54 N.Y. 551, Connitt v. Reformed Protestant Dutch Church of New Prospect

Citation:54 N.Y. 551
Party Name:GEORGE W. CONNITT et al., Appellants, v. THE REFORMED PROTESTANT DUTCH CHURCH OF NEW PROSPECT et al., Respondents.
Case Date:January 01, 1874
Court:New York Court of Appeals

Page 551

54 N.Y. 551

GEORGE W. CONNITT et al., Appellants,

v.

THE REFORMED PROTESTANT DUTCH CHURCH OF NEW PROSPECT et al., Respondents.

New York Court of Appeal

January 1, 1874

Argued Sept. 16, 1873.

Page 552

COUNSEL

T. R. Westbrook for the appellants. Mr. Connitt is entitled to his salary, because neither of the parties to the contract have sought to terminate it. (Robertson v. Bullions, 1 Kern., 243, 263-265;

Page 553

Bunell v. A. Ref. Church, 44 Barb., 282, 308, 309.)A contract between a minister and his people cannot be added to by implication. (Smith v. Nelson, 18 Vt., 511.) The consistory of the church had no power to terminate Mr. Connitt's pastorate. (Dutch Church v. Bradford, 8 Cow., 457; Martin v. Hinite, Cowp., 437; Religious Soc. v. Stone, 7 J. R., 115; Young v. Ransom, 31 Barb., 49; Sheldon v. Cong. Parish of Easton, 24 Pick., 281; Avery v. Tyringham, 2 Mass., 160, 169, 170.) The act of the classis and the synods in attempting to annul the contract, being without jurisdiction, cannot control the action of the civil courts. (Petty v. Torker, 21 N.Y. 267, 271; Austin v. Searin, 16 Id., 112, 123-125; Delmar v. Ins. Co., 14 Wall., 661, 665, 666; City of Richmond v. Smith, Id., 429, 438; Witherspoon v. Duncan, 4 Id., 217; Smith v. Nelson, 18 Vt., 511-551; Watson v. Avery, 2 Bush, 332; Chase v. Cheney, Am. L. Reg., May, 1871, p. 295; Sheldon v. Cong. Parish of Easton, 24 Pick., 281; Walker v. Wainright, 16 Barb., 486, 487; Const. R. P. D. C., art. 1, chap. 2, § § 1, 2, 6.) The act of the classis in suspending and then deposing Mr. Connitt is void. (Dutch Church v. Bradford, 8 Cow., 494; Oakley v. Aspinwall, 3 Comst., 549, 550.)

M. Schoonmaker for the respondents. Mr. Connitt's tenure of office as pastor was not for life or any specified time. (Humbers v. St. Stephen's Ch., 1 Edw. Ch., 308; Dutch Church v. Bradford, 8 Cow., 466, 467; Youngs v. Ransom, 31 Barb., 49, 58.) The classis had power to dissolve the pastorate. (Dutch Church v. Bradford, 8 Cow., 457, 518.) Where ecclesiastical tribunals have jurisdiction, their decisions are final and binding upon the parties and the civil courts. (Watson v. Jones, Am. L. Reg., July, 1872, vol. 11 [N. S.], 430, 445-447; Robertson v. Bullions, 9 Barb., 64; Bap. Ch. v. Witherell, 3 Paige, 296; Nutter v. Gable, 2 Den., 492; Ger. R. Ch. v. Seibert, 3 Barr [Penn.], 282; 7 Hal. [ N. J.], 206-215; Chase v. Cheney, Am. L. Reg., May, 1871;

Page 554

Jarvis v. Hathaway, 3 J. R., 180; Dutch Church v. Bradford, 457, 504, 518, 527.)

EARL, C.

