Church Property

A North Carolina appeals court refused to intervene in a church property dispute. A group

A North Carolina appeals court refused to intervene in a church property dispute. A group of church trustees asked a court to declare them the rightful owners of the church's property, and to order the pastor and his followers to vacate the premises.

The trustees alleged that for many years the church had recognized the authority of the Church of God denomination; that the pastor and his followers have refused to comply with the teachings or authority of the Church of God, and have not made required financial contributions to the denomination; that the pastor and his followers "seized" the church property and "converted it to their own personal use;" and, that in 1988 the state overseer of the Church of God intervened and appointed them as the "successor trustees" of the church and transferred title of all church properties to them.

The pastor and his followers maintained that the church had been organized many years before its affiliation with the Church of God; that it received no denominational assistance in constructing its sanctuary; and, that the church membership had voted to disaffiliate from the denomination at a duly called business meeting in 1988, at which time the church's property was conveyed to the successor church. A trial court agreed with the trustees, and ordered the pastor and his followers to vacate the property.

This ruling was appealed, and a state appeals court ruled in favor of the pastor and his followers. The court observed: "[O]ur review of the evidence indicates that [the pastor and his followers] have possessed and used the church property for many years, during a significant portion of which time [the pastor] served the church as its pastor and occupied the parsonage. This evidence does not indicate that [the pastor and his followers] have seized the church property or converted it to their own use as alleged in the complaint. Rather, the evidence tends to show that [they] are continuing in conditions of occupancy and use which have existed over a substantial period of time and that greater harm shall inure to [them] rather than [the successor trustees] as a result of the issuance of a preliminary injunction." Looney v. Wilson, 388 S.E.2d 142 (N.C. App. 1990).

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