The Historical Society of the Bible Fellowship Church

April, 2004



           The opportunity has rolled around again to publish another edition of this whatever. I talked recently to Joel Alderfer of MHEP (Mennonite Historians of Eastern Pennsylvania) located in Harleysville. He suggested that we give this publication a name and use volume numbers. We have never risen to that level of sophistication so I resort to calling this a whatever. Perhaps we ought to give it some thought.


           In this edition most of the space will be given to completing the Quakertown Court Case. In this last installment, we will read the opinion of the court. I hope you have been able to sort out all the arguments and understand what each one is saying. If you were the judge, to whom would you award the building? If you haven’t read the previous briefs carefully, you might want to do it and see how your opinion fits that of the judges. Again, wade through the legalese and see what comes out.


           I will conclude with some pictures that were sent to me by Ted Dreisbach. His father took these shots of Mizpah. I am not sure we have any quite like them. You will also see an aerial photo of Allentown. My thanks to Ted for finding us and making these photos available to our archives and this publication.





           First, I want to begin with what is for me a shocker. I received some information from Andrew Geissinger, one of our members. He found the obituary of our Levi Jung whose diary we have published. I had received genealogical information on him from the late Ken Hottel, a professional genealogist, which indicated that he died in 1905. About a year ago, I was contacted by someone who was a descendant of Levi Jung. After he saw my data, he suggested that there might have been two Levi Jungs. That seemed far fetched to me but after receiving Andy’s info I have agreed that it is so. Our Levi Jung died young and apparently left no offspring. Thanks for Andy for his alert spotting of this data. The following is what he sent me.


Der Reformer and Pennsylvania Advertiser,

Publisher John G. Stauffer

Milford Square, Pa.

August 20, 1868, No. 37



     Am 14ten August, in Ober-Saucon, Lecha County, am Hause von John Yoder, an einer Gemüthskrankheit, Levi Jung (Prediger), Sohn von David und Barbara Jung, in einem Alter von 26 Jahren, 10 Monaten und 3 Tagen. Am Sonntag, den 16ten wurde sein entseelter Leichnam an dem Ober-Saucon Mennoniten Versammlungshaus unter einer sehr grossen Anzahl Leichenbe-gleiter dem Schoß der mütterlichen Erde übergeben, bei welcher Gelegenheit Jonas Y. Schultz und John Haldeman von Ohio predigten, Letzterer über die Worte Joh. 5, 25 – 28.


Abstract of Levi Young’s obituary

German Language Newspapers in Bucks County – Volume 2

(this is at the Spruance Library, Bucks County Historical Society, Doylestown, PA)

 

Deaths – German Language Newspapers in Bucks County

Der Reformer and Pennsylvania Advertiser

May 1868 – December 1868

 

p. 12

 

Issue                 Died                 Age 

 

 

8/20/1868         8/14/1868         26 years           Levi Jung, preacher, son of David and

                                                    10 months       Barbara Jung. Died at the house of John

                                                    3 days              Yoder of Upper Saucon, Lehigh Co. Died of

                                                                              severe depression. Interment at Upper

                                                                              Saucon Mennonite Meetinghouse. Officiated

                                                                              by Revs. Jonas Schultz and John

                                                                              Haldeman of Ohio.

 


 

 

Quakertown - Part 3.

 

[Our thanks to David E. Thomann for transcribing this article.]

 

OPINION OF THE COURT


1. The Mennonite Brethren in Christ is a small unincorporated religious association whose membership lies within the German speaking districts of Pennsylvania, and in certain portions of the states of Michigan, Indiana and Ohio, and in Canada. The statistical reports of the annual conference show a total membership of 733, one presiding elder, 14 ordained ministers, 11 probationers and church property valued at $40,242.31. It originated about 1853, but the first step at an organization was taken about 1858 by Father William Gehman when the first semi-annual conference was held in Upper Milford Township, Lehigh county, under the name of Evangelical Mennonite Church of Pennsylvania. The conference consisted of two elders, three deacons and two preachers of the word. Its membership was very small and was made up of the persons who withdrew from other churches; in other words, they were themselves dissenters and seceders, having withdrawn from the Oberholtzer Menonites, commonly called Menonites No.2. The occasion for such withdrawal was that they favored holding of prayer meetings while those from whom they withdrew did not. This association retained its original name until 1879. About this time a religious association was found to exist whose members held like religious views. They called themselves the United Menonites of Canada, Michigian, Indiana and Ohio. It was found that these several religious bodies agreed in their views of the Bible, and a union was proposed and effected under the name of Evangelical United Menonites. This name was retained until 1883, when by common consent, the name was changed to the Menonite Brethren in Christ, under which name the association is now known.

