After five years and more than $136,000 in legal fees, the fight for the building of New Hope Christian Reformed Church in Tacoma, Wash., may be settled by the U.S. Supreme Court.
The problems started with a dispute between former pastor Samuel Sung and the church council after he announced his retirement several years ago. Sung’s plan to appoint his own successor was not allowed under CRC polity, and the church council and classis didn’t go along with it. Sung changed the locks on the building and the congregation has been locked out ever since. (See Nov. 2007 and March 2008 Banner.)
Since then, Sung has been was deposed by Classis Pacific Northwest (regional group of churches).
Classis Pacific Northwest and the members of New Hope CRC filed a lawsuit seeking to regain possession of the building. The Pierce County Court ruled in favor of the church.
In 2008 Sung appealed to the state Court of Appeals, which turned down his appeal. Sung then appealed to the State Supreme Court, which refused to hear the case.
In August of 2010, Sung filed a petition with the U.S. Supreme Court asking that his case be heard.
Sidney Tribe, legal counsel for Sung, said, “Rev. Sung sincerely believes that there are important First Amendment principles at stake, and believes that they must be resolved definitively by the Supreme Court.”
While the congregation waits for an outcome, membership has dwindled from 80 members to ten, the remaining members gathering for worship in a facility rented from a Lutheran church. The members are hoping that their patience will pay off.
“The church is now growing [expectant] to the reclaiming of the church building as this matter gets near to the end,” said Rev. Gilbert Kim, interim pastor at New Hope.
Some have questioned whether or not the case is worth all of the time, money, and turmoil. Rev. Tim Toeset, clerk of the classis, believes it is. “We have made a commitment to this congregation. It is a matter of justice, not a matter of finances,” he said.
According to Rev. Mark Davies, chair of the classis interim committee, this case reflects the difficulty the classis has sometimes encountered trying to integrate Korean churches and pastors into the life of the CRC.
“When this pastor retired, he expected to receive things according to the Korean mindset,” said Davies. “Pastor Sung was respected as a veteran pastor. People were really reluctant to choose against him.”