54 Mo. 353 (Mo. 1873), Watson v. Garvin

Citation:54 Mo. 353
Opinion Judge:BLISS, Judge.
Party Name:SAMUEL S. WATSON, et al., Respondents, v. ALEXANDER GARVIN et al., Appellants.
Attorney:Glover & Shepley, and Lackland, Martin & Lackland, for Appellants. Orrick & Emmons, for Respondents.
Court:Supreme Court of Missouri

Page 353

54 Mo. 353 (Mo. 1873)

SAMUEL S. WATSON, et al., Respondents,

v.

ALEXANDER GARVIN et al., Appellants.

Supreme Court of Missouri.

October Term, 1873

Appeal from Sixth District Court.

The following is the original opinion of the court rendered upon the first hearing of the case by Judge Bliss.

No briefs of counsel as presented on the first hearing, except such as were also presented on the re-hearing, have been furnished to the reporter.

OPINION

BLISS, Judge.

This controversy is between the members of two local church organizations, each styling itself the first Presbyterian church of St. Charles, and grows out of the action of the general assembly (O. S.) of the Presbyterian church, dissolving the Presbytery of St. Louis, and which was under review in The State ex rel. Watson vs. Farris, 45 Mo. 183. The action is for the recovery of the church building, parsonage and grounds.

The church was organized in 1818. The lot upon which the buildings are situate was obtained of the town of St. Charles in 1833, and in 1857 the title was confirmed by the school directors of the city, in whom it had become vested. The ordinance under which the first deed was executed directed that the property be conveyed in fee simple to the elders and deacons of the Presbyterian church of St. Charles and their successors, with the special condition that it shall never be used for any other than religious purposes appertaining to the Presbyterian church of the town, & c.; and by the second deed the school directors, acting under an act of the legislature, released to Watson and others, their heirs and assigns, the same lot, in trust for the congregation of the First Presbyterian church of St. Charles, to be used and occupied for religious worship, & c., with a condition of reversion if used for secular purposes. The legal title to the property comes through the last deed, and as its conditions do not contravene the equities which might be claimed to have accrued from the occupation and improvement of the property under authority of the town, we need only look to that deed for the conditions upon which the property is held. And I may here premise that there is nothing in the terms of the deed creating the trust that shows that the congregation is or requires that it shall remain connected with or subject to any particular ecclesiastical jurisdiction, and if such requirement is found, it must arise from the fact that from its first organization it has been under the care of a presbytery which was subject to the jurisdiction of, first, the General Assembly of the Presbyterian church before its division in 1837, and afterwards of the Old School Assembly.

It is unnecessary to refer in detail to the unhappy controversy that has resulted in the rival organizations that claim the property involved in this suit. The leading facts are stated in the State ex rel. Watson vs. Farris, supra, and it is now sufficient to say that the defendants compose the majority of the congregation, and adhere to the presbytery of St. Louis, sought to be dissolved by the ipso facto ordinance of the General Assembly, and the plaintiffs, composing the minority, and desiring to retain their connection with the General Assembly through that presbytery of St. Louis which is still in fellowship with it, seceded, organized anew, and is recognized by the presbytery last named as the First Presbyterian church of St. Charles. Hence we have two local organizations of the same name, one, constituted by defendants, in possession of the property, and claiming a right to its continued possession from the fact that it is the original organization for whose use the property was conveyed, and has violated no condition of the grant, or in any manner forfeited its right to the continued use, and the other constituted by the plaintiffs, seeking the possession upon the ground that there is an implied condition that the church shall continue in the ecclesiastical connection held when the grant was made; that on the part of the defendants such connection has been dissolved, and that the plaintiffs compose the only organization entitled to the use of the property, according to such condition.

