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JONES MEMORIAL BAPTIST CHURCH v. BRACKEEN (03/16/65)

decided: March 16, 1965.

JONES MEMORIAL BAPTIST CHURCH
v.
BRACKEEN, APPELLANT



Appeal from decree of Court of Common Pleas No. 2 of Philadelphia County, Dec. T., 1963, No. 2841, in case of Jones Memorial Baptist Church v. S. Amos Brackeen.

COUNSEL

Rufus Scoville Watson, for appellant.

Robert N. C. Nix, Jr., with him Nix, Rhodes and Nix, for appellee.

Bell, C. J., Musmanno, Jones, Cohen, Eagen, O'Brien and Roberts, JJ. Opinion by Mr. Justice Jones.

Author: Jones

[ 416 Pa. Page 600]

A regrettable controversy between a church and its pastor is the background of this appeal.

On January 23, 1964, the Jones Memorial Baptist Church, Philadelphia (Church), acting through the chairmen of its Board of Deacons and its Board of Trustees, instituted an equity action against the pastor of the Church, S. Amos Brackeen (pastor), in the Court of Common Pleas No. 2 of Philadelphia County. In its complaint, the Church averred, inter alia, that: (1) the pastor had "pursued a course of conduct which [had] brought dissension among the church membership and between the membership and the [pastor]"; (2) the pastor, by certain alleged conduct, had "besmirched the example of godliness that should be set by a religious teacher and leader"; (3) the pastor was thwarting attempts to hold a congregational meeting to pass upon his retention or dismissal as pastor; (4) on the occasion of two meetings, police were called to quell disturbances allegedly attributed to the pastor's conduct. At the Church's request, the court enjoined, preliminarily, (a) the pastor from occupying the Church pulpit until a duly supervised church meeting and (b) from interfering with the Church business and attendance.

[ 416 Pa. Page 601]

Within several weeks of the institution of the equity action, the parties and their counsel entered into a written agreement on the basis of which the court on February 6, 1964, entered a consent decree and dissolved the injunction. Insofar as presently pertinent, the agreement provided a method for calling a congregational meeting of the Church by the pastor and, upon his failure to call the meeting, then by the Church clerk.

On June 2, 1964, the pastor, by a petition for a rule, sought to have the Boards of Deacons and Trustees held in contempt because of alleged violations by them of the consent decree. On the same date, the Church, by a petition for a rule, sought to have the pastor held in contempt because of alleged violations by him of the consent decree. The court issued rules in both instances and later held hearings.

After hearings, the court, on June 26, 1964, found that the pastor was in contempt of the consent decree because he had not and would not comply with that portion of the consent decree requiring the holding of a congregational meeting to determine whether the pastor should be retained or dismissed. The court then appointed two special masters to call and conduct a congregational meeting and held that, if the pastor continued to be contumacious of the consent decree, he would be committed to prison for 30 days and subjected to a $1,000 fine. From that decree the pastor now appeals.*fn1

On this appeal, the pastor raises two issues: (1) whether the court below had ...


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