Appeal from the Order of the Court of Common Pleas of Chester County, in case of Presbytery of Donegal et al. v. Wayne Wheatley et al., No. 146 Term, 1981.
Gregory M. Harvey, with him, Elizabeth L. Hoop and George W. McKeag, of Counsel: Morgan, Lewis and Bockius, and P. Richard Klein, Klein, Elicker, Head & Knauer, for appellants.
Tom P. Monteverde, with him, Jean C. Hemphill, Monteverde, Hemphill, Maschmeyer & Obert, for appellees.
President Judge Crumlish, Jr., Judges Rogers, Craig, Doyle, Colins and Palladino. Opinion by Judge Doyle. Judge MacPhail did not participate in this decision.
[ 99 Pa. Commw. Page 313]
Before this Court is a church property dispute involving facts substantially similar to those in Presbytery of Donegal v. Calhoun, 99 Pa. Commonwealth Ct. 300, 513 A.2d 531 (1986) with which the present case was originally tried and later argued on appeal before this
[ 99 Pa. Commw. Page 314]
Court. We write this separate opinion to address issues which are specific to this case.
As in Calhoun, the present case involves an action in equity filed by the Presbytery of Donegal (Presbytery) requesting that it be given control of all real and personal property in the possession of a local congregation, here the Faggs Manor Presbyterian Church (Faggs Manor).
Faggs Manor was founded as a local congregation prior to 1730 and later voluntarily affiliated with the United Presbyterian Church of the United States of America (UPCUSA). The congregation incorporated as a non-profit corporation in 1810, and throughout the years has acquired title to numerous properties upon which it built its present church structures. As was the case with the Coatesville Presbyterian Church in Calhoun, Faggs Manor became aware that the UPCUSA intended to amend its denominational constitution to include language which would impose a trust on local church property in favor of the denomination. Because of certain doctrinal differences Faggs Manor had with the denomination which it believed might eventually cause it to leave the denomination, Faggs Manor determined that it should withdraw from the denomination immediately, while it could do so and still retain its property. Accordingly, upon the recommendation of its session, the congregation of Faggs Manor voted 138 to 21 to disaffiliate with the UPCUSA on May 3, 1981. On May 14, 1981, the Presbytery appointed an administrative commission to investigate the activities at Faggs Manor, and on June 16, 1981, gave the commission full powers of the local church session, including the power to control the use of the church's buildings and properties. The Presbytery brought an action in equity before the Court of Common Pleas of Chester County, seeking to enjoin the Faggs Manor session and congregation
[ 99 Pa. Commw. Page 315]
from retaining the property of the local church and interfering with the administrative commission's exercise of its asserted authority.
The trial court heard the case together with the equity action in Calhoun, and filed a separate adjudication which incorporated by reference the relevant findings and conclusions of the Calhoun case. The trial court concluded that there was no express or implied trust in the property of the local church in ...