The plaintiffs seem to suppose that the question controlling the rights of the parties to this suit was decided by us in the State ex rel. Watson vs. Farris, but they mistake the scope of that decision. The action of the General Assembly there considered was purely ecclesiastical, and the power in controversy depended upon ecclesiastical action merely. As the highest legislative and judicial power in a centralized church, it had but exercised its ancient prerogative in making and unmaking presbyteries. They were its constituent bodies. The expediency or even the right to exercise such a power over them was an ecclesiastical question which the Assembly was competent to decide. Vacancies in the board of trustees of Lindenwood college were, by the terms of its charter, to be filled by a presbytery in connection with the General Assembly. To fill such vacancies by any other presbytery would be a violation of the charter. This provision was a designation of the body that should possess the power of appointing trustees, and indicated the relations of the body to which the founders of the charity would entrust its administration. The confidence and trust was rather in the General Assembly than in the local presbytery, and we were bound to assume that they acted in view of such a customary exercise of its power. Especially is this so when we see that the supervision of the Old School Assembly, instead of the New was provided for, the significance of which will appear when we consider that the schism creating the Old and New School bodies, arose out of an assumption by one party, and a denial by the other of the power of cutting off and dissolving synods and presbyteries by simple edict, without citation and trial. It is unnecessary to say what would have been our view in regard to the action of the General Assembly complained of, had its effect been to deprive the members of the St. Louis presbytery of property held for their personal use, as of a fund provided for their support. It might, perhaps, have been necessary to look behind the ipso facto ordinance to see whether it was regular and the deprivation lawful.

Nor do I understand, as seems also to be assumed, that the action of the General Assembly referred to, either deposed or excommunicated the clergymen composing the St. Louis Presbytery, or that it attempted to dissolve or in any manner affect the local churches in connection with it. An attempt was made to dissolve the presbytery, and its connection with the assembly was actually sundered, but the ministers remained ministers, and the churches remained intact. The clerical character of the former, and the organization of the latter are as complete as before the action of the assembly. Hence, when the defendants are spoken of as being out of the church, as having left the church, etc., nothing more is meant than that the presbytery, under whose care they have always been, is no longer in connection with the General Assembly. I have not learned that the Assembly ever attempts to depose a minister, except upon trial or appeal, or to deal directly with judicatories lower than presbyteries. They, and not the churches or ministers, are its constituents.

In the case before referred to (State, & c. vs. Farris), we considered the extent to which we will go in passing upon the regularity of the action of ecclesiastical bodies, and held that in ecclesiastical matters we will treat such action as conclusive as to the ecclesiastical relations of subordinate bodies. The old presbytery of St. Louis, after the resolution of the General Assembly referred to, became an independent ecclesiastical body, and though continuing a presbytery in fact, is outside the national organization under the jurisdiction of such Assembly. While the adherence of defendants to this presbytery cannot be treated as a voluntary withdrawal from their connection with the General Assembly, for they did not withdraw in fact, yet they had the power to repudiate the action of their presbytery and place themselves under the care of one recognized by the Assembly. As good Presbyterians, they perhaps, should have done so; but not choosing to make the change, we are compelled to inquire into the effect of their action upon their property rights.

It is not pretended that the property in dispute is held under any express condition of subordination by the cestui que trust to any church judiciary. So far as the conveyance is concerned, no one would know to which of the numerous branches of the Presbyterian church this congregation belonged, or whether the name was not used with reference to its internal organization, rather than its subordination. So then, if we find the condition at all, it must arise from the fact that, from the beginning, it was in constant subordination to some presbytery which was a constituent of the General Assembly.

The authorities bearing upon the right of local congregations to control the property held by them or for their use, are so numerous and sometimes apparently conflicting, that in order to know what principles may be considered as settled, I deem it necessary to consider a few of them more at length than is ordinarily admissible.

The case of The Commonwealth vs. Green, 4 Wharton 531, can only be treated as authority in regard to the power of the General Assembly of the Presbyterian church over its synods and presbyteries. The power, the exercise of which gave rise to that controversy, was disputed by a large portion of the most distinguished members of that church; a new Assembly was organized, including the exscinded Presbyterians...

