PRESBYTERY OF ST. ANDREW, PRESBYTERIAN CHURCH U.S.A., INC.
FIRST PRESBYTERIAN CHURCH PCUSA OF STARKVILLE, MISSISSIPPI
OF JUDGMENT: 07/27/2016
OKTIBBEHA COUNTY CHANCERY COURT, HON. H. J. DAVIDSON, JR.
COURT ATTORNEYS: RYAN K. FRENCH DOLTON W. McALPIN P. SCOTT
PHILLIPS HAROLD H. MITCHELL, JR. LLOYD J. LUNCEFORD ANDREW
FRANK TOMINELLO EUGENE R. GROVES.
ATTORNEYS FOR APPELLANT: P. SCOTT PHILLIPS ANDREW FRANK
ATTORNEYS FOR APPELLEE: RYAN K. FRENCH LLOYD J. LUNCEFORD
DOLTON W. McALPIN.
RANDOLPH, PRESIDING JUSTICE.
First Presbyterian Church PCUSA of Starkville, Mississippi,
("FPC") filed its complaint for declaratory
judgment, a temporary restraining order, and a preliminary
injunction in the Chancery Court of Oktibbeha County
requesting legal protection and injunctive relief against the
Presbytery of St. Andrew Presbyterian Church U.S.A., Inc.
("Presbytery"), after the Presbytery claimed
FPC's property was held in trust for the Presbyterian
Church in the United States of America ("PCUSA").
The chancery court granted summary judgment in favor of FPC,
finding no evidence of any trust, express or implied. We
affirm the finding of the chancery court.
OF THE FACTS AND PROCEDURAL HISTORY
FPC has occupied the same piece of land in central Starkville
for more than 160 years, as it was founded in 1821 as a
Congregational Church and mission to the Western Frontier.
FPC holds title to six parcels of real property in Starkville
- the most significant being the main church facility. FPC
acquired the main church property in 1837, through a deed of
conveyance to the "Trustees for the Presbyterian Church
in the Town of Starkville." In 1924 FPC constructed its
current sanctuary on the property.
FPC has transitioned into and out of multiple Presbyterian
denominations, including the Old School Presbyterian Church;
the Presbyterian Church, Confederate States of America; and
the Presbyterian Church in the United States
("PCUS"). In 1983, the PCUS merged with another
Presbyterian denomination to create the Presbyterian Church
in the United States of America ("PCUSA"). FPC has
been affiliated with the PCUSA since its inception.
FPC claimed that, although it was affiliated with several
different Presbyterian denominations, it existed as an
"independent, unincorporated religious association from
its founding until 2003." On June 22, 2003, FPC's
governing board (its session) passed a resolution declaring
that "it is in the best interest of this association
that it be forthwith incorporated as a nonprofit
corporation." The resolution was approved by the
congregation, and FPC has remained an incorporated entity
(First Presbyterian Church PCUSA of Starkille, Mississippi)
since that date.
Following its incorporation, FPC conveyed to the corporation
its main property and facility in Starkville. The titleholder
of record was then identified as FPC's corporate entity.
Any property duly transferred to the corporation remains held
by and titled in the name of First Presbyterian Church,
Prior to 1982, no official documents of the PCUS included
trust language. Moreover, in 1953, PCUS adopted an official
position unambiguously disclaiming any trust interest in
property and confirming that the beneficial interest in the
property remained with the congregation. In 1982, PCUS
amended its constitution to include the word
"trust." Further, a reservation provision was
included with the adoption of the trust clause, which allowed
a local church not to be required to seek or obtain consent
or approval of any other entity to buy, sell, or mortgage the
church's property as a church of the PCUS.
After the PCUSA was formed, the Book of Order contained a
trust clause, and local churches then were required to
"obtain permission before selling, mortgaging, or
otherwise encumbering the property of that particular
church." Because this new trust clause was a departure
from prior practice, the PCUSA's constitution allowed for
a "property exception" which provided as follows:
The provisions of this chapter shall apply to all
congregations of the Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.). Except
that any congregation which was not subject to a similar
provision of the constitution of the church of which it was a
part, prior to the reunion of the Presbyterian Church in the
United States [PCUS] and the United Presbyterian Church in
the United States of America [UPC] to form the Presbyterian
Church (U.S.A.) [PC(USA)], shall be excused from the
provision of this chapter if the congregation, within a
period of eight years following the establishment of the
Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.), vote to be exempt from such
provision in a regularly called meeting and shall thereafter
notify the Presbytery of which it is a constituent church of
such vote. The particular church voting to be so exempt shall
hold title to its property and exercise its privileges of
incorporation and property ownership under the provisions of
the Constitution to which it was subject immediately prior to
the establishment of the Presbyterian Church
(U.S.A.)[PC(USA)]. This paragraph may not be amended.
In response to this "opt out" clause and a session
meeting with a representative of the presbytery, FPC voted to
exempt itself by passing a resolution voting to opt out of
the trust clause. The resolution read that FPC
does hereby vote to be exempt from the provisions of Chapter
VIII of the Book of Order to which it was not subject prior
to the Reunion which established PCUSA and will hold
title to its property and exercise its privileges of
incorporation under the Book of Church Order, PCUS (1982-1983
(Emphasis added.) FPC maintained this same position for the
next few years, as evinced by session minutes from a June
Elder James Long brought it to the attention of the Session
that he had talked with David Snellgrove at Presbytery
regarding the property question and determined that in 1984
we passed a resolution at a Congregational Meeting to remain
under the Old Book of Church Order. In the beginning of 1990
Presbytery will publish a list of churches who opted to
remain under the Old Book of Church Order. Elder Long further
stated at the time of the resolution that the Transition
Commission met and acted on the resolution. Elder Long has
requested a copy of the minutes of this Commission which our
name appears. At the present time there are three situations
which could exist under the Old Book of Church Order.
1. If there was a split in the congregation, the Presbytery
would decide which half would get the property.
2. If our church is dissolved then Presbytery gets the
3. If we pull out of the Presbyterian Church, we get our
These are the three scenarios we are operating under. Rev.
Parsons stated that he had re-submitted the request so as to
cover this church in the eventuality that no action was taken
When incorporating in 2003, and subsequently adopting bylaws,
FPC placed in those bylaws a reaffirmation of its intent to
be exempt. In 2005 Session minutes, FPC reported that it had
submitted the following to the chief officer of the
The Church By Laws were introduced and it was related that
the bylaws will follow the Book of Church Order with the
exception of retaining ownership of church property in the
event the church dissolves. The ...