2. At the time of the organization in 1858 they had no churches or meeting houses and worshiped in private houses. In 1879 when the union was effected they had four or five churches. During this period there was practically no church discipline or form of government. They held semi-annual conferences, but what authority they exercised, if any, does not appear. They seem to have been religious meetings. Father Gehman, the founder of the church or religious association testified that he was the elder during this entire period: that he preached and performed the higher offices of the church, "such as baptizing and administering the sacrament:" that at the time they had no regulations to select a preacher: that where they lived the ministers preached, and if the conference took care that they had a minister and provided one. The first attempt at a form of discipline was made in the publication of the discipline in 1867, exhibit "A". There was no evidence whatever to show the manner of holding such church property as they then had.

3. The fundamental law is claimed to be Episcopal in form. It is in part formulated in a written discipline annexed to the bill marked exhibit "A" and partly founded upon usages and customs which it is claimed to have become the law of the association. These usages and customs as shown by the plaintiffs upon the hearing are in many respects greatly at variance with the written discipline made a part of the bill. The title page of the discipline, exhibit "A", is entitled "Doctrine and Faith and Church Discipline of the Evangelical Menonite Society of East Pennsylvania". And the name of the plaintiff association as averred in the bill, in 1867 the date of its publication, was the Evangelical Menonite Church of Pennsylvania. This discipline was prepared by William Gehman and other elders of this association, and not withstanding the slight variance in its title was printed, it was no doubt intended and accepted by the association as its doctrine of faith and church disciplines. No other discipline is averred in the bill.

4. The principles of faith as declared in the discipline consist chiefly of copious citations from the Bible and their interpretations, and reference thereto is unnecessary.

5. The material parts of the discipline in so far as it elates to the organization and government of the society or association, provide as follows:

OFFICES
Section 1.


Article 1. The offices of this society are of three kinds, viz:

First: The office of elders.
Second: The office of ordinary preachers or teachers.
Third: The office of Overseers or Deacons.

Article 2. Provides for the personal qualifications of an elder.

Article 3. No one can be chosen to conduct the ordinary service of the Word of God unless he received good testimony of the majority of his congregation or congregations in which he shall be elected: and as the elders must be chosen from the ordinary ministers it is particularly necessary to have regard to the capability of those that shall be elected, according to 2 Tim, 2-24"


Article 4. Decrees that as many overseers, or deacons, shall be in each congregation as shall be deemed necessary, who must be such men (as far as the congregation can ascertain) as are described , Acts 6, 3:1Tim 3,7".


Section 2.
Election of Ministers in General

 

“Article 1. From two persons who possess such abilities have been enumerated in Sec. 1 art. 2, an elder shall be chosen by lot, or if no two persons acknowledged to be able, are at hand, the congregation or congregations by a majority of votes, may elect one of the congregation or congregations, who is acknowledged to be able according to Acts 1,23:
Chap. 5,6"

“Article 2. If any one receive an extraordinary call – that is, "when any one feels himself urged by a call from God to preach, – by agreement of the congregation he shall have permission to do so, yet he shall be on probation for one year before he shall be ordained."

“Article 3. Decrees that the ordinary ministers of the Word of God shall be chosen in the following way and manner, namely:"When the congregation or congregations have become unanimous to elect a Minister or Preacher, then shall a minister of the Word, before voting is entered upon, remind the congregation particularly of the importance of the ministry and see that throughout regard may be had to the Gospel, to elect no one that is not qualified to each, but such a one that possesses good faculties, such as a clear and distinct voice, natural, or a blameless life (2 Tim. 2,24), then prayerfully to nominate such, after which the congregation shall hold an election of those nominated, and those two who shall have received a plurality of votes shall draw lots, and he upon whom the lot falls shall be a willingly accepted by the congregation as the minister of the Word, ordained of God."

