News

Huntington Beach’s Oldest Church Faces Threat of Closure Amid Property Battle

Huntington Beach’s Oldest Church Faces Threat of Closure Amid Property Battle

Surf City Church in Huntington Beach, Calif., on July 20, 2023. (John Fredricks/The Epoch Times)

John Fredricks

John Fredricks

8/5/2023

Updated: 8/6/2023

HUNTINGTON BEACH, Calif.—In front of Surf City Church is a sign that reads: “This is still God’s property, He is not done with it!”
The church is currently home to the small non-denominational church called “The Well,” which rents space from Surf City, a roughly 100-member United Methodist congregation that has been at the location since 1967.
“This is actually the oldest church in all of Huntington Beach,” The Well’s Senior Pastor David Housholder told The Epoch Times. “What started as tented church services in the year 1904 grew into the church building that’s here today.”
But The Well and Surf City Church are now at risk of losing the church where they conduct services as the property is owned by the United Methodist Church—a protestant evangelical denomination with almost 6 million members throughout the United States and it wants the property back.
Surf City was part of the United Methodist Church until a decade ago when it disaffiliated due to its biblical interpretation that the celebration of marriage should exist between a man and woman—theology of which both the non-denominational The Well and Surf City align.
“They said we are ‘right-wing bigots’ because of this, but this issue is not a political one,” Mr. Housholder said, who serves as a spokesperson for both organizations. “In teaching what the Bible says on these issues, we also welcome everyone and anyone in the community to join us here to hear the Gospel message. We have never turned anyone away and we never will.”
A bible sits in Surf City Church in Huntington Beach, Calif., on July 20, 2023. (John Fredricks/The Epoch Times)

A bible sits in Surf City Church in Huntington Beach, Calif., on July 20, 2023. (John Fredricks/The Epoch Times)

During the coronavirus pandemic the United Methodist Church, which still has formal control over the church, sent in new leadership that would eventually cut several of Surf City Church’s ministries, including its choir.
The larger organization declared the church financially “bankrupt,” took control of its banking accounts, and voted to close it in June 2022 with plans on selling it and distributing funds to other Methodist churches in the area.
But there was one problem: The real estate title of the church property was still in Surf City’s name under its governing board and it wasn’t backing down.
“The church title is in our name and we’re not signing the title” to them, Surf City Church President John Leonard told The Epoch Times.
The United Methodist Church eventually filed a lawsuit in Orange County Superior Court  against Surf City Church board members for full control of the property.
A judge ruled in the larger organization’s favor in a preliminary decision in June, meaning both smaller organizations will need to vacate the building.
According to Mr. Leonard, the Methodist organization estimates the property’s worth as close to $25 million.
But he said he thinks a more realistic estimate is between $5 million and $6 million, due to the property’s former proximity to oil fields.
Surf City Church in Huntington Beach, Calif., on July 20, 2023. (John Fredricks/The Epoch Times)

Surf City Church in Huntington Beach, Calif., on July 20, 2023. (John Fredricks/The Epoch Times)

“It turns out that the church was built on a former old oil field and once you dig down to about 18 to 24 inches you run into oil shale,” Mr. Leonard said. “But this is also a large piece of property near downtown Huntington Beach so it’s still arguably one of the most valuable pieces of property in the entire [United Methodist] denomination. If you’re going to close a church to maximize your cash, this is the one you’re going to target.”
Using a “trust clause” created centuries ago by renowned pastor and theologian John Wesley to preserve Methodist churches upon “ministry failures,”  United Methodist Church representatives claim it is the owner of the property, according to Mr. Leonard.
Now that a judge has ruled in favor of the Methodist organization, the church will probably be demolished to make way for housing developments, Mr. Leonard said.
But recently, leadership of both the smaller organizations said they are appealing the judge’s decision.
“We are refusing to back down or quit,” Mr. Housholder said.
For Surf City Church secretary Marge Mitchell, she said she remains confident in her church’s servitude and worship of God despite the threat of losing the property.
“It’s been such a joy to be able to outreach to this community and it’s important for us to continue doing that and continuing to serve and know Jesus here,” Ms. Mitchell told The Epoch Times. “But in the end, if they take away our church buildings, we will continue our worship [of God] and loving His people.”
Representatives of the United Methodist Church did not return requests for comment.
A stained glass window dipicting Jesus Christ sits within Surf City Church in Huntington Beach, Calif., on July 20, 2023. (John Fredricks/The Epoch Times)

A stained glass window dipicting Jesus Christ sits within Surf City Church in Huntington Beach, Calif., on July 20, 2023. (John Fredricks/The Epoch Times)

Copy
facebooktwitterlinkedintelegram
John Fredricks

John Fredricks

Author

John Fredricks is a California-based journalist for The Epoch Times. His reportage and photojournalism features have been published in a variety of award-winning publications around the world.

Author's Selected Articles
California Insider
Sign up here for our email newsletter!
©2024 California Insider All Rights Reserved. California Insider is a part of Epoch Media Group.