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Decision No. 11

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April 28 1942
In Re: Board of Trustees, Missouri Annual Conference

Digest of Case

In view of the inhibition by the Missouri State Constitution of religious corporations except to hold title to real estate for Church edifices, parsonages, and cemeteries, the Trustees of an Annual Conference in Missouri may not be incorporated, but the Trustees duly elected as an unincorporated Board are the proper parties to recover possession of property of abandoned churches under the provisions of Paragraph 782, Discipline 1940.

Statement of Facts

The Constitution of the State of Missouri by Section 8, Article 2, provides "that no religious corporation can be established in this State, except such as may be created under a general law for the purpose only of holding title to such real estate as may be prescribed by law for church edifices, parsonages and cemeteries." Paragraph 791 of the 1940 Discipline of The Methodist Church provides that "there shall be an incorporated Board of Trustees of each Annual Conference," but Paragraph 803 provides as follows: Whenever the law of the state, territory, or country in which is located any property of The Methodist Church, its agencies or subdivisions, or the provisions of an existing charter of a corporation organized and holding property for such purposes, require otherwise than in this Chapter prescribed, such law or charter shall apply and be substituted for such of the provisions of this chapter as are in conflict with such law or charter. In view of the uncertainty, by reason of the foregoing statute and disciplinary provisions, as to the proper parties to take and hold title to the proceeds from the sale of abandoned Methodist Church property in Missouri, requests for rulings were presented to the presiding Bishop, John C. Broomfield, at the 1941 session of the Missouri Annual Conference. Additional facts are disclosed in the opinion in this case. REQUESTS FOR RULINGS Question No. I-In view of the exceptions noted in Paragraph 803 of the Discipline of 1940, and in view of the inhibitions placed on religious corporations by the constitution and statutes of the State of Missouri, is the requirement of Paragraph 791 of the Discipline of 1940 providing that the Annual Conference Board of Trustees shall be incorporated to be construed as mandatory upon the Trustees of this Missouri Conference? Question No. 2-Can the Trustees of this Missouri Annual Conference qualify to perform their duties without being incorporated? BISHOP'S RULINGS Answer to Question No. 1. Section 8 of Article 2 of the Missouri Constitution provides that no religious corporation can be established in this State except such as may be created for the purpose only of holding the title to such real estate as may be prescribed by law for church edifices, parsonages, and cemeteries. The Annual Conference Board of Trustees incorporated as directed by Paragraph 791 of the 1940 Discipline would be a religious corporation. In view of Paragraph 803 of the Discipline the requirement of Paragraph 791 thereof requiring incorporation is not mandatory. Both Paragraphs are a part of the same section, are to be construed together, and the law of Missouri is substituted for the provisions of the Discipline, where the law of Missouri requires otherwise than in the Discipline described. Answer to Question No. 2. The Trustees of the Missouri Annual Conference, when duly elected according to the provisions of the Discipline, can perform their duties as a Board without being incorporated.

Decision

During the session of the Missouri Annual Conference held September 26 to 29, 1941, the foregoing questions were presented in writing to the presiding Bishop, and were answered by him as above set forth, both questions and answers being entered in the Journal of said Conference. One of the provisions of the Constitution of The Methodist Church, embodied in the Plan of Union, and now appearing as Paragraph 40, Article 7 of the 1940 Discipline, provides that a Bishop presiding over a District, Annual or Jurisdictional Conference, shall decide all questions of law coming before him in the regular business of the session, provided that such questions be presented in writing, and that his decisions be recorded in the Journal of the Conference. It is also provided that each Bishop shall report in writing annually all his decisions of law, with a syllabus of the same, to the Judicial Council, which shall affirm, modify, or reverse them. Bishop Broomfield has reported the foregoing decisions in writing, and such decisions are properly before us for our judgment thereon. The record shows that a local church, formerly in the Missouri Annual Conference of the Methodist Episcopal Church, burned. It was insured and the insurance money was paid to and is held by the former Trustees of that church. The church has not been rebuilt, nor is it contemplated that a church will be built in the near future, but the local Trustees expressed the intention to hold the money on the theory that it may be rebuilt in the future. The Missouri Annual Conference of The Methodist Church, after an examination of the facts, and with the consent of the presiding Bishop and the District Superintendent, as well as the District Board of Church Location and Building within whose jurisdiction the church was located, declared each church to be discontinued and abandoned, and directed the disposition of the funds in the hands of the local board of Trustees (Conference Record Missouri Conference 1941, page 42). The local church Trustees ref used to comply. Paragraph 782 of the 1940 Discipline provides that it shall be the duty of the local Board of Trustees to make such disposition, or if, for any reason said Trustees fail to make such disposition, then it shall be the duty of the Trustees of the Annual Conference to sell or dispose of said property in accordance with the direction of the Annual Conference. Paragraph 791 of the 1940 Discipline provides that "There shall be an incorporated Board of Trustees of the Annual Conference." The constitution of Missouri inhibits religious corporations, except to hold title to real estate for church edifices, parsonages and cemeteries. An Annual Conference Board of Trustees, if incorporated, would be a religious corporation. Paragraph 803 of the 1940 Discipline was enacted to provide against such a situation by providing that the law of the State shall be substituted for the Disciplinary provisions. Therefore the Missouri law controls. Under the law in Missouri it is competent to create Conference Boards of Trustees without incorporation, in which event the said Trustees, and their successors in office as such Trustees, have all the authority that the proposed incorporated Board would have. The Board of Trustees so chosen then are the officers referred to in Paragraph 782 where it provides that if for any reason said (local) Trustees fail to make the disposition of property as directed by the Annual Conference, "It shall be the duty of the Trustees of the Annual Conference to sell or dispose of the property in accordance with the direction of the Annual Conference." Such Annual Conference Board of Trustees is entitled to recover possession of the property in order that it may apply the same as directed by the Annual Conference. The rulings of Bishop Broomfield were correct, and such rulings are affirmed.

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