April 21, 2024

Whole Community News

From Kalapuya lands in the Willamette watershed

Conference seizes Eugene church, halts services; primary Egan site can continue for now

11 min read
Members of Trinity United Methodist protested the immediate closure of their church: "This is the opposite of what we're supposed to do. We're sent here to build churches, to build up God's people, and to serve the poor."

DJ Suss D (KEPW News): Trinity United Methodist Church unexpectedly closed Sunday, Nov. 26. Leaders of the conference that oversees Methodist churches in Oregon and Idaho say the closure was caused by leadership challenges and a ‘culture of distrust.’ I spoke with congregants demonstrating outside the church on Sunday, Nov. 26:

All right, so I’m standing out here in front of Trinity Methodist Church. Why are you guys standing out here? They’re going to close the church…?

[00:00:31] Rebecca Westmore-Cook (Trinity United Methodist): Yeah, they already did. I’m standing out here, I’m the lay leader of Trinity United Methodist. I’m standing out here because we are locked out of our building.

[00:00:40] We were abruptly told last Sunday, instead of a service, we got the district superintendent, came up to the front of our church, said that we’re immediately closed, effective immediately, no more worship services. He did not stay to answer questions. I followed him out to his vehicle, along with some congregants, and he just rolled his window up, would not answer our questions.

[00:01:05] I’m standing in front of his car. I have this on video, and you know, I’m asking him questions, and he instructs his driver to like keep going forward even though I’m standing right there.

[00:01:17] DJ Suss D: And so who is he though? He’s the director of the Methodist Church for the whole area of Oregon.

[00:01:21] Rebecca Westmore-Cook (Trinity United Methodist): So he’s the district superintendent for the Crater Lake District. So he oversees the vast majority of United Methodist churches in Oregon. He has a pattern of behavior where he’s been going into churches, instead of revitalizing them, he’s been liquidating their assets, seizing their buildings, seizing the property like he did here.

[00:01:47] We have about $5 million worth of assets that was donated by various community members, members of the congregation that have been going here their entire lives. All of that has now been seized by the conference. The money will not stay here.

[00:01:59] DJ Suss D: Is he giving any reason, or what reason is he giving?

[00:02:03] Rebecca Westmore-Cook (Trinity United Methodist): They are claiming that they were having difficulties filling leadership positions and finding people for trusted leadership roles. I was part of the process for nominating new leaders. And I can tell you that we had a full slate of 13 people, almost all of them over 70 years old, who were upstanding citizens, lifelong, some of them, longtime members who have served in leadership here before. The church suddenly told them that they were not qualified for leadership positions.

[00:02:33] A lot of these people also opposed a recent push for us to sell our building by the conference. And I believe that as a result of us opposing that sale, they have chosen to come in and just forcefully close us down because they weren’t able to sell it without the congregation’s consent and vote. And they were not able to get that consent, so they came and they took it forcefully.

[00:02:59] DJ Suss D: So there’s a large food pantry here.

[00:03:02] Rebecca Westmore-Cook (Trinity United Methodist): Yeah, the FISH food pantry has been here for decades. It helps dozens of people every week. They say that they’re going to let them stay around until maybe spring. We also host the Egan Warming Center. This is now going to be their last year. This is the only primary Egan Warming Center site in all of Eugene. Gone.

[00:03:28] DJ Suss D: And no plans to move it, or…?

[00:03:31] Rebecca Westmore-Cook (Trinity United Methodist): Egan is looking into another site, yes, because it looks like they will not be able, I think they’re letting them finish out the year, really, as a PR move. Because it would just look too bad.

[00:03:43] DJ Suss D: Right, in the middle of winter, to throw everybody out in the middle of winter. Well, and so the same as the hospital, though. They didn’t come up with an alternative first and then close it down.

[00:03:53] Rebecca Westmore-Cook (Trinity United Methodist): Absolutely not. And these people, in fact, here’s LeAnn Walker behind you. A long-time congregant. (Hi.)

[00:03:59] DJ Suss D: The food pantry and the Egan Warming Center, all that will be closed.

[00:04:03] Rebecca Westmore-Cook (Trinity United Methodist): Yes. There was also a free store that we started about two years ago. (And it’s full of stuff). Full of stuff. Clothing, toys, books. it was all just donated and then given directly to people in need. We did not charge money. We didn’t ask for proof of income. That has been immediately shut down. I don’t know what’s going to happen with all of the donations that are in there.

[00:04:25] LeAnn Walker (Trinity United Methodist): Yeah, we were supposed to have a program last Sunday. And John Tucker, he’s a superintendent of the Methodist Church. All he did was get up front and say a few words and then said he passed out something to read. And then he said, this church is closed as of now, immediately.

[00:04:53] DJ Suss D: Wow. No warning or anything?

[00:04:55] LeAnn Walker (Trinity United Methodist): No warning. And the pastor had just told Rebecca a week ago that the church was not going to be sold, that there was nothing to worry about.

