Recent Developments

Issues that affect ministers and churches
Property of Disaffiliated Churches
In some cases, a church's property reverts to its former denomination when it secedes.

A California state appeals court ruled that title to the properties of a local church that voted to disaffiliate from a parent denomination belonged to the denomination rather than to the church. The local church was the oldest Korean immigrant congregation in the Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.) ("PCUSA"). It had participated actively in the Presbyterian Church for more than 80 years. PCUSA had assisted the church in acquiring its first properties, and in obtaining financing for various projects. A schism developed in recent years within the church, primarily over the views and leadership of the church's pastor. Attempts by the PCUSA to resolve the problems failed. As a result of the schism, a group (numbering up to 30% of the church's membership) left the church and formed a "church in exile." The pastor thereafter had the remaining congregation vote to disaffiliate from the PCUSA. Acting in accordance with the Presbyterian Book of Order, the PCUSA designated the exiled congregation as the "true church," and as the rightful owner of the church properties. A lawsuit was filed to determine the ownership of the church properties. A trial court ruled that the dissident congregation that voted to disaffiliate from the PCUSA was the rightful owner of the church properties, and that the designation by the PCUSA of the "true church" was entitled to no consideration. The case was appealed to a state appeals court. The appeals court reversed the trial court's decision, and awarded the church properties to the "exiled" congregation designated by the PCUSA as the true church. The court based its decision on the following 3 considerations:

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Posted: May 1, 1992

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