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A Guide to Church Property Law: Second Edition

A Guide to Church Property Law: Second Edition

By Lloyd J. Lunceford, Ed.

Reviewed by David W. Virtue
December 7, 2010

Who owns the church? Conflict over property is as old as the Bible itself. Recent court decisions in the United States have generated significant publicity and concern, prompting many congregations to seek review of the status of their local church property.

It comes none too soon as mainline denominations become more secular in their stand with the culture while orthodox believers resist the siren call of post-modernity and the homosexualization of the church and their attempts to resist the culture. As a result of these theological divisions, many churches believe they can no longer stay in their respective denominations.

Finding an equitable solution has been virtually impossible in The Episcopal Church and other mainline denominations. The Episcopal Church, however, has been the hardest hit. Millions of dollars have been spent fighting over church properties with whole dioceses at war with the national church. No resolution seems in sight. To date, this question and the related issue of "trust clauses" have given control over local church property to national denominations.

When the first edition of this book was published in 2006, a rising tide of church property litigation was just beginning. That tide soon swelled. Subsequent events unfolded rapidly, both inside and outside courtrooms throughout the United States. The California Supreme Court, the South Carolina Supreme Court, and the New York Court of Appeals (the highest court in that state) soon rendered major church property decisions.

As this second edition went to press, the Virginia Supreme Court was also expected to render a major decision on this subject. Additionally, significant church property decisions by lower appellate courts have been reported in just the past few years, in Louisiana, Ohio, Oklahoma, and elsewhere. Trial courts have also lately rendered noteworthy opinions, in Georgia, Oregon, Indiana, North Carolina, and Pennsylvania, among other states. Those opinions are currently working their way up the appellate ladder. Outside the courtroom, there have also been significant events that have occurred since this volume first appeared.

A Guide to Church Property Law: Second Edition offers an indispensible guide to navigating the troubled waters surrounding potential court disputes over local church property ownership and use. Leading scholars, theologians and attorneys from the Presbyterian Church (USA), the United Methodist Church and the Episcopal Church (USA), experienced in advising on church property issues, have collaborated to create this timely and useful volume.

This second edition contains many new features. Key chapters have been updated with the latest legal and ecclesiastical developments. Several new chapters have also been added. Helpful appendices and editor's notes have been included: local church forms, noteworthy trial court opinions, sample court judgments, law journal articles, and outstanding briefs recently submitted to state supreme courts and to the United States Supreme Court, authored by some of America's top attorneys. For those immersed in conflict over church properties, this book is a must read for every mainline church pastor, officer and trustee - and their legal counsel.

This book seeks to address some of their questions:

* Who is the owner, or real title-holder in interest, of local church property in Hierarchical denominations?

* Does a trust attach to local church property in favor of the national denomination, as some denominational constitutions assert?

* Is any such trust valid or revocable under state law?

This practical guide seeks to help local church ministers and officers - elders, vestrymen and women, administrative board members and trustees - as well as local or regional church legal counsel.

Chapter Eight relates specifically to Episcopal churches. A contributor to the book includes Episcopal attorney Raymond Dague (Diocese of Albany).

In addition to churches considering leaving their denominations, Lunceford has also noted two additional reasons Episcopal and Presbyterian churches should have the book for guidance. They are:

* Churches considering capital campaigns may need to ensure major donors the church will have clear title to any additions or improvements.

* Small churches who are considering closing due to declines in membership and/or financial support will want clear title to their property so the local church leaders and members alone can decide on the sale of the property and the disbursement of the proceeds.

This title is available as an e-book for Amazon's Kindle. It can be purchased by clicking here: http://www.amazon.com/dp/B004C05D1U

Lloyd J. Lunceford, General Editor is based in Baton Rouge, Louisiana.

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