Recent Developments

Issues that affect ministers and churches
Disaffiliated Church Allowed to Retain Property
Although the denomination was hierarchical, court ruled that no trust was created.
Key point: A church affiliated with a hierarchical denomination may be able to retain its property if it disaffiliates from the parent denomination, despite a provision to the contrary in denominational bylaws.

A Massachusetts appeals court ruled that a local church could retain its property after disaffiliating from a parent denomination. The members of a local church voted to amend the church's bylaws to remove all reference to a parent denomination. The executive board of the denomination asked a court to declare the congregational meeting illegal and to rule that all of the church's properties were subject to the control of the denomination. A trial court ruled that while the denomination was hierarchical in terms of "internal administration, discipline, and matters of faith," it was congregational as far as the control and use of local church property. Accordingly, the court ruled that the congregational meeting was valid and that the local church was the sole owner of its properties. The denomination appealed, claiming that the church was not "congregational" with regard to the ownership of property, and that the church's bylaws were not legally amended. A state appeals court rejected the denomination's claims and upheld the ruling of the trial court in favor of the local church. First, the court rejected the denomination's claim that the local church was congregational for purposes of property ownership. The court quoted from a Supreme Court ruling defining the terms congregational and hierarchical:

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