“Article 4. Provides questions to be answered by a minister or deacon before ordination or installation.

“Article 5. Provides for the ordination of an elder by another elder by laying on of hands.

“Article 6. When any one is elected to the ordinary Ministry, according to the order given in Art, 2 and 3, on elder shall (and if an elder be not at hand, another ordinary minister shall) install in the office of common ministry the newly elected one, by agreement of the congregation in which the newly elected shall serve.

“Article 7. Deacons or almoners, can be chosen by lot or elected publicly in the congregation, as a vote of two thirds may decide, yet in every case regard must be had to the integrity and piety of the person of persons nominated."

“Article 8. Determines that an ordinary minister may install in office an elected deacon by agreement of the congregation in which the newly elected shall serve"


Section 3
Duties of Officers


“Article 1. The duties of an elder are to continue in prayer to proclaim the Word of God in purity and sincerity, to exercise reason among those who are obedient to the faith, orderly to administer baptism and the Lord's Supper according to the intention of Christ, to watch over the ordinary ministers as well as the deacons and congregation or congregations, to become acquainted with those who have trusted their souls to his guardianship in order that at the proper time he may give each one his due, and to teach and practice nothing except that which agrees strictly with the doctrine of Christ. It is his duty, in conjunction with the ordinary ministers and deacons as also by agreement of the congregation in many cases when its counsel is necessary, to enforce and exercise Christian order in his congregation, according to the doctrine of the gospel. He shall be a pattern to believers, in word, in behavior, in spirit, in faith, in purity, etc.

“Article 2. The duties of an ordinary ministers of the Word of God are in every case to support the elder, so far as the elder will discharge the duties of his office according to the doctrine of the gospel and as far as he is in need of his assistance. Acts 16,9."

“Article 3. No ordinary minister, as well as no deacon, can be employed by an elder for service unless they are unanimous in doctrine, life and faith. 2 Cor. 6,14-16.

“Article 4. The ordinary ministers, or the deacons shall be allowed to discharge all the duties of the different offices, yet only in case of necessity shall they be permitted to administer the breaking of bread of the Lord's Supper."

“Article 5. At all times the counsel and consent of a congregation are Called for when anything of importance shall be undertaken and transacted in it. "

“Article 6. Confers upon the ordinary ministers all the powers and duties of an elder, "except the exercise of those high duties that are Pointed out in the 4th article under section 3, that all things may
always be done in order. "

“Article 7. Provides for the visitation of the poor and sick and to administer alms &c, as deemed necessary by the congregation; and article 8 authorizes the deacon to receive all moneys given by the congregation for the poor, &c.

“Article 9. It is the duty of the deacon to see that there is always order in the congregation. He shall also inform his fellow ministers or the congregation when he discovers anything which threatens danger to the congregation soon counsel may be taken in regard to it, and that a right watchful eye may be had upon the doctrines and church of Christ, as is becoming."

Articles ten and eleven can have no bearing on the controversy.
Section 4
Conference


“Article 1. The sitting of the conference shall be held semi-annually.

“Article 2. Divine services shall be held publicly in the forenoon of the day appointed for the sitting of the conference.”

“Article 3. There shall be a president and a secretary. These shall be elected by a majority of the members of the conference only for one sitting, yet by the agreement shall be eligible again.”

“Article 4. It shall be the duty of the president to open the meeting with singing and prayer, and then to hold the election to choose president and secretary.”

“Article 5. The official and moral conduct of the preachers and deacons shall be examined.”

“Article 6. It shall be the duty of the secretary to enter all the transaction of the conference in a book.”

“Article 7. The members of the conference shall only be engaged in such matters that aim at the welfare and edification of this society, as well as the kingdom of Jesus Christ generally.”

 

Section 5 (Page 38, Discipline)


Articles one, two, three and four provide for the disciplining by the congregation of its offending members, and article five prescribes the forbidden acts, etc.

“Article 6. Shows that when an elder, ordinary minister, or deacon has Become guilty of such a crime the congregation shall authorize someone to investigate the matter without delay: and incase the matter shall be confirmed, he shall be suspended until the sitting of the next conference. If the accused cannot free himself then, and if he will show no sincere sorrow, to the satisfaction of the congregation, he shall be deposed from his office until he manifest sincere and unfeigned repentance.”