The plaintiff Connitt was called to be the pastor of the Reformed Protestant Dutch Church of New Prospect, by a form of call prescribed by the constitution of the Reformed Protestant Dutch Church in America. He accepted the call and was duly installed as such pastor. This call and its acceptance constituted the contract between the parties. If we were to look exclusively at that and construe it as we would any ordinary civil contract, we would find it to be a contract for no specified duration of time, and probably terminable at the option of either party. But the call provided that he was "to fulfill the whole work of the gospel ministry, agreeably to the Word of God and the excellent rules and constitution of the Reformed Protestant Dutch Church established in the last national synod at Dordrecht, and ratified and explained by the ecclesiastical judicatory under which all stand, and to which you, in accepting this call, must with us remain subordinate." Thus, the constitution, rules and usages of the church were made a part of the contract and are to be used and referred to in construing it. I have carefully looked into and examined them, and, considering the nature of the contract and the objects to be attained thereby, am of the opinion that it was not terminable at the mere option of either party thereto, but that it was to remain in force until terminated by mutual consent or in some of the modes specified in the constitution and prescribed by the laws and usages of the church. It seems to have been so treated by the parties and by all the church judicatories before which the matter was brought. But I do not find it important definitely to determine this question; for, assuming the contract to be of the permanent nature claimed for it by Mr. Connitt, I still reach a conclusion adverse to him.

After Mr. Connitt had been pastor of the church about eighteen months, three of the four elders and three of the

Page 555

four deacons of the church, together with certain members of the church, applied in writing to the classis to have the pastoral relation dissolved, for certain causes stated. The classis appointed a committee to visit New Prospect and confer with the parties, and to report, for final action, to a special meeting of the classis, to be held November 17th, 1868. The special meeting was held and the committee reported that Mr. Connitt had refused to appear before them, but that they had investigated the matter referred to them, and, for reasons stated by them, advised the adoption of a resolution recommending to both parties mutually to agree to separate, as for the interest alike of pastor and people. On two successive Sabbaths, December 28, 1868, and January 3, 1869, Mr. Connitt read to the congregation of the church a paper giving his views of his relation to the people under his ministerial charge, and his reasons for refusing to consent to the dissolution of his pastoral relation with them. On the twenty-fourth day of January, the three elders and three deacons caused to be read, to the congregation assembled for public worship, a paper signed by them, stating that, under the existing troubles in the church, they did from that time forth decline to act as elders and deacons "under the present pastor." At a meeting of the classis, April twentieth, Mr. Connitt presented a memorial stating the presentation of the above-mentioned paper to the congregation by the elders and deacons and their refusal thereafter to attend any meeting of the church consistory, stating also that "the said elders and deacons have not resigned, but refused to serve; by means of which the consistory is left without a quorum and unable to transact any business whatever, and the church of New Prospect is thereby in danger of complete and fatal disorganization," and praying "for such relief as comes within the constitutional prerogative of a classis to give, in order that the consistory of New Prospect may be so reconstructed as to perform its proper functions." He immediately requested that the paper be returned to him, and he then, on the next day, presented

Page 556

charges against said elders and deacons, specifying various offences against them. On the same day the said elders and two of said deacons again presented to the classis a communication imploring a dissolution of the pastoral relation in their church. The classis then adjourned, to meet at New Prospect, May third, to consider the charges made by Mr. Connitt against the elders and deacons; and it met on that day and appointed a committee to confer with Mr. Connitt and the consistory and others interested, to endeavor to settle the difficulty between them without a resort to judicial proceedings. The committee acted, and reported that, after a lengthened interview with the parties, they found no way practical for adjusting the difficulty, and therefore they referred the matter back to the wisdom of the classis. Thereupon it was resolved that the charges be laid upon the table, and that a committee be appointed to prepare a minute embracing the reasons of the classis for so doing, and a minute of the action proper to be taken by the classis upon the application of the elders and deacons for a dissolution of the pastoral relation. The committee was appointed, and subsequently reported, recommending the passage of the following resolutions, giving reasons therefor:

"Resolved, That the elders and deacons aforesaid be recommended to resume their official duties.

