Appeal from the Order of the Court of Common Pleas of York County in the case of Leo Smith and George Hopkins v. Henry Atterberry, Gladys Atterberry, Charles Orr and Blanche Orr, No. 83-S-4198.
Victor A. Neubaum, Malone & Neubaum, for appellants.
Garnita M. Selby, for appellees.
Judges Craig, Doyle and Colins, sitting as a panel of three. Opinion by Judge Doyle.
[ 104 Pa. Commw. Page 551]
This is appeal by Henry Atterberry, Gladys Atterberry, Charles Orr, and Blanche Orr (Appellants or Defendants) from an order of the Court of Common Pleas of York County which entered a final decree affirming a decree nisi filed on March 26, 1984 and a modification of the decree nisi filed on April 19, 1984.
The instant litigation arises from a dispute among various members of The Church of the Living God, 341
[ 104 Pa. Commw. Page 552]
Wheatfield Street, York, Pennsylvania (local church). That church is alleged, in a complaint in equity seeking a preliminary and permanent injunction and filed by Leo Smith and George Hopkins (Appellees or Plaintiffs), to be a constituent local church of The House of God which is The Church of the Living God the Pillar and Ground of Truth, Inc. (national church). This hierarchical characterization is vehemently disputed by Appellants, the Defendants below.*fn1 Plaintiffs further allege that the local church is governed by the Church Discipline, a document containing, inter alia, doctrinal statements and the general organizational pattern of the denomination. The contention that this document is binding upon the local church is another matter hotly disputed by the parties. Plaintiffs also allege in their complaint that they were appointed to various church offices by Reverend Carl Whyte who they assert is the pastor of the local church. They further assert that Defendants were removed from their church offices by Reverend Whyte. Plaintiffs maintain that Reverend Whyte's appointment and removal power emanates from, and is in accordance with, the Church Discipline.
In their complaint Plaintiffs sought from the trial court an order enjoining Defendants from (1) engaging in the unauthorized collection of tithes and offerings from worshippers during church services, (2) interfering
[ 104 Pa. Commw. Page 553]
with the newly appointed trustee, treasurer, deacon and secretary so as to prevent them from performing the duties of their offices, (3) disrupting, interfering with or harassing Reverend Carl Whyte during the delivery of his sermons, (4) engaging in a campaign among church members to undermine Reverend Whyte's authority and (5) interfering with Reverend Whyte's performance of his sacerdotal duties. Relief sought by Plaintiffs further included an accounting and return of all monies collected during worship services since November 6, 1983 to the newly appointed treasurer and an order directing the former treasurer to execute the proper bank documents so as to make available immediately church funds to the newly appointed officers thus enabling them to carry out their official responsibilities.
Defendants in their answer admitted that Plaintiffs were serving as church officers, but denied that they occupied these positions by virtue of any authority from Reverend Whyte or the Church Discipline. They further denied that Henry Atterberry, Gladys Atterberry and Charles Orr were former church officers, instead asserting that they remain officers. They admitted that Blanche Orr was a former officer. Defendants also denied that Reverend Whyte continues to serve as the pastor of the local church and denied in any event the power of the local pastor to remove trustees, instead asserting ...