Article 7. Provides that always two witnesses who command respect be required to convict an officer of any offence.

Articles twelve and thirteen provide that no additions, annulments or alterations to this discipline shall be made without the consent of two-thirds of the members of the conference.


The foregoing extracts from the discipline cover all that can possibly relate to the controversy. The discipline provides for no trustees, nor any method for acquiring, holding or controlling of church
property.

 

6. This discipline has never been altered or amended. At the hearing counsel for plaintiffs offered in evidence a book, purporting to be the discipline of 1888. The offer was not accompanied with an offer to show that it had been adopted. The defendants objected on the ground that plaintiffs based their bill upon the discipline of 1867, which was made part of it. The objection was sustained . The plaintiffs did not ask for leave to amend the bill.

7. While the law of the association stood as above set forth, the Quakertown congregation or class was founded, and the work which related in the organization of a church at Quakertown was started. This was about 1868. Jonas Musselman was the preacher. Services were held in private houses and later in the hall. Then came up the question of building a church. The members of the congregation or some of them, made application to the Court of Common Pleas of Buck County to be incorporated into body corporate under the name and title of the "Evangelical Menonite Church of Quakertown, Bucks County, Pa." It is frequently referred to by the witnesses as the Quakertown Church, and also as the Third Street Church.

8. By its charter the said corporation was authorized to hold real estate “by gift, grant, bargain, sale, conveyance, devise, bequest or otherwise from any person or persons whomsoever." It also thereby further provided as follows:

Article III

Jonas Musselman, Henry M. Smith and Jacob Horn shall be trustees of the church to remain in office until their successors shall have been elected. The election of trustees and all other officers shall be provided for by-laws of this corporation. The president of said board of trustees shall be the president of this corporation.

Article IV

The temporal affairs of the corporation shall be managed and conducted by the trustees of said church, but no real estate shall be sold except by a majority of the male members of said church.

Article V

The object of the association are the worship of God according to the directions given in the New Testament.

Article VI

The pastor of the church shall be elected by a majority of the members of said church in good standing, and no one shall be allowed to preach in said church except by consent of the preacher and majority of the elders, deacons and trustees.

Article VII

The spiritual affairs of said church shall be under the control of the pastor and all the elders and deacons, and they shall decide by a majority of votes as to the proper qualifications of members applying for admission to said church.

The members of said corporation were given the power to make by-laws, but no by-laws were ever in fact made.

The decree of incorporation was made on September 16, 1872, and no alterations or amendments have since been made.

8. On the following day, September 17, 1872, a conveyance of the lot on which the church in controversy was erected was made to the "Evangelical Menonite Church of Quakertown of Quakertown Borough, its successors and assigns" in whose name the title to the lot now stands. A house of worship was there upon erected on said lot. It was constructed partly from materials taken from an old meeting house in Haycock township, which had been used as a place of worship by the Evangelical Menonites, and partly from new materials. Much of the labor was contributed by the members of the congregation as well as by friends who did not belong to the church. The necessary money was chiefly collected by Jonas Musselman, the preacher or elder of the congregation, and in charge of the erection of the church, some from members of the congregation, some from members of other congregations of the association, and some from
people connected with the Evangelical Menonite Church, its then name. Some of the contributions were made upon the express representations of Mr. Musselman that the church should be free and independent from any denominational or ecclesiastical body. Mr. Musselman also stated to some of the contributors that the legal steps had been taken for the incorporation of the church which was for the purpose of securing the church property from ecclesiastical control. There is nothing in the charter to subject the said church to the control, management or discipline of the Evangelical Mennonite Church of Pennsylvania, its then name. The members of the congregation as it existed at the time of the incorporation, allowing for deaths, removals, etc., with such as have since associated themselves with it, have continuously worshipped in said church to this date, except seven or eight who voluntarily ceased the worship there, and who have since erected Beulah Chapel as a place of worship, through whom as the adherents to the general organization of the Menonite Brethren in Christ, the plaintiffs in this bill, seek to recover.

