From the Worldwide Faith News archives

Ex-United Methodist pastor Muse set to reoccupy church

From NewsDesk <NewsDesk@UMCOM.ORG>
Date Fri, 21 Jun 2002 10:13:09 -0500

June 21, 2002  News media contact: Joretta Purdue7(202) 546-87227Washington

NOTE: Head-and-shoulders photographs of Bishop Felton May and the Rev.
Rodney Smothers are available at

WASHINGTON (UMNS) - A minister who led his congregation out of the United
Methodist Church, leaving behind nearly $6 million of debt, is on the verge
of acquiring his former church property at a greatly reduced cost.

The Rev. C. Anthony Muse and most of his 3,400 parishioners in Brandywine,
Md., left the denomination in November 1999. Only about 300 members remained
in the congregation, which had changed its name to the Resurrection Prayer
Worship Center United Methodist Church during Muse's 15-year tenure. 

Subsequently, the remnant congregation retook its historic name Gibbons and
became the Gibbons-Resurrection United Methodist Church. 

With the help of other congregations and United Methodist entities, the
local church paid down its debt by almost $1 million and sought to
renegotiate the remaining debt with the bondholding company.
Gibbons-Resurrection offered $2.75 million to settle the debt, but Colonial
Trust Co. didn't accept the offer.

Colonial has accepted a bid of $3.2 million by Muse's nondenominational
congregation, Ark of Safety Christian Church, pending approval by the

After the failure of Gibbons-Resurrection's offer, the 118-year-old church
announced it would close at the end of June. Its members are being asked
where they would like their membership transferred.

"I think we're all disappointed that we couldn't work something out with the
bondholders and also disappointed that the former pastor is able to come
back at a bargain price, so to speak," said James Knowles-Tuell,
Baltimore-Washington Conference treasurer and chief financial officer. "I'm
sure it's particularly galling to the members that stayed with
Gibbons-Resurrection Church."
Technically, the church defaulted and the property was foreclosed in October
last year, but negotiations with bondholders continued.

"We offered the bondholders more than the real value of the building," said
the Rev. Rodney Smothers, the church's current pastor, when the pending
closure was announced in early June.

Smothers, who has a reputation for turning around struggling congregations
in Georgia, has served the troubled Gibbons-Resurrection church for only a
year. Bishop Felton Edwin May recruited Smothers to succeed Bishop Forrest
C. Stith, who had been serving as interim minister since 2000. Smothers, a
Washington native, will be appointed to another church in the conference,
according to church officials. Stith returned to retirement last year.

Throughout the past three years, the congregation has fought to survive
against overwhelming financial difficulties. Along the way, the church has
received encouragement and support from the conference and the denomination.
Muse said that he and his followers left because of theological reasons and
inadequate financial support, but May said he believes no congregation in
the nation has received more help from its denomination. 

Problems originated with a building project that was started in 1995 but was
never completed, and ended up costing double the building's appraised value.
The church received conference and denominational loans and grants of $1.2
million between 1997 and when Muse left in 1999. The remaining 300 members
were saddled with a debt of nearly $6 million, but conference and
denominational agencies continued to invest additional money in the
congregation, and almost half a million dollars was raised by a
conferencewide appeal - all to save the congregation and its property.

In May 2000, the church sued Muse to get an accounting of its financial
status and to ascertain if equipment had been taken by the departing pastor
or members.

When the Gibbons-Resurrection congregation lost its hope of refinancing the
debt, the church trustees consulted with conference officials and decided
good stewardship would not be served by continuing the struggle. 

# # #

United Methodist News Service
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