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4 practice notes
  • 208 F. 319 (W.D.Mo. 1913), 3,540 and 3,546, Barkley v. Hayes
    • United States
    • Federal Cases United States District Courts 8th Circuit Western District of Missouri
    • 16 de Agosto de 1913
    ...It is claimed, however, that a rule of property was established in Missouri by a consistent line of previous decisions. Watson v. Garvin, 54 Mo. 353; Russie v. Brazzell, 128 Mo. 93, 30 S.W. 526, 49 Am.St.Rep. 542; Fulbright v. Higginbotham, 133 Mo. 676, 34 S.W. 875. The only principle laid ......
  • 155 N.Y. 83, Baxter v. McDonnell
    • United States
    • New York New York Court of Appeals
    • 1 de Março de 1898
    ...v. Machado, 6 Abb. Pr. 198; Turner v. Roby, 3 N.Y. 193; McLaughlin v. Nichols, 13 Abb. Pr. 244; 2 Black. on Judg. § 523; Watson v. Gaivin, 54 Mo. 353.) The appellant is in no position to urge the decision of the church tribunal as an arbitration and award. (Brazill v. Isham, 12 N.Y. 9; Denn......
  • 111 Misc.2d 867, Zimbler v. Felber
    • United States
    • 2 de Dezembro de 1981
    ...uniformly held that "in matters purely religious or ecclesiastical, the civil courts have no jurisdiction." (Watson v. Garvin, 54 Mo. 353, 378 The Supreme Court described the first amendment as resting "upon the premise that both religion and government can best work to achie......
  • 226 So.2d 632 (Ala. 1969), 4 Div. 269, First Methodist Church of Union Springs v. Scott
    • United States
    • Alabama Supreme Court of Alabama
    • 4 de Setembro de 1969
    ...and invalid as applied in the instant case. We have carefully considered the authorities cited by respondents, including Watson v. Garvin, 54 Mo. 353, and the criticism therein of Watson v. Jones, 13 Wall. 679, 80 U.S. 679, 20 L.Ed. 666. The later St. Nicholas cases, however, are [284 Ala. ......
4 cases
  • 208 F. 319 (W.D.Mo. 1913), 3,540 and 3,546, Barkley v. Hayes
    • United States
    • Federal Cases United States District Courts 8th Circuit Western District of Missouri
    • 16 de Agosto de 1913
    ...It is claimed, however, that a rule of property was established in Missouri by a consistent line of previous decisions. Watson v. Garvin, 54 Mo. 353; Russie v. Brazzell, 128 Mo. 93, 30 S.W. 526, 49 Am.St.Rep. 542; Fulbright v. Higginbotham, 133 Mo. 676, 34 S.W. 875. The only principle laid ......
  • 155 N.Y. 83, Baxter v. McDonnell
    • United States
    • New York New York Court of Appeals
    • 1 de Março de 1898
    ...v. Machado, 6 Abb. Pr. 198; Turner v. Roby, 3 N.Y. 193; McLaughlin v. Nichols, 13 Abb. Pr. 244; 2 Black. on Judg. § 523; Watson v. Gaivin, 54 Mo. 353.) The appellant is in no position to urge the decision of the church tribunal as an arbitration and award. (Brazill v. Isham, 12 N.Y. 9; Denn......
  • 111 Misc.2d 867, Zimbler v. Felber
    • United States
    • 2 de Dezembro de 1981
    ...uniformly held that "in matters purely religious or ecclesiastical, the civil courts have no jurisdiction." (Watson v. Garvin, 54 Mo. 353, 378 The Supreme Court described the first amendment as resting "upon the premise that both religion and government can best work to achie......
  • 226 So.2d 632 (Ala. 1969), 4 Div. 269, First Methodist Church of Union Springs v. Scott
    • United States
    • Alabama Supreme Court of Alabama
    • 4 de Setembro de 1969
    ...and invalid as applied in the instant case. We have carefully considered the authorities cited by respondents, including Watson v. Garvin, 54 Mo. 353, and the criticism therein of Watson v. Jones, 13 Wall. 679, 80 U.S. 679, 20 L.Ed. 666. The later St. Nicholas cases, however, are [284 Ala. ......