. You may call me at 410-679-8927

      • D Ladd says

        When did you become non denominational? Did the BW Conference ever vote on this? When did you stop paying apportionments?

      • Bob messer says

        So , the problem is that while you want to remain a church you no longer want to be United Methodist.
        Has the UM appointed a pastor and if not why?

  5. Farmer says

    Its all about money for the Big churches. The methodist church has been doing this all over the country. They have absolutly no respect for the families that used this church, or the people buried in the cemetary. Those people built these small parishes for the community,and they should be shown more respect. Mr. Webster gave this church to the methodists for a dollar. If these so-called christians in the heirchy of the methodist church do the right thing they will give it to the community for a dollar.

    • archeobot says

      The Catholic Church has been doing this all over Canada as a way to raise funds to pay damages to survivors of sexual assault by clergy. Not saying that this is the case here though.

    • Pavel314 says

      The big churches aren’t really churches anymore. That’s why there are all the fundamentalist store front and big tent churches, for people who want to hear the original gospel instead of the new, politically correct version of Christianity.

    • Alexander says

      The true story has nothing to do with community or religion. It has to do with a couple of the trustees running the church their own way and not as a whole congregation. Then changing the deed to their own entity without the knowledge of the UMC. By the way, the congregation is less then ten active members. The rest were driven out due to the direction the church was going by those few. The ones who stayed are naive and live in fear. They also paid the bills for the church with money donated by families of members that have been run out of a church they loved. For years it has been ongoing and witnessed by neighbors and other churches in its area. I hope the trustees who are guilty of hurting this church get jail time.

  6. Etien De Lamothe Cassel says

    That’s disgusting, the United Methodist Church Conference should lose their tax exempt status.

  7. Carl Perez says

    Conferences can not close churches. The membership has to vote during a called Charge Conference. Unless the church is abandon. I’ve seen churches with 4 members stay open. Please do no spread rumors that the UMC all over the States are closing churches to support thier decline that is a lie. When churches cease to be the outreach of Christ into their community they cease to be a church. Not once during this article did I hear about the present congregation, worship, bible studies, programs.

    • Joan Betzold says

      You do not know what you are talking about! They did not use the Discipline and did not follow the rules…oh and lets not forget the over $5000 we paid in apportionments in January and never got it back or a minister as required by the covent between the Conference and church once they are paid. They use the Discipline when it suits them. It is difficult to grasp that evil is right in front of your face.

      • Alexander says

        The only evil in that church was you and your lies. They gave you many pastors and fellow parishioners but you chased them away. They wouldn’t bend to your personal rules. The only ones not using the UMC discipline is you. Shame on you for your actions

  8. K. Meyer says

    Based on my experience with the UMC Annual Conferences, before any church closes, a Charge Conference has to be called and THE CHURCH CONGREGATION votes as to whether or not to close their church. The Conference cannot just up and decide to close a church. All my thoughts and prayers are with the Pastor and this Congregation as they fight this lawsuit!

    • Joan Betzold says

      The Discipline is only followed when it suits their needs. Trust me it happened!

  9. Truth teller says

    This article is extremely inaccurate. Any one who knows the real story knows that the actions of the Conference are necessary and more than justified. Don’t believe everything you read, People. Find out the truth before you start throwing around all this indignation.

    • Joan Betzold says

      The church is paying all its bills, and having church every Sunday and doing amazing things for the community. It is all about money…..had to see evil when it is right in front of you!

      • Alexander says

        The money you spent at that church was given by Methodists who belonged to that church before you. Some are buried in that cemetery. It was entrusted to the UMC. Not you. The only one concerned with money is you.

  10. Jim Chrismer says

    Although very limited in their number of members and financial resources, the congregation of Calvary Methodist over the years has been an excellent steward of its historic building. The photos that accompany this essay and those in Peden and Shagena’s illustrated history of Harford County Churches only hint at the attractiveness of the structure The ceiling of the sanctuary is especially notable. Since Peden and Shagena’s book appeared, the church had the gallery reopened and restored, a project for which Calvary Methodist received an award from the County’s Historic Preservation Commission. Moreover the cemetery contains the remains of Edwin Hanson Webster, Harford County’s Congressional Representative who raised and commanded the 7th Maryland United States Volunteer Regiment until his return to the House of Representatives.

  11. Truth Seeker says

    United Methodist congregations do not own the churches, they belong to the United Methodist Church. Each church is accountable to the conference. It is said in these comments that they hold non-denominational services there. United Methodist is painted over on their church sign. 5This article is definitely not the whole story.

  12. Ann says

    This church although beautiful on the outside is totally different on the inside. Some of its congregation members have done nothing but use bullying and scare tactics on anyone who enters the church. They have had many pastors that were good people who were ran off, had nervous break downs or asked to be moved because of the way they were treated. The church has a low congregation number because any new person who walks into join the church has to go by the rules of the bullies or be ostracized. The few that remain have been members for life and are afraid to speak up. I believe that it was unfair for the deed to be changed without the knowledge of the UMC. I believe the true story will come out.

    • Timothy says

      What kind of rules, exactly? Is this a ‘no playing cards’ sort of thing or what?

  13. Forever Amber says

    I believe the Devil is alive and well and actively involved in the goings on at the Calvary Methodist Church. This church is the property of God. The B/W Methodist Conference is way out of line, and here’s why.

    The church is a tax exempt organization Apparently, Methodism has become Big Business Religion run for profits in this world rather than the next.

    It is unseemly that some one would decide to liquidate a 194 year old place of worship to line the pockets of greedy people who have no concept of religion and see themselves as ordained by their MBAs to service their god “The Almighty Dollar”.

    What happened to the Methodist Church? It was built on the concept of a circuit of churches who hired one minister to serve all the brethren of the circuit. because one church did not have enough people to afford a full time minister.

