The case was settled on Oct. 8, one week before the case was scheduled to go on trial in North Carolina’s Superior Court in Buncombe County.
The Oct. 10 “Montreat on the Move,” the church’s eNews blast for members, stated that “The session is happy to announce that the lawsuit filed against our church has been settled! We praise and thank God for his goodness in answering our prayers.”
In its report, the presbytery’s Montreat team said that “After many meetings, much prayer, and the invaluable advice and guidance of our legal team, we are pleased to report that last minute efforts to avoid a costly and divisive trial have proven successful and a settlement has been approved.”
According to the presbytery report, both sides agreed:
- “that the name ‘Montreat Presbyterian Church’ will be retained by the PCUSA congregation and the EPC congregation will select a new name that does not include the words ‘Montreat’ and ‘Presbyterian’ consecutively, so that any possibility of confusion between the two churches is minimized.
- “that all gifts or bequests clearly designated for the Montreat EPC congregation will be the property of that congregation; other such gifts will be the property of the Montreat Presbyterian Church, PCUSA.
- “that all records of the Montreat Presbyterian Church from its formation until the 2007 dismissal of members to the EPC will be deposited with the Presbyterian Heritage Center Society in Montreat, where each congregation will have free access to such records, without any exclusive right of ownership being vested in either church.
- “that all parties acknowledge and agree that the property trust provisions of the Book of Order of the Presbyterian Church (USA) are and were, by their express terms, applicable to all PCUS and all UPCUSA churches immediately before the 1983 reunion and also to all PCUSA churches after reunion. A ‘Motion to Claim Exemption for Church Property’ recorded with the Buncombe County Register of Deeds by the Montreat EPC congregation shall be corrected by filing an amended document to substitute the correct version of the Book of Church Order – the one containing a trust clause – as an exhibit.
- “that the Montreat EPC congregation shall be given title to the property in dispute and agrees that the property shall not be used as a denominational headquarters or conference center by any denomination other than PCUSA and that if the property is sold within ten years, there will be a right of first refusal in favor of the Montreat Presbyterian Church PCUSA.
- “that the Montreat EPC congregation shall pay to the Presbytery of Western North Carolina the sum of $300,000.00 over four years in full satisfaction of all claims.”
On January 21, 2007, the 470-member MEPC voted to leave the Presbyterian Church (USA) and join the Evangelical Presbyterian Church (EPC) a vote of 311-27.
The Western North Carolina Presbytery filed a lawsuit against the Montreat congregation and against the church’s three trustees on Sept, 17, 2008.
In its lawsuit against the three trustees — Andy Andrews, Jessie Barker and Natalie Schermerhorn – the presbytery charged them with “breach of fiduciary duty” and “actual or constructive fraud and constructive trust/unjust enrichment.” The document called for the trustees to be “held personally liable for damages.”
The Rev. Bobbie White, PWNC executive presbyter and the Rev. James Aydelotte, PWNC stated clerk, wrote in a memorandum that the congregation was being sued because of its “unwillingness to discuss any disposition of the property.”
MEPC Pastor Richard White disagreed saying the problem was that the representatives from the presbytery framed the meetings “by the presbytery’s premise that the PWNC [Presbytery of Western North Carolina] owned our building and we simply held it in trust for them. … We stated clearly to the group that we believed we owned our building and in that light we were very willing to discuss its use.”