Appeals from decree of Court of Common Pleas of Fayette County, Nos. 2666 and 2667, in cases of Western Pennsylvania Conference of the United Methodist Church v. Everson Evangelical Church of North America, formerly the Everson Church of the Evangelical United Brethren Church, a Pennsylvania nonprofit corporation, and Robert B. Patton; Same v. Mt. Olive Evangelical United Brethren Church, formerly the Mt. Olive United Brethren Church in Christ, a Pennsylvania nonprofit corporation, and Robert B. Patton.
B. Frederick Becker, with him Ira B. Coldren, Jr., and Coldren & Adams, for appellants.
W. Theodore Brooks, with him Reding, Blackstone, Rea & Sell, for appellee.
Jones, C. J., Eagen, O'Brien, Pomeroy, Nix and Manderino, JJ. Opinion by Mr. Justice Eagen. Mr. Justice Manderino concurs in the result. Mr. Justice Roberts took no part in the consideration or decision of this case.
The Western Pennsylvania Conference of The United Methodist Church filed an action in equity in the Court of Common Pleas of Fayette County, requesting the court to rule that the rights of ownership, possession, custody and control of the property of the defendant, The Everson Evangelical Church of North America, located in Everson, Fayette County, Pennsylvania, were in The United Methodist Church. The plaintiff also requested the court to enjoin the pastor, trustees and members of the defendant church from using its property, except in conformity with the Discipline and Constitution of The United Methodist Church. A separate action in equity was instituted in
the same court by the same plaintiff against The Mt. Olive Evangelical Church of North America, located in Bullskin Township, Fayette County, Pennsylvania, seeking the same relief.
After the pleadings were closed, the plaintiff filed a motion for judgment on the pleadings in both actions, pursuant to Pa. R. C. P. 1034. Since the legal issues and facts were essentially identical, the actions were considered together by the court, which, subsequently, sustained the plaintiff's motions and entered a decree granting the relief requested in the complaints. The defendants filed these appeals which were consolidated for argument in this Court and will be disposed of in this one opinion.
An examination of the record discloses the following facts were admitted and thus established by the pleadings.
The Everson Evangelical Church of North America, a Pennsylvania nonprofit corporation [hereinafter referred to as Everson], and The Mt. Olive Evangelical Church of North America, an unincorporated association [hereinafter referred to as Mt. Olive], were members of and subscribed to the doctrine and jurisdictional control of The Evangelical United Brethren Church in Christ [hereinafter referred to as E.U.B.], a hierarchically governed religious denomination. In 1967, E.U.B. and The Methodist Church, also a church of national dimension, approved a plan of union to merge into The United Methodist Church, also hierarchically governed. This plan of union was approved in a formal action by the governing bodies of E.U.B. and The Methodist Church, as well as a majority of the lay representatives of both organizations. However, the representatives of both Everson and Mt. Olive voted against the proposal at the conference at which the plan was adopted. The proposed merger was finalized in July 1969.
The nominal titleholder of Everson's realty is The "Everson Church Of The Evangelical United Brethren Church, a Pennsylvania Nonprofit Corporation." The nominal title to Mt. Olive's realty is the ...