Groome not following Methodist doctrine

October 31, 2017

There have been recent Cape Gazette reports and commentary on Groome UMC, led by Willard Crossan, agreeing to sell a local farm to a developer over a preservation-minded buyer in spite of valiant efforts.

Located along New Road, this historic Duke of York property known as Tower Hill Farm has been in agricultural use since the late 1600s growing food crops for human consumption. A refuge for wildlife, especially migrating birds, it is part of the Great Marsh natural area. It was to be an asset for the New Road byway. It was a lynchpin for preserving adjacent farmland and a target of open space preservation. It holds a known unmarked family cemetery, perhaps a slave burial ground, colonial residence sites, and probably Native American artifacts.

If given the opportunity to participate in a decision-making process where the outcome would help to preserve a large natural area in perpetuity, what would you do? Would you be selfish or selfless?

What if the doctrine of your parent organization had Principles for Christian Stewardship of the Environment as an over-arching guide? And among the guide details were these?

We believe that natural resources...are the common heritage of all humanity...and preserved for the benefit of all, not just for the few, both today and for generations to come.

We advocate for the preservation of forests (including reforestation), wetlands and wild areas for ecological balance, wildlife production, water quality, air quality, and the human spirit.

We urge all United Methodists, their local churches, boards and agencies to examine their roles as stewards of God's earth and to study, discuss, and work to implement this resolution.

Would you shun your calling by proceeding with a questionable personal goal and agenda or would you honor your principles?

I don't fault the Groome congregation for wanting a change in worship space or for selling farmland, but at what cost to the community and the future? I hold their shepherd accountable for leading them astray and knowingly abdicating the above principles.

Dennis Forney in a recent Barefootin' article argued that Groome was in keeping with the spirit of Chester Brittingham's will by selling to the highest and best bidder. In 1971, Groome was that bidder. When Mr. Brittingham instructed his lands be sold, development of the land in lieu of agricultural use, and the negative impact that could be made on the surrounding community, would not have come to mind.  

By pulling out this lynchpin, Crossan, et al have chosen to begin a chain reaction that could be avoided.  Developing this parcel will generate infrastructure improvements – all costly expenditures previously unnecessary.  It will lead to quality of life declining for area residents - human and wild, forever changing what should be preserved.

Groome and the UMC have ignored the pleas of residents; those of Lewes, county, and other state officials; and the more-than-fair offer put together by the preservation-minded entity.  What kind of message does this send?  The reflection upon the UMC is disparaging and telling.

My family helped establish the first Lewes Methodist congregation.  I know this kind of behavior drives people away.  Christians are called to serve, not to be served by grandiose worship spaces.  Knowing that in 1971 the Groome Board of Trustees purchased 202 acres from the Chester Brittingham estate at $689.11 per acre, the preservation-minded offer would have been more than a fair return on the original investment.

I once read two quotes: “Rather than cultivating the habit of thoughtfulness, people are chronically thoughtless.” “They frequently do not listen to what others say, instead focusing on their own ideas.”

At present, the church shoulders a fiduciary duty not only to its members but all impacted by their decision - please listen.  It is not too late for Groome to reverse its decision.  Doing so would restore confidence in Groome and the UMC, and help heal wounds - as Christians are called to do.  

Ralph W. Prettyman

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