In his ruling, Superior Court Judge Eric W. Norris cited a 1981 letter written by Rev. James Andrews, the PCUS Stated Clerk at that time, regarding a similar trust clause proposed by that denomination, stating that the new trust clause “would not change the Presbyterian Church’s historical position on property.”
A Superior Court judge has issued an injunction, ruling that a congregation that voted to disaffiliate from the Presbyterian Church (USA) to join ECO: A Covenant Order of Evangelical Presbyterians can – for now – continue to use the church property.
The judge ruled that the ECO congregation – formerly known as Central Presbyterian Church in Athens, Ga., showed it had a “likelihood of prevailing on its claim that no civilly enforceable trust exists” in the church property. The church now goes by its new name – Alps Road Presbyterian Church.
However, because of pending legal actions, the church may not sell, transfer or encumber the church property. There are several other stipulations in the ruling that the church and presbytery must adhere to until all legal matters are settled.
The Book of Order of the PCUSA includes a property clause, stating all church property is held in trust for the denomination:
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.
Testimony during the trial, however, “showed that CPC believed that its property rights were not going to be affected by the reunion (or by the amendments to the PCUS constitution pre-dating the 1983 merger containing similar trust language.)
“Reunion” refers to the merger in 1983 of the Northern (United Presbyterian Church in the United States of America, UPCUSA) and Southern (Presbyterian Church in the United States, or PCUS) branches of the Presbyterian denominations becoming one denomination — The Presbyterian Church (USA).
In his ruling, Superior Court Judge Eric W. Norris cited a 1981 letter written by Rev. James Andrews, the PCUS Stated Clerk at that time, regarding a similar trust clause proposed by that denomination, stating that the new trust clause “would not change the Presbyterian Church’s historical position on property.” Andrews’ wrote “These amendments do not in any way change the fact that the congregation, in the Presbyterian Church in the U.S., owns its own property.”
Norris also highlighted a 1982 report from Andrews which affirmed the denomination’s position in a report to all of the PCUS commissioners: “The language dealing with trust does not in any way establish any kind of an encumbrance on church property as that term is understood in connection with real estate.”