Mt. Bethel UMC Lawyers Demand Documents Sent to Former Pastor
Former Mt. Bethel UMC senior pastor Randy Mickler is among religious and denominational leaders named in a request for documents as part of the congregation’s legal battle with the North Georgia Conference.
The same goes for the Reverend Dr. Steven Usry, whom the Conference appointed as senior pastor of Mount Bethel nearly a year ago, sparking a dispute that landed in Cobb Superior Court.
A filing Wednesday by Mt. Bethel asks the North Georgia Conference to provide unspecified documents sent to them and others as the discovery process continues.
The North Georgia Conference sued Mt. Bethel last September after months of dispute over the reassignment of its senior clergy and a failed attempt at mediation.
Mt. Bethel is asking for an expedited vote to disaffiliate from the UMC in its countersuit, as well as to recover church assets and property claimed by the Conference.
As East Cobb News reported last week, Judge Mary Staley Clark has scheduled a hearing for March 15 to consider the motions in both lawsuits. Both sides are seeking injunctions to review the week of April 25, according to court documents.
Mt. Bethel claims the Conference engaged in a “fraudulent plot” to strip the church of its properties, valued at nearly $35 million.
The materials request also includes Conference materials sent to Mt. Bethel member Donna LaChance.
She is part of Friends of Mount Bethel, a group of church members opposed to the actions of congregational leaders.
LaChance was candid on the subject, telling East Cobb News in an interview last June that the flaw has “torn” an ecclesial community of nearly 10,000 members.
All those named in the request for documents are non-parties, meaning they are not part of either lawsuit. The same goes for another church member who retained an attorney after receiving a subpoena from Mount Bethel attorneys to appear in a deposition.
That deposition, which seeks to establish communications between the member and Conference officials as well as Usry, has been adjourned to March 16.
Mickler served as Mount Bethel’s senior pastor for 28 years and was succeeded in 2016 by the Reverend Dr. Jody Ray.
Last April, Ray declined a reassignment from the Conference and returned his UMC ministerial credentials. Mt. Bethel hired him as CEO and senior pastor, which the conference says violates UMC’s discipline book governance procedures.
As East Cobb News has already reported, Mt. Bethel refuses to provide office space and fall pay to Usry. He also had Mickler’s support and met members of Mt. Bethel off campus.
Usry is also considered a theological conservative, which is among the sticking points in the dispute.
Mt. Bethel is a conservative congregation and founding member of the Wesleyan Alliance Association. Its leader, Keith Boyette, is a member of Mt. Bethel’s legal team.
The WCA was formed in 2016 as theological differences within the UMC began to widen.
They focus in particular on the ordination of gay and lesbian clergy and the solemnization of same-sex marriages, both of which are currently banned by the UMC.
But conservatives anticipate this change, and have also formed a more conservative denomination, the World Methodist Church.
On Thursday, the World Methodist Church announced its official launch on May 1. This follows the decision of the UMC to postpone its General Conference to 2024 due to ongoing travel issues related to COVID-19.
That conference was due to take place in 2020, with a vote likely to allow conservative churches to leave.
(You can read the Mount Bethel documents by clicking here and entering case number 21106801.)
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