By Jesse Wood
June 7, 2013. The Western North Carolina Conference of the United Methodist Church plans to sue Matney Liberty Church in Watauga County Superior Court.
Last week attorney James Windham, Jr., of Gastonia-based firm Stott, Hollowell, Palmer & Windham, sent a letter on behalf of the regional Methodist conference stating the Watauga County Sheriff’s Office would be serving the papers in the near future
“Your letter, in both tone and content, made it clear that your clients would not consider conveying the property back to the Trustees for the Western North Carolina Conference of the United Methodist Church,” wrote Windham to Grover Gore, an attorney representing Matney Liberty Church. “You advised that your clients would prefer to be served by the Sheriff of Watauga County rather than service by certified mail return receipt or by signing an acceptance of service of process. We will proceed with service through the Sheriff unless you later request otherwise.”
The Matney Liberty Church was formerly known as United Methodist Liberty Church, which has been located in Matney since the late 1800s. Members of the current congregation have ancestors who were among the original congregation that was founded 121 years ago and were listed on the original deed.
Today, that congregation is homeless.
On the Sunday before Easter, the regional Methodist conference notified the small congregation that the United Liberty Methodist Church would be turned into a youth hostel for skiers and snowboarders, according to Dusty Ross, a spokesperson and treasurer for the non-denominational Matney Liberty Church.
With no other warning, the church doors were padlocked after Easter Sunday worship.
“Basically, they told us we weren’t making enough money, and that it would never be a church again,” Ross said.
Today, the congregation – which is currently 36 members deep while 10 to 16 people attended prior services of the United Methodist Liberty Church – is holding services on the lawn of the church property.
While it is no longer a member of the United Methodist Church, the congregation is now fighting to keep the land and church to use as a non-denominational place of worship.
According to an April press release, the Matney Liberty Church congregation began working with Gore to inform the United Methodist Conference “that the original deed from 1892 clearly states the land was donated for a cemetery and church (and no other purpose).”
Lory Beth Huffman, superintendent for the Appalachian District of the Western North Carolina Conference, wasn’t available for comment last month and a phone call wasn’t immediately returned Friday.