A legal dispute is taking place between Evangelical Friends Church Southwest (EFCSW) and one of its member churches, Friends Community Church of Midway City, Calif. (FCC Midway City). The conflict, first reported by Quaker blogger Chuck Fager in A Friendly Letter, is over ministry to the homeless, church property, and denominational authority.
FCC Midway City, founded in 1935, is a congregation of about 20 members. Joe and Cara Pfeiffer have been serving as part-time pastors since 2015 and living in a church parsonage.
EFCSW is a denominational group affiliated with Evangelical Friends International (EFI). Originally known as “California Yearly Meeting of Friends Church,” EFCSW currently comprises 39 local churches in California, Arizona, and Nevada.
The legal conflict between EFCSW and FCC Midway City stems from a joint homeless ministry program that allowed people to stay at the church, beginning in late 2017. In March 2018, Orange County, Calif., issued a notice to FCC Midway City and EFCSW citing violations including “people living in . . . classrooms” and “inoperable vehicles in the parking lot.” In response to the notice, FCC Midway City agreed to comply with the code and cease housing people at the church.
Then at a meeting on March 28, 2018, the EFCSW Board of Elders decided to close FCC Midway City, and that the Pfeiffers would not serve as ministers within EFCSW and the property would be taken over by the denomination.
Representatives of EFCSW met with the Pfeiffers on May 2, 2018, informing them of the decisions and their bases, which included “the past and current condition of the property, potential legal liability . . . and the Pfeiffers’ lack of discernment, good judgment, and leadership,” according to a letter sent to the FCC Midway City’s lawyer.
On October 12, 2018, FCC Midway City filed a lawsuit claiming that EFCSW had no right to either take church property or to fire the pastors.
An Orange County judge on January 31, 2020, allowed the lawsuit by FCC Midway City against EFCSW to proceed, despite a motion to dismiss from EFCSW. Included in the filings for this court date was a letter of support for FCC Midway City and the Pfeiffers from long-time ECFSW pastor James Healton:
These alleged violations all amount to one charge against them: that they objected to, and sought remedy for, the actions the Elder Board had taken against them. The closing of Midway City Friends Church and removal of Joe Pfeiffer as its pastor represents a sharp departure from what I have known and from what I understood to be the relationship between the local church and EFCSW as a whole.
“As our meeting has met for clearness, the word ‘truth’ keeps persisting as our guiding principle,” said FCC Midway City pastor Cara Pfeiffer. “We have tried to make decisions not because they are expeditious, but because they serve the cause of truth. We place ourselves in God’s hands and pray God’s light shines through this struggle.”
The next hearing on the case is scheduled for March 30.