9. From 1879, after the union with the other churches was effected, under the name of Evangelical United Menonites, the church policy became more defined as Episcopal in form. These innovations were made in disregard of the printed discipline of 1867, exhibit "A". They are founded upon usages and customs established from time to time, and rest solely upon the testimony of the witnesses and the records of the proceedings as recorded in the minutes of the annual conferences. From that date the semi-annual conferences were dispensed with. A general conference was established which meets every four years. Its jurisdiction was not defined. An annual and quarterly conferences were established. Classes were then organized. By a class is understood where a quarterly conference was held. Individual churches and congregations are also referred to as classes. The person in charge of a congregation or class is called an elder, preacher or teacher. A presiding elder was chosen from their own number. He is the highest officer. He holds an presides over the annual and quarterly conferences, and performs the higher functions of the church such as the administration of the sacraments. At the annual conference, the elders, preachers or teachers are assigned to the several congregations or classes. For this purpose they have a stationing committee. This consists of the presiding elder and the lay delegates one from each congregation or class. The stationing committee goes into secret session and assigns the elders or preachers in the respective congregations or classes. The elders or preachers so assigned are expected to go to the posts to which they have been assigned without objection. The selection of the preachers or elders by lot, or by vote of the congregation as provided for in the discipline of 1867 is disregarded. The conference gradually extended its authority not only over spiritual, but also over the temporal affairs of the various churches. It assumed to appoint trustees over them and thus acquire control of the church property of the various congregations or classes. It was the attempt on the part of the quarterly conference to elect or appoint a trustee or trustees for the Quakertown church that led up to the controversy now before the court.

10. The Quakertown congregation or class worshipped in accordance with the teachings and practices of the Evangelical Mennonites, later called the Evangelical Mennonites, later called the Evangelical United Mennonites now the United Brethren in Christ, and affiliated with that body. It sent its lay delegates to the various conferences, and the elder or preacher in charge and the lay delegates participated in the proceedings. It made its financial reports to the conference. The annual conference through its stationing committee assigned the elder or preacher to the Quakertown class for the year ensuing such conference in the same manner as for other churches or classes, and the elder or preacher so assigned was accepted by the congregation. Mr. Zyner had been assigned and was acting as preacher or elder under such assign-arose.


11. At the last quarterly conference for 1893, the conference elected or appointed a trustee for the Quakertown Church. This was the first time such an attempt was made by the conference to appoint a trustee for the Quakertown Church. Though the appointment was not repudiated, it created strife, contention and dissatisfaction in the congregation, and between the congregation and the conference. At the last meeting of the following year, (1894) held at Hatfield, the quarterly conference again asserted the right to appoint a second trustee for said church. Mr. Zyner, the elder or preacher in charge, protested against such action, on the ground that the members of the Quakertown Church were an incorporated body; that they had a charter from the Court of Common Pleas of Bucks County and held the church property as a corporate body; that the conference had no control over the property; that they had the right under the charter to elect their own trustees; that they had done so before and desire to continue to do so. In the face of this objection the quarterly conference declined to make the appointment. It was arranged between Mr.Zyner and the presiding elder to refer the matter to the next annual conference to convene in February following. This arrangement was not approved by the Quakertown class or congregation. The members of the church or congregation then held the usual corporate meeting on the first day of January for the election of trustees and other officers, and elected a trustee for three years as usual. At the same meeting they elected Mr. Zyner as the elder or preacher. This action was taken in the exercise of their charter rights.

12. At the annual conference which convened on February 1, 1895, the matter was taken up and it was resolved by the said conference.

1. That the conference continue to elect the trustees at the last quarterly conference of each year.
2. That the annual conference appeal to the next general conference to specify the place and time for the election of trustees more definitely.
3. That the election of trustee in Quakertown class since the last quarterly meeting was illegal.

13. Mr.Zyner was then charged with disloyalty, untruthfulness, and conspiracy, and convicted, and it was directed that no appointment should be assigned him. It was also ordered and directed that if he did not humble himself, severe measures should be taken. Mr. Zyner refused to comply. A committee was appointed in this matter recommended to the conference resolution which was adopted, and which is in the following form: "That the conference does not recognize him (Zyner) as a member of our conference or denomination from henceforth". Following this resolution twenty two members of the Quakertown class or church, withdrew their membership in "M. B. in Christ Church and conference" to take effect from the date thereof, February 5, 1895.

By what authority this action was taken by the conference does not appear. The discipline annexed to the bill does not provide for it. Nor does it provide for an appeal.

14. The trustees of the Quakertown Church ignored the action of the annual conference as to the appointment of trustees and the assignment by the conference of Rev. Wilson Steinmetz as their elder or preacher and refused him and others who were later assigned permission to preach in the church.

At this time the class or congregation of the Quakertown Church consisted of forty-two members. Of this number seven or eight voluntarily ceased to worship in the Quakertown Church. They were never excluded from the church for the purpose of worshipping or otherwise. They were David Bosler and his wife; Titus Taylor, the trustee appointed by the quarterly conference, and whose appointment was not recognized by the congregation, and his wife; a Mrs. Sterner and two or three others whose names were not given. These then worshiped under the ministration of the Rev. Wilson Steinmetz who had been assigned by the conference, and later under the ministration of Rev. George Campbell and others who had likewise been assigned by the conference. A chapel was afterwards built on Juniper street, called Beulah Chapel, where others who have since associated themselves with them, now worship under name of the Mennonite Brethren in Christ under the ministration of Elder W. S. Hottel who is assigned to the Quakertown class by the conferences, and who is one of the plaintiffs in the bill.

The other thirty-four members (twenty-two of whom had formally withdrawn their membership from the Mennonite Brethren in Christ Church and conference) repudiated the action of the annual conference, and thereafter elected their own trustees as they always had done, and thereafter elected the elder or preacher in pursuance of article six of the charter. Mr Zyner was elected the preacher or elder, and has since been re-elected from year to year, and is now the preacher in charge and one of the defendants in this bill.

They have ever since been in the actual possession of the church and have ceased all relations with the quarterly and annual conference of the Mennonite Brethren in Christ.

Henry M. Smith, Stephen Trumbauer and Frank Schuler, three of the defendants named in this bill, are the duly qualified trustees of the corporation under its charter, and the said M. A. Zyner is the duly elected pastor of said church by a majority of its members as provided for by the charter.

Conclusion of the Law

1. The Evangelical Menonite Church of Quakertown, Bucks County, Pa., is a separate and independent body corporate duly organized and existing under the laws of said state.
2. The real estate in question is conveyed to, owned and held by the said corporation.
3. The temporal affairs of the corporation are managed and conducted by the trustees of said church, selected by the members thereof, as provided for in the carter, and the real estate of said corporation is under the management and control of the trustees of said corporation.
4. The said corporation under its charter is not allied with any denomination nor made subject to the discipline, usages or custom of any particular denomination but it is organized for the sole purpose of "the worship of God according to the direction given in the New Testament, and there being no restrictions or reservations in the deed, the real estate of the corporation is held for the uses and purposed set forth in the charter.
5. The complainants have not shown any title, legal or equitable, to the church property in question, or any rights or authority over the same, as against the trustees and the corporation now holding possession thereof, and are therefore not entitled to the relief prayed for.
6. The bill should be dismissed.

Argument
The law in this state is settled beyond controversy, that the title to church property of a congregation that is divided is in that part of the congregation that is in harmony with its own laws, usages and customs as accepted by the body before the division took place, and who adhere to the regular organization, and that in such case it does not matter that a majority of any given congregation annual conference is with those who dissent. Krecker et al v. Shirley et al. 163 Pa.,534.


The difficulty in this case is to determine whether under the facts the plaintiffs bring themselves within the established rule.


The plaintiffs claim title and control of the property in question on the theory that they are the adherents to the regular organization of an unincorporated association of Christian people, now known as Menonite Brethren in Christ, but who were known at the time of the organization of this congregation as Evangelical Menonites: that this congregation or class was one of a number of congregations which constituted the association of Evangelical Menonites: that the incorporators of this congregation were adherents to this association: that some money had been contributed for the erection of the church by members of the association who were not members of this congregation or class: that the materials of an abandoned meeting house of Evangelical Menonites had been used in the construction of said church that the congregation worshiped according to the doctrines, usages and customs of the Evangelical Menonites: that the congregation sent delegates to the several conferences who participated in the deliberations and official actions thereof: that the congregation made financial reports to the conferences: that they accepted the preachers or elders assigned to them by the annual conferences: that by reason of the above acts and practices of said congregation and the individual members thereof, they became a constituent part of the general body of Evangelical Menonites, now Menonite Brethren in Christ and that when the defendants, through a majority of the congregation , refused to accept the appointment of a trustee and preacher or elder by the annual conference in February 1895, they seceded, and thereby forfeited their rights to the church property: and that the minority who voluntarily ceased to worship in said church, and thereafter worshiped in private houses under the ministration of the preacher assigned by the conference, are the adherents of the general body of Evangelical Menonites; and as such are entitled to the possession and control of the church property in question.


The question involved is whether the title to this property, legal or equitable, was ever in the unincorporated association of Evangelical Menonites, represented by the plaintiffs in this bill. If it was, then the case is with the plaintiffs. The defendants would then occupy the position of seceders from the parent church, and as such would have forfeited all their rights in the church property.

But the defendants take the position that they are an independent corporate body: that they are the true representatives of this corporate body, and that such of the plaintiffs who had been members of it by their voluntary withdrawal, had forfeited their rights in its property: and that the unincorporated association of Evangelical Menonites never had any interest whatever in the property in question.

The conveyance of the property is from the vender to the corporation by deed in the usual form. It is clear that the legal title is not the unincorporated association . Has it an equitable title? The deed contains no declaration of trust: nor is it averred that a declaration of trust was intended; neither does it provide that said corporation shall hold it subject to the customs, usages or discipline of said unincorporated association. Some of the money and labor, if not most of it, were contributed upon the express representation that the church should be free and independent from any denominational body, and that the corporation was formed for the expressed purpose of securing that end. The charter itself bears strong evidence of such a purpose. The sole object declared in the charter is "the worship of God according to the directions given in the New Testament." It would have been difficult to declare a more general and more liberal object. It placed the temporal affairs and the control of its property into the hands of trustees: three persons were made trustees to remain in office until their successors were elected and trustees and other officers to be elected as provided by the by-laws. No by-laws were ever made but one trustee was elected on January first of each year by the members of the congregation to serve three years. This was done every year until 1894, when the conference assumed to appoint trustees.
The sixth article provided that “the pastor of said church shall be elected by a majority of the members in good standing, and no one shall be allowed to preach in said church except by the consent of the pastor and a majority of the elders deacons and trustees.” Generally all powers conferred by the charter were to be exercised by the church through its pastor, elders, deacons or trustees elected by its members. No powers were conferred upon any other body. The corporation was formed for the express purpose of taking title to the property, and the conveyance was made on the day after the decree of incorporation was made, September 17, 1872. Two of the early preachers of this congregation, Jonas Musselman and William N. Shelly, singed the application for the charter, and one of them, Musselman, who collected the funds to erect the church, was made a trustee under the charter. The matter was then fresh in the minds of those concerned and no concealment, fraud or mistake is averred. We must assume that what was done was intended to be done.

 

The plaintiffs make the discipline of 1867 a part of the bill, and thereby seek to establish their claim. But in this they also fail. Assuming for the sake of argument that the Quakertown church at its formation was allied with the general body of Evangelical Menonites, the discipline so far as it goes, leaves all matters in which the congregation is concerned to the congregation itself for final determination. The church polity under the discipline is congregational rather than episcopal in form. There is nothing in the charter that is really at variance with the discipline. There is nothing in it regulating the acquiring or holding or control of church property by the unincorporated association, or by any congregation made up of its adherents. At the time it was adopted the religious meetings were held at the dwelling houses of the members. No distinct places of worship were maintained. Father Gehman testified, that at the first union (1879) there were only for or five congregations that had church property. He also testified that during the early period of the association they had no regulations how to select a minister; that where they lived ministers preached; and if there were none in the community the conference took care that they had one. The discipline of 1867 provided a method for the selection of ministers or preachers, but it was still left to the congregations. It was done in two ways. Either by election by a majority of the congregations, or if there were a number of candidates, the preacher was selected by lot from the two having the highest number of votes. The discipline provided for a conference but it did not provide for the assignment of preachers by the conference. If a minister offend “the congregation shall authorize someone to investigate the matter without delay, and in case the matter be confirmed, he shall be suspended until the sitting of the next conference; if the accused cannot free himself then, and if he shall show no sincere sorrow, to the satisfaction of the congregation, he shall be deposed” &c. Section 3, article 5, provides that “at all times the counsel and consent of a congregation are called for when anything of importance shall be undertaken and transacted in it.” The spirit of the discipline throughout is to make the congregation the controlling body of all matters pertaining to it own affairs.

 

The declared purpose of the corporation is the “worship of God according to the directions given in the New Testament.” It is not averred that the church is applied to any other use. There is no question of religious faith or doctrine involved in this case.

 

Stress is laid upon the fact that material from an abandoned meeting house were used in the erection of the building. This was but one of the many contributions that were received. “The property does not belong to the contributors, but to the corporation, to be used by the corporation according to its charter.” Bethlehem Boro v. Perseverance Fire Co., 81 Pa., 458. “Those who contributed their money did so with full knowledge, or without injury, and must beheld to have given of their substance upon implied understanding, at least that it was subject in its appropriation and use to the purpose for which the chapel was founded.” Rector of Christ Church &c. vs. Rector &c of Holy Trinity, 8 W. N. C. 550. The circumstances of their permitting others, not claiming to be members of that church, to join them in improving the lot, and afterwards in the exercised of public or divine worship performed there, could not divest them of their right acquired under the deed; nor could they, indeed, dispose of the same in any way whatever so as to defeat the primary object of the granters.” Means v. Presbyterian Church 3 W. & S., 313.

 

There is no doubt that in religious belief and form of worship the members of this congregation were in harmony with the unincorporated association of Evangelical Menonites, now Menonite Brethren in Christ; that they affiliated with them in their services; that they sent delegates to the quarterly and annual conferences who took part in the proceedings; that they rendered their accounts to such conferences; that they accepted the preachers assigned by the annual conferences through the stationing committees. Does this deprive the congregation of its corporate rights and divest it of the control of its corporate property? We think not. In Sarver and Others’ appeal 81* Pa., 193, it is said: “In the last case, (Baptist Congregation v. Scannel) it is also held that the congregational meetings can not control, or the customs of church meetings take away the chartered rights of the incorporated society. ‘The customs of one portion of the society cannot as such, deprive the other portion of its rights.’ It is plain, therefore, that the acts of the majority, in the violation of the fundamental article of the charter of this corporation, persisted in wilfully, are the subject of control by a bill in equity in the court of Common Pleas, which will use all the powers of a chancellor to compel them to desist and return to an observance of their charter duty.” This is especially applicable to a case like this, where as soon as it was known that the conference assumed the unwarranted authority to appoint trustees and thereby get control of the corporate property, the congregation objected, and asserted the right to select their own trustee as they has always done. It was this controversy that led to the suspension and final removal of Mr. Zyner from the office of preacher by the conference. By what authority he was tried and removed does not appear. It was surely not done under the provisions of the discipline made part of the bill. Nor is there a right of appeal provided for. The charge was made by the presiding elder and the action was taken by the conference. Notwithstanding his deposition by the conference, the congregation at their annual meeting for that purpose elected him as the preacher of said church and he has officiated as such to this date. This they could lawfully do because there is nothing in said charter to require the selection of a preacher from such as are connected with any particular faith, denomination or association. All that is required under the charter is the “worship of God according to the directions given in the New Testament.” It is not alleged that this requirement is not met.

 

Under all the facts in this case the court is of the opinion that the Evangelical Church of Quakertown is an independent corporate body, and that the defendants herein named are the true and lawful representatives thereof.

 

Now, May 20, 1907, this case came on to be further heard at this term, and was argued by counsel, and upon consideration there, it is ordered and adjudged and decreed that the bill be dismissed at the costs of the plaintiffs.

 

By the Court,

Mahlon H. Stout,

President Judge.

 


 

 

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Dick Taylor

723 South Providence Road

Wallingford PA 19086

Telephone and Fax - 610-876-8725

Email - RETaylor@attglobal.net