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TRINITY LUTHERAN EVANGELICAL CHURCH v. BISHOP KENNETH R. MAY (01/19/88)

decided: January 19, 1988.

TRINITY LUTHERAN EVANGELICAL CHURCH, A NON-PROFIT CORPORATION, D. DOUGLAS ROTH AND NADINE ROTH, APPELLANTS
v.
BISHOP KENNETH R. MAY, ON BEHALF OF THE WESTERN PENNSYLVANIA-WEST VIRGINIA SYNOD OF THE LUTHERAN CHURCH IN AMERICA, APPELLEES



Appeal from the Order of the Court of Common Pleas of Allegheny County, in case of Bishop Kenneth R. May, on behalf of The Western Pennsylvania-West Virginia Synod of The Lutheran Church in America, a corporation v. Trinity Lutheran Evangelical Church, a non-profit corporation, and Rev. D. Douglas Roth, Wayne Cochran, Harry Dinkel, William Fosbrink, Nadine Roth, Joann Reilly, Helve Gogots, Rebecca Fosbrink and Marian Welshham, individuals, No. GD 84-21773, dated September 17, 1986.

COUNSEL

Rev. D. Douglas Roth, with him, Nadine Roth, appellants, for themselves.

Roger C. Wiegand, Reed, Smith, Shaw & McClay, for appellees.

President Judge Crumlish, Jr., Judges Craig, MacPhail, Doyle, Barry, Colins and Palladino. Opinion by Judge Craig. Senior Judge Narick did not participate in the decision in this case.

Author: Craig

[ 112 Pa. Commw. Page 559]

Trinity Lutheran Evangelical Church of Clairton appeals an order entered on September 17, 1986 in the Court of Common Pleas of Allegheny County, making permanent a preliminary injunction ordering Trinity to turn over all property to the Western Pennsylvania-West Virginia Synod of the Lutheran Church in America and to refrain from interfering with Synod's use of the property.

Trinity has raised the following claims of error for consideration by this court:

(1) The chancellor abused his discretion in confining the appellants for contempt and in denying their request for a jury trial on the contempt charges.

(2) The contempt citations were not supported by sufficient evidence.

(3) The chancellor erred in failing to recuse himself from the contempt hearing.

[ 112 Pa. Commw. Page 560]

(4) The terms of the injunction violated the appellants' first amendment rights to freedom of speech and religion.

(5) The chancellor erred in making the injunction final, in the face of Trinity's allegation that the Synod failed to adjudicate the appeal which Trinity filed with the convention of the Synod.

Although we conclude that Trinity's first three claims of error are without merit and that Trinity has waived the fourth claim of error, we also conclude that the record fails to reveal whether the Synod ever adjudicated Trinity's appeal to the convention of the Synod, and we therefore vacate the chancellor's order making the injunction permanent and remand for a hearing on that issue.

Facts

The facts of the case as determined by the chancellor are as follows. Trinity is a nonprofit Pennsylvania corporation which is governed by its own constitution and bylaws as well as those of the Synod and the Lutheran Church in America (LCA). During the latter part of 1983 and early 1984, a division began to arise within the congregation based on the pastor Reverend Roth's participation in the Denominational Ministry Strategy, an organization formed to deal with the plight of the unemployed workers of the area.

The Synod formed a committee to investigate the problems at Trinity. The committee recommended that certain actions be taken in an effort to reunite the congregation. The two factions could not agree upon these recommendations, and on October 12, 1984, the Executive Board of the Synod vacated the pulpit at Trinity and designated another minister to serve as pastor for

[ 112 Pa. Commw. Page 561]

Trinity. Trinity's church council refused to recognize the Synod's designated pastor, and Reverend Roth continued to act as pastor. On November 2, 1984, the Synod sought and received a preliminary injunction restraining Reverend Roth from performing pastoral functions at Trinity.*fn1

Despite the injunction, Reverend Roth continued to act as pastor at Trinity, which resulted in the trial court finding him to be in contempt of court.*fn2

While incarcerated for contempt, Reverend Roth dictated sermons which were read to the congregation with the authorization of the church council. At about the same time members of the church council withdrew over $9,500 from the Trinity bank account and deposited the money into their personal accounts. The council also allowed a casualty insurance policy providing Trinity with over $500,000 of coverage to lapse and replaced it with a policy providing only $150,000 of coverage.

In response to these developments, the Executive Board of the Synod met by conference call on November 28, 1984, and adopted a resolution declaring the congregation at Trinity defunct. The Synod informed Trinity that, as a defunct congregation, they would be required, in accordance with the constitution of the LCA, to turn over all property of the congregation to the Synod. On December 3, 1984, a representative of the Synod requested that the church ...


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