By Jesse Wood
April 16, 2013. For the past two Sunday’s the congregation of the former United Liberty Methodist Church has met on the lawn after the church’s doors were pad locked after Easter Sunday worship.
The church is located in Matney, in between Banner Elk and Valle Crucis, and is 121 years old.
On the Sunday before Easter, the United Methodist Conference informed the small congregation that the United Liberty Methodist Church would be turned into a youth hostel for skiers and snowboarders, according to Dusty Ross, spokesperson and treasurer of the congregation, which has now broke away from the Untied Methodist Church to form the non-denominational Matney Liberty Church.
“Basically, they told us we weren’t making enough money, and that it would never be a church again,” Ross said.
High Country Press called the district office within the conference that is in charge of the church in Matney. A woman who answered the phone said that she wasn’t allowed to talk about the situation and that the District Superintendent Rev. Lory Beth Thompson Huffman, the person who informed the congregation of the closure, wasn’t available for comment.
“Generally, we don’t discuss this with the press,” she said, declining to give her name.
Ross said the congregation was shocked when it heard the news and that it wasn’t aware that anything of this nature was taking place.
“There was absolutely no warning,” Ross said.
The congregation has 36 members currently with about 10 to 16 people that were attending prior services of the United Methodist Liberty Church.
Ross said that the church had many more members before former Pastor Daniel Brubaker, who happened to be the person who locked the doors on Easter Sunday, changed the time of Sunday morning service from 11 a.m. to 8:30 a.m. in 2007.
“We lost a lot of members when a specific pastor came to our church and changed the meeting time,” Ross said.
Even though Brubaker left in 2010 and service was moved back to 11 a.m., Ross said the congregation never grew to as large as it was formerly. Looking back, Ross feels that the United Methodist Conference had plans all along to close the church.
“It was done totally on purpose, and they had other intentions for our prime location for quite some time,” Ross said.
Brubaker didn’t respond to a message on his cell phone.
Now, the congregation is working with the lawyer Grover 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). Some of the ancestors of the trustees of that original deed still attend the church and raise serious objections to the Methodist Conference’s plans,” according to a press release.
The release maintains that the church hasn’t received any assistance from the Methodist Conference, and that ancestors built all three churches that have existed on the property.
Two weeks ago, Gore sent a letter to District Superintendent Huffman – so far, no response.
Ancestors of the trustees of the original deed still attend the church today, and Ross acknowledges that the congregation today is small, yet big in spirit – especially for the Matney community.
“We may be a small congregation, but we are a very integral part of Matney,” Ross said.
Now the church intends to follow in the footsteps of Piney Grove Baptist Church, which also broke away from the United Methodist Conference to survive and keep on.
During the first lockout service, more than 36 members of the community came to support Matney Liberty Church and donated $1,000 so that the congregation could begin to save the church.
See letter from Matney Liberty Church’s lawyer here.
View the youtube video of the first locked worship service as Matney Liberty Church (36 members of the community came to support Matney Liberty Church’s first service and donated $1,000 so that they could BEGIN to save the church) below: