FPC also requested a temporary restraining order prohibiting the PCUSA from taking control or possession of FPC’s property or from interfering with FPC’s property ownership. Following a May 2015 hearing, the Oktibbeha County Chancery Court entered a preliminary injunction for all property held by FPC against the PCUSA, which effectively blocked PCUSA from taking any action affecting the property rights of the church. The Presbytery also was enjoined from asserting a trust over FPC’s property.
STARKVILLE, MS — The state’s highest court has affirmed a Chancery Court decision involving a property dispute at a church in Starkville.
On Thursday, the state Supreme Court issued an opinion of the finding of Oktibbeha County Chancery Court that First Presbyterian Church (FPC) in Starkville is the owner of its property, not Presbytery of St. Andrew, the Presbyterian Church (USA) Inc. (PCUSA).
The church, located on University Drive next to Cadence Bank, has occupied the same piece of property for more than 160 years.
According to court filings, the church existed as an independent, unincorporated religious association until 2003, when the church’s governing board passed a resolution declaring it in the best interest of the church to incorporate as a nonprofit.
As part of its affiliation with PCUSA, the organization allowed for property exception under the PCUSA’s trust clause, which required affiliate churches to “obtain permission before selling, mortgaging, or otherwise encumbering the property of that particular church.”
When FPC decided to incorporate in 2003, court documents show the church placing in its bylaws a reaffirmation of its intent to remain exempt from the trust clause. PCUSA asserts the trust clause protects the physical location of the church in the event of irreconcilable or irreparable problems within the church body.
As disagreements with the PSUSA began to reach a boiling point, church members voted to cease monetary contributions to the organization and look at the possibility of joining another Presbyterian denomination. PSUSA responded by notifying FPC that it had appointed a Presbytery committee, called an Administrative Commission, to “inquire into and settle difficulties” at FPC.