A lawsuit between a local church and the Presbyterian Church (USA) has been dismissed after the PCUSA “disclaimed any and all interest” in the church’s property.
In a Feb. 12 letter to the congregation, the church trustees explained
In December, at the insistence of JCP (John Calvin Presbytery), PCUSA was added as a defendant because it was the party who had claimed a trust interest in the property of all member churches. In this instance, PCUSA did not want to be involved in the lawsuit.
The PCUSA then filed a petition with the court requesting they be removed as a defendant in the case and disclaimed all interest in FnC’s (First and Calvary) property (PCUSA declared “no ownership interest in, and no right to control or maintain, the property of First and Calvary Presbyterian Church” and “disclaims any and all interest in the property of First and Calvary Presbyterian Church.”).
On February 9, 2016 the Court dismissed the case, based on the filings of both the JCP and the PCUSA.
During this course of events in civil court, the congregation voted by 72 percent to disaffiliate from the PCUSA. The vote on Aug. 16, 2015 was 493 to 185 in favor of disaffiliation. The 1700 member church has joined ECO: A Covenant Order of Evangelical Presbyterians.
The Rev. Andrew Chaney, senior pastor at First & Calvary told the Springfield News-Leader that the decision to disaffiliate from the PCUSA was made “because of the denomination’s changing attitudes on the divinity of Christ, the authority of the Holy Bible, and the trend of higher governing bodies to increasingly use institutional power to exert control over local churches.”
Property at stake
The assertion of institutional power and control includes the question of the use and ownership of local church property.
The PCUSA has a “trust clause” in its constitution stating:
All property held by or for a particular church, a presbytery, a synod, the General Assembly, or the Presbyterian Church (USA), whether legal title is lodged in a corporation, a trustee or trustees, or an unincorporated association, and whether the property is used in programs of a particular church or of a more inclusive governing body or retained for the production of income, is held in trust nevertheless for the use and benefit of the Presbyterian Church (USA)” G-4.0203 of the Book of Order.
Chaney has been quoted as saying his church didn’t believe that they were bound by the trust clause.
“Two Presbyterian churches joined together in 1930 to make First and Calvary. First and Calvary joined the PCUSA denomination in 1983” Chaney told the Christian Post. “The First and Calvary deeds mention no trust and never agreed to a trust with the PCUSA denomination.” The court agreed and ultimately the PCUSA disclaimed any and all interest in the property.
In their letter, the FnC trustees thanked God that the lawsuit was over.
“It is hoped that the dismissal of this lawsuit will be good news to both parties so that each may go forward in serving the Lord,” they wrote. “Church leadership knows the congregation has been praying about this matter and appreciate your steadfast faithfulness as we have pursued clarification of ownership of the property and assets of FnC. With the ownership of land and other assets clarified, FnC can put its full energies and resources towards pursuing its mission in making disciples of Jesus Christ.”