[00:05:07] DJ Suss D: Who told you that?

[00:05:08] LeAnn Walker (Trinity United Methodist): The pastor.

[00:05:09] DJ Suss D: The pastor of the church? (Yeah.) Of this church?

[00:05:12] Rebecca Westmore-Cook (Trinity United Methodist): Yeah. Who was not there when they came to close us.

[00:05:14] LeAnn Walker (Trinity United Methodist): Oh, they said she didn’t come because she was, her life was threatened or something. (Yeah.) That’s a coward as far as I’m concerned.

[00:05:24] DJ Suss D: As if the congregation, someone from the congregation issued a threat…?

[00:05:27] Rebecca Westmore-Cook (Trinity United Methodist): Yes. They’re trying to say that the buildings are now, the majority of our congregation is over 70. I’m the youngest member at 40. I don’t feel like I look physically threatening. I don’t know where is the threat here.

[00:05:37] LeAnn Walker (Trinity United Methodist): Yeah, I don’t know where the threat—

[00:05:39] DJ Suss D: You don’t carry guns or anything?

[00:05:40] LeAnn Walker (Trinity United Methodist): Oh, no, no, no. We used to go in and sit down. We would come a half hour early. sit down around the table, have coffee and cookies and talk. And then after the service, we did the same for about a half an hour. It was just, like, our church family. And for this person to just get up and say the church is closed. And was that his bodyguard?

[00:06:16] Rebecca Westmore-Cook (Trinity United Methodist): Yeah, his driver, I think, I really do think he brought a bodyguard. They’re trying to paint a picture that this is some dangerous congregation because they closed—

[00:06:25] LeAnn Walker (Trinity United Methodist): That’s a bunch of crap. Excuse me.

[00:06:29] DJ Suss D: Right. And that the small group that you’re saying that’s meeting for coffee is actually plotting the destruction of the—

[00:06:35] Rebecca Westmore-Cook (Trinity United Methodist): It’s physically dangerous. Deena has—Rev. Deena Wolfe—moved all of her personal items out of her office like a month ago, trying to say that it wasn’t a safe place for her to be.

[00:06:43] DJ Suss D: And is there any justification to that at all? Something? (None at all.) That is some misinterpretation or no.

[00:06:50] LeAnn Walker (Trinity United Methodist): Somebody, we don’t know who, put up a website that said, Save Trinity United Methodist Church. You might want to look at that.

[00:07:02] DJ Suss D: All right, and, well, but that’s just it. Could it be someone that wants to feed the homeless is concerned that—

[00:07:08] Rebecca Westmore-Cook (Trinity United Methodist): Absolutely, I think, yes.

[00:07:10] DJ Suss D: And this, this, so, I mean, it’s not a bad thing that they’re (hosting the website). (No, no.)

[00:07:14] LeAnn Walker (Trinity United Methodist): They were just concerned and they, that we found out that the pastor and our outreach minister, were both involved in the closing of three other Methodist churches. This outreach minister cannot do any outreaching. She, tried to make contact with people to sell the church. (Mm-hmm.)

[00:07:38] DJ Suss D: That’s the outreach that she was—?

[00:07:40] Yeah, that’s the outreach. And so can you figure out what,

[00:07:44] DJ Suss D: Where does the money go when they sell the church? Are they consolidating?

LeAnn Walker (Trinity United Methodist): We just spent $100,000 on a commercial kitchen and just finished it. And we don’t know. And we’ve got all this money in endowments, $400,000 in endowments that they seized. ($400,000 in endowments.)

[00:08:02] DJ Suss D: Is there any justification in religion for closing a church?

[00:08:07] Rebecca Westmore-Cook (Trinity United Methodist): No. Absolutely not. No, this is the opposite of what we’re supposed to do. We’re sent here to build churches, to build up God’s people and to serve the poor. Anyone that’s doing the opposite of that is doing the opposite of what a Christian is supposed to do.

[00:08:22] DJ Suss D: And shouldn’t that be their primary thing rather than worrying about money and things like that? (Yes.)

[00:08:28] LeAnn Walker (Trinity United Methodist): Yes! I feel like I’ve been stabbed in the back. Because this is my church family, I’ve started a group here, we have a lot of, we just enjoy everything. And the Egan Warming Center is the only one in this area. I don’t know what people will do. It’s going to be used, it will be open this year until spring, but then this closes. (Right.) And we have, how many people come to the Egan Warming Center?

[00:09:01] Rebecca Westmore-Cook (Trinity United Methodist): A lot. (A lot.) Yeah, at least 75 to 100. I volunteer there every night. The past couple nights I’ve had to volunteer at an alternate location because I’m no longer allowed in the building.

[00:09:12] Trinity United Methodist congregant: Rebecca opened the doors as a cooling center. Remember when it was terribly hot? (Yeah, the heat dome.) We had a lot of young homeless people or homeless people who came to the church. We just came on Tuesday night and found out we were locked out. We scheduled a meeting that we paid to rent the room. And we couldn’t access it.

