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Church of Brethren v. Roann Church of Brethren, Inc.

Court of Appeals of Indiana

November 17, 2014

CHURCH OF THE BRETHREN, SOUTH/CENTRAL INDIANA DISTRICT, Appellant-Plaintiff,
v.
ROANN CHURCH OF THE BRETHREN, INC., ROANN BREAK-AWAY GROUP, and THE ROANN CHURCH, INC., Appellees-Defendants

APPEAL FROM THE WABASH CIRCUIT COURT. The Honorable Robert R. McCallen, III, Judge. Cause No. 85C01-1205-PL-440.

FOR APPELLANT: DAVID K. HERZOG, JON LARAMORE, Faegre Baker Daniels LLP, Indianapolis, Indiana.

FOR APPELLEES: BRIAN P. WILLIAMS, MICHAEL E. DIRIENZO, Kahn, Dees, Donovan & Kahn, LLP, Evansville, Indiana.

NAJAM, Judge. FRIEDLANDER, J., and MAY, J., concur.

OPINION

Page 907

NAJAM, Judge

STATEMENT OF THE CASE

Church of the Brethren, South/Central Indiana District (" the Denomination" ) appeals the trial court's decision, following a bench trial, in favor of Roann Church of the Brethren, Inc. and The Roann Church, Inc. (" the Congregation" ) on the Denomination's complaint.[1] The Denomination presents one issue for our review, namely, whether the trial court erred when it held that the Congregation did not place its property into an irrevocable trust, express or implied, for the benefit of the Denomination.

We affirm.

FACTS AND PROCEDURAL HISTORY

The Denomination dates to 1708, and the Congregation traces its origin to mission work performed in Roann, Indiana, in 1835. The two affiliated with one another in the late 1930s. In 1939, the Congregation began sending delegates to the Denomination's Annual Conference,[2] where delegates approved matters regarding denominational polity bye two-thirds vote. The Denomination recorded and published denomination polity in its Organization and Polity Manual (" Manual" ), which could be revised yearly at the Annual Conference. The Denomination, however, never bound local congregations to the Manual, and it did not impose discipline for any given congregation's disharmony with denominational polity.

In the early 1940s, after separatist groups departed and took property from the Denomination for secessionist uses, the Denomination became concerned about protecting its assets. Thus, in 1945, the Denomination issued a report that called for the use of restrictive covenants in individual congregations' deeds, and, in 1947, the Denomination approved the placement of the following language into its Organization and Polity Manual:

The commission believes that[,] for the sake of uniformity and greater security in ownership of [the Denomination's] property, the title to all local church property should be held by local trustees, in trust, for the teaching and dissemination of the gospel of Jesus Christ, according to the beliefs, practices, and doctrines of ...

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