Appeal from decree of Court of Common Pleas of McKean County, Dec. T., 1968, No. 1, in case of Erie Conference Central Office, The United Methodist Church, v. Harold Burdick et al.
George B. Angell, with him Angell and Angell, for appellants.
Murray R. Garber, for appellee.
Bell, C. J., Jones, Cohen, Eagen, O'Brien, Roberts and Pomeroy, JJ. Opinion by Mr. Justice Eagen.
This is an action in equity involving a church property dispute. Throughout the proceedings, the following facts have never been disputed.
The Evangelical United Brethren Church of Sawyer (Sawyer Church), Sawyer City, Foster Township, McKean County, Pennsylvania, an unincorporated association, was formed as part of a national church organization with member churches throughout the United States of America, known as the Evangelical United Brethren Church (E.U.B. Church), and as such subscribed to the doctrine, jurisdiction and theological control of the parent church.
The discipline of the E.U.B. Church provided in pertinent part that all real estate owned or acquired by a local church "shall be kept and maintained . . . subject to the doctrines, laws, usages and ministerial appointments" of the parent church.
By deeds dated October 12, 1956, and September 17, 1964, certain lands in the Township of Foster were conveyed to the trustees of Sawyer Church, and structures to be used as a church and a parsonage were subsequently constructed thereon. The deeds of conveyance contained substantially identical trust clauses, one of which follows: "In trust, that said premises shall be kept and maintained as a place of worship for the use of The Sawyer Church of the Evangelical United Brethren Church at Sawyer City, Pa., subject to the doctrines, laws, usages, and ministerial appointments of The Evangelical United Brethren Church as from time to time established, made and declared by the lawful authority of said Church, with the right to sell or encumber, subject to the Discipline of the Evangelical United Brethren Church, and the laws of the State, Province, or Country, and if said property be sold or encumbered, the proceeds of the sale or encumbrance shall be applied to the use of the aforesaid Church, subject, however, to the provisions of the laws of the Evangelical United Brethren Church relating to the sale and encumbrance of houses of worship and their premises
there being no obligation on the part of any purchaser to see to the application of the purchase money."
At the annual conference of the E.U.B. Church in 1966 and in 1967, attended by ministers and lay representatives of each member church a majority of more than two-thirds voted approval of uniting or merging with the Methodist Church, another church organization of national dimension. This merger was later finalized at a uniting conference of the two organizations. Under the plan of merger, the new denomination was to be known as the United Methodist ...