[00:09:36] LeAnn Walker (Trinity United Methodist): This whole thing was just the dirtiest underhanded thing I’ve ever seen in my life.

[00:09:42] DJ Suss D: All because of a perceived threat to (Yeah, yeah.) What are they thinking that you’re going to do?

[00:09:50] LeAnn Walker (Trinity United Methodist): I don’t know. They say it’s because of our low membership, on this video. Since COVID, we had, it was a very busy church until COVID. And then the membership just dropped. And a lot of people are watching on closed-circuit TV.

[00:10:12] DJ Suss D: Right. So that’s happening all over the place. There’s Absolutely. Every church is having problems with their (Yes.)

[00:10:19] Massachusetts visitor: Let me just jump in. My wife sent me, I am not a member of the church, this is my mom. I’m here from Massachusetts, and I’m a worship leader in my church at home. And my wife sent me an article about a split in the Methodist church over LGBTQ rights issues. (Because we’ve always welcomed all.) Yes. Exactly.

[00:10:44] And so some, some folks feel, I guess apparently some folks feel like they’re not welcome because it’s not biblical. Other folks are like they’re, you know, regardless they’re welcome, but apparently it’s a split. Lots of churches are leaving the communion of Methodist churches.

[00:11:02] And then there, interestingly enough, there was some verbiage in the article about their closing churches because, it was, the environment was, they weren’t able to pastor and there were threats against the people, you know, leadership and so forth, and, interestingly enough, what the (superintendent) said when he was here, literally it was like a direct quote out of that article.

[00:11:24] And there’s a lot of churches, like I said, there’s a lot of churches that are leaving, a lot of churches that are closing, so I think there’s a lot of turmoil in the Methodist faith, sort of generally.

[00:11:33] DJ Suss D: Well, it sounds like this was planned, not just thrown together ad hoc.

[00:11:36] Massachusetts visitor: Yeah, because, I mean, they were, weeks ago they were measuring the church, they were talking about planning to sell it, there was a bunch of stuff they were doing that clearly was, you know, noises you make when you’re going to sell something, and then they say they’re not going to, and then turn up and close the place, so, without any notice.

[00:11:56] So, I guess what I’ve heard, if I take everything in, I’m not surprised that this is what happened. I mean churches, unfortunately, are a business. That’s kind of how they look at themselves, it’s a business and if they don’t get butts in seats, can’t, you know, support the building and then bad things happen.

[00:12:15] But the reality of it is that this church had a significant endowment, had lots of community stuff that’s going on, has, you know, small but committed congregation and was starting to grow again, even though they, it wasn’t really not getting much help from the Crater Lake diocese or district or whatever it’s called.

[00:12:35] So my perspective is this is a missed opportunity for the Methodist Church to be a shining light in this community that’s already doing great things. But, you know, that’s, I guess, the decision they made.

[00:12:49] DJ Suss D: Well, and if they’d have notified some people, given some notice, maybe a group would’ve gotten together to save the church, I guess. Theoretically.

[00:12:57] LeAnn Walker (Trinity United Methodist): Yeah. Nobody told—now this was the program of the church in October. It says: ‘All-church conference with District Superintendent John Tucker will take place on Nov. 26, immediately following worship. All are welcome to attend. We will be filling and voting on key leadership positions. If you are being called into church leadership, please notify the office as soon as possible.’

[00:13:31] It’s supposed to happen today. (That’s today.) Yeah, it’s today. Yeah. It’s today. And it was closed before that.

[00:13:39] DJ Suss D: Yeah, so the notice that they gave you that it was supposed to happen today, they’ve locked you out. (Yes.) From the meeting that was supposed to happen today. (Yes. That they called.)

[00:13:47] LeAnn Walker (Trinity United Methodist): Yeah, that they called. Yeah. Copy of the program we had for Sunday services in Nov. 19, ’23, that we never had. It was just John Tucker’s message. And here is his message.

[00:14:06] Massachusetts visitor: Yeah, I mean, it basically is a bunch of questions that don’t really tell you anything.

[00:14:10] DJ Suss D: Alright, and so again, though, it says here, the question is, Why did you close this so suddenly? And he says, ‘The behaviors of both known and anonymous parties have created an atmosphere too toxic for pastoral leadership.’ So, do you guys have any ideas?

[00:14:25] LeAnn Walker (Trinity United Methodist): That is a bunch of cr—that’s a bunch of baloney.

[00:14:28] DJ Suss D: Well, what is this ‘known and anonymous parties’? What is the known party?

[00:14:32] LeAnn Walker (Trinity United Methodist): I don’t know.

[00:14:33] DJ Suss D: You guys don’t know? And maybe he’s talking about the website, though, that has been created anonymously.

[00:14:43] LeAnn Walker (Trinity United Methodist): Yeah, that was the program that we were supposed to have last Sunday, and we didn’t.

[00:14:53] DJ Suss D: For KEPW News, I’m DJ Suss D.

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