Six parishioners of the closed Asbury Methodist Episcopal Church in Churchville have filed suit in Harford Circuit Court to block the sale of the church and the church grounds.
The Churchville Charge of the United Methodist Church, which oversees the Asbury church, shut down the church at 202 Asbury Road in November 1989 because of declining membership.
The Churchville Charge trustees agreed to sell the property and merge the Asbury congregation with two other churches in the charge, Clark's Chapel in Kalmia and John Wesley Church in Abingdon, court records show.
But the Asbury Community Association Inc. and church members filed suit on Nov. 19, asking the court to prevent the charge from selling the church.
"Asbury M. E. Church desires to have religious services continue on the subject property and to have the obstacles imposed by the defendants removed," the suit says.
The suit also asks the court to settle several issues surrounding ownership of the church, the surrounding land and $15,000 in a bank account in the church's name.
The plaintiffs want the court to determine how much of the property -- if any -- can be sold, who gets the money in the bank account, and who is responsible for a cemetery on the church grounds.
The Asbury church was established in the mid-1800s. It is considered by county historians one of the oldest black congregations in the county.
The community association and church members say they hold a deed dated April 1, 1850, which states that ownership of the property is to revert to the heirs of Edward Cooper, who sold the land to the church, should the land no longer be used as a place of worship.
The suit was filed by three trustees of the church, William Green, Clarence L. Nokes and Lewis H. Smith Sr., and three of Cooper's relatives, Walter G. Banks, Ellen Garriest and Elmira Davis, all of Churchville.
The suit names the United Methodist Church, trustees of the Churchville Charge and Marcus Matthews, superintendent of the Baltimore East District of the Baltimore Annual Conference of the United Methodist Church as defendants. The suit also names John G. Kaufman, the real estate agent handling the sale of the church.