Denomination loses appeal in favor of breakaway church


Dave Stafford for

A church denomination failed to prove to the Indiana Court of Appeals that it was entitled to the property of a congregation that broke away.

Judge Edward Najam wrote for the unanimous panel that Wabash Circuit Judge Robert R. McCallen III ruled correctly in finding that no trust existed that entitled the denomination to claim ownership of property held by a church in Roann. The denomination sued in 2012 after the Roann congregation voted to sever its affiliation.

In Church of the Brethren, South/Central Indiana District v. Roann Church of the Brethren, Inc., Roann Break-Away Group and the Roann Church, Inc., 85A02-1403-PL-166, the panel rejected Church of the Brethren’s claims that an express or implied trust existed.

“Nothing in the language cited by the Denomination evinces a trust relationship,” Najam wrote. Likewise, the denomination’s Organization and Polity Manual’s language did not impose an implied trust on the Roann church.

“(N)o part of the Manual imposed a requirement of any sort on the Denomination’s individual congregations; it provided mere suggestions for local church constitutions,” the panel held.

“To reiterate, the court’s reasoning finds support in the language of the deeds, which do not contain trust language; in testimony, which labeled the Manual as nonbinding on individual congregations; and in the language of the 2002 Constitution, which did not create a fiduciary relationship and which, in any event, was nonbinding and revocable by the Congregation,” Najam wrote. “Therefore, the Denomination has not met its burden; it has not shown that the trial court’s judgment is clearly erroneous.”