    With this kind of history the “Conference” is overstepping their boundaries. This church was established to serve the spiritual needs of a small congregation that entered into a covenant of sharing resources with other churches of similar believes and philosophies that were not large enough on their own to afford a minister. By pooling their resources, they were able to hire a minister who ‘rode the circuit” and ministered to all the churches on a rotating bases.

    Therefore Calvary’s small congregation should not, according to Methodist custom, be reason enough to closed the church and the property liquidated just because it does not have the revenue to support a full time minister. Closing this small church because it is not “profitable” for the “Conference” just proves the “Conference” is not acting according to a long established covenant of the Methodist Church..

    `After all, the Bible state that we should store up riches in Heaven not in the material world. Lest we forget, love of money is the root of all evil and love of money is definitely a factor in this situation.

  14. Chellie says

    This is outrageous! Clearly the “Conference” is driven by such an unquenchable avariciousness that they are blind to what Christianity is/means. What’s even more disturbing is how they are seeking out these small churches that fail to “fatten” their wallets/bank accounts only to sell them off. O, they’ll have the $ they’re “entitled” to, one way or another. It’s so evil! But don’t fear friends, God doesn’t like it when people hurt & do wrong by His children.
    “No weapon formed against you shall prosper, And every tongue which rises against you in judgment You shall condemn. This is the heritage of the servants of the Lord, And their righteousness is from Me,” Says the Lord.
    Isaiah 54:17

  15. Jackie says

    Interesting this repeated comment of “selling off churches to make money.” Doesn’t happen. Lots of little churches choose to close and the United Methodist Conference is left with the burden of insuring and maintaining the building or disposing of it in some way. The Conference owns this building and always has. A few people apparently decided to steal it under the mistaken impression that because they go there and donate, they get to do that. That church was built by Methodists and paid for by Methodists, not by the few people left who want to do their own thing. If they want to, they could buy it from the conference I’m sure. And if they’re non-denominational, why is the sign still “United Methodist”?

    Remember that though this church may currently be maintained by a few people, it was first made possible by the conference and the Methodists as a whole. And was likely subsidized and provided for by the entire Methodist body. That’s what happens with little churches. Other big churches donate and it helps support the ministry of the little churches. Part of the deal of that is the conference owns the building. People commenting here are obviously clueless about how the United Methodist Church has functioned and supported its churches over the centuries. They are also a little paranoid and gullible if they believe this article.

  16. Ann Lantz says

    In the deed of every UMC in the US is something called a trust clause that clearly states that the church building and all its property belongs to the UMC–not the local congregation. Just the facts.

  17. Cee H says

    The writer of this article has absolutely no clue about the structure of the UMC. The church belongs to the Conference and not the local congregation. If they are selling it, the church is likely a dying church with limited membership or attendance. The UMC can do what it wants with it’s property. Do your research before you publish inflammatory articles such as this. This would be press worthy in the Baptist Church.

  18. The Rev. says

    From the beginning the tenner of this article was anti- United Methodist Church. (Completely biased). The conference would only take such action if the church members have either voted to close or are so out of alignment with the Book of Discipline that there is no other choice. One statement made by someone who seems to attend there said, “…we are non-denominational.” If the congregation has chosen to conduct itself independently of the United Methodist Church, ie: Hiring their own pastor, not holding an annual charge/ church conference, disregarding the authority of the UMC by not reporting financial facts, attendance & membership & etc. I’m sure there are other conditions but do not have a BOD in front of me. My point is- there are a lot of missing facts from this article. Only one side has been published

    • Joe Logic says

      Brilliant, Sherlock. Maybe the first three words of the article gave it away:

      “From Calvary Church:”

  19. hmmm.... says

    One more example of why the only problem with organized religion is the organized part…

  20. Steven says

    This article is just a way for a few people that “think they are in control” to paint a bad picture of the UMC. The conferences do not want the hastle of dealing with selling churches especially with cemetery’s. If you are no longer living up to your covenant, then it must be dealt with appropriately. If the few attenders want the building (that is all it is, a building) so bad, let them buy it from the conference and disassociate from the UMC. The fact that there is no longer a supplied Pastor proves that the church has died many years ago. Churches have a life cycle too. I know that there are “feelings” but it is only a building. No one is trying to tear it down, just trying to get it off the books of the conference. Often the conference will sell at whatever someone is willing to pay and not anywhere near market value. People at that building should do the right thing no matter how hard it may be.

  21. Victoria says

    As a life long Methodist I am very unhappy about this! I wish I were a wealthy person, I would buy the church from the Congrence and give it back to its Congregation. So sad.

  22. Dan says

    The Annual Conference is not stealing the property. The Annual Conference owns the property. Denominational, rather than local, ownership of property goes all the way back to John Wesley who created the Model Deed in 1763.

    Additionally, the Annual Conference is not some nefarious bureaucracy. It is a representative assembly consisting of pastors and lay members from all other regional United Methodist congregations.

    I am sorry that you disagree with the Annual Conference, and I grieve with you the loss of property where many great acts of God have undoubtedly happened in the past. However, badmouthing the motives and mislabeling the actions of your brothers and sisters in Christ is not an appropriate response.

  23. Prudence Juris says

    Doc No./Seq No.: 25/0
    File Date: 08/12/2016Entered Date:08/18/2016Decision:
    Document Name: Order (Memorandum Opinion)
    Ordered that the Defendants’ Motion To Dismiss is hereby DENIED; the Plaintiff’s Motion for Summary Judgment is hereby GRANTED etc. Further Orders and Directs the Defendants to turn over to a representative of the Plaintiff within thirty (30) days of the date of this Order all real and personal property that either now or as of July 1, 2014 was in the possession of the Deft. All other motions are hereby DENIED.