Resolved, That the classis do, in virtue of their inherent power and duty in the care of the church, hereby dissolve the pastoral relation between the Rev. G. W. Connitt and the church of New Prospect. "

And the resolutions were adopted. This was May third Mr. Connitt at once gave notice of appeal from this action to the Particular Synod of Albany. There, after a hearing of the parties, the decision of the classis was affirmed. He then appealed to the General Synod, and there he was again heard and the decision was again affirmed.

After the decision of the classis, one party claimed that Mr. Connitt ceased to be the pastor of the church, and the other that his pastoral relation and his right to his salary continued,

Page 557

and these conflicting claims present the principal question to be determined in this case.

I am of opinion that the classis had jurisdiction to make the decision, and that the pastoral relation was properly dissolved. Mr. Connitt was not called as an independent religious teacher to minister in holy things among the people who called him; he was called, as a minister ordained in the Reformed Protestant Dutch Church in America, to be the pastor of a church belonging to that religious organization. It was part of his contract that he should be subordinate to and under the jurisdiction of the judicatories of that church, and that he should discharge his pastoral duties in obedienee to the constitution, laws and usages thereof.

Under the constitution of that church there are four ecclesiastical assemblies or judicatories: (1.) The consistory, composed of the minister, elders and deacons; (2.) the classis, composed of all the ministers, and an elder delegated from each consistory within certain bounds; (3.) the particular synod, composed of two ministers...

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34 practice notes
  • 121 S.W. 805 (Mo. 1909), Boyles v. Roberts
    • United States
    • Missouri Supreme Court of Missouri
    • 22 Octubre 1909
    ...during the late Civil War touching the subjects of slavery and secession." In the case of Connitt v. R. P. D. C. of N. Prospect, 54 N.Y. 551, Earl, C., speaking for the court, said: "Having thus reached the conclusion that this was an ecclesiastical matter, and that the church jud......
  • 120 S.W. 783 (Tenn. 1907), Landrith v. Hudgins
    • United States
    • Tennessee Supreme Court of Tennessee
    • 19 Noviembre 1907
    ...435, 436, 34 N.E. 1022; Everett v. First Presbyterian Church, 53 N. J. Eq. 500, 517, 518, 32 A. 747; Connitt v. Reformed Dutch Church, 54 N.Y. 551, 554, 557, 558, 560, 563; Nachtrieb v. Harmony Settlement, 3 Wall. Jr. 66, Fed. Cas. No. 10,003; Bonacum v. Murphy, supra. As to the difficultie......
  • 85 N.E. 359 (Ind. 1908), 21,097, State ex rel. Hatfield v. Cummins
    • United States
    • Indiana Supreme Court of Indiana
    • 2 Julio 1908
    ...(1893), 117 Mo. 502, 24 S.W. Page 362 52; Hale v. Everett (1868), 53 N.H. 9, 16 Am. Rep. 82; Connitt v. Reformed, etc., Church (1874), 54 N.Y. 551; Christ Church, etc., v. Phillips (1882), 5 Del. Ch. 429; Ferraria v. Vasconcellos (1863), 31 Ill. 25; Papailiou v. Manusos (1903), 108 Ill.App.......
  • 211 N.Y. 214, Westminster Presbyterian Church of West Twenty-Third St. v. Trustees of the Presbytery of New York
    • United States
    • New York New York Court of Appeals
    • 28 Abril 1914
    ...N.Y. 243; Wheaton v. Gates, 18 N.Y. 395; Petty v. Tooker, 21 N.Y. 267; Gram v. Prussian Society, 36 N.Y. 161; Connitt v. R. P. D. Church, 54 N.Y. 561; Watkins v. Wilcox, 66 N.Y. 654; Baxter v. McDonnell, 155 N.Y. 94; Matter of First Presbyterian Society, 106 N.Y. 251.) The consolidation of ......
  • Free signup to view additional results
33 cases
  • 121 S.W. 805 (Mo. 1909), Boyles v. Roberts
    • United States
    • Missouri Supreme Court of Missouri
    • 22 Octubre 1909
    ...during the late Civil War touching the subjects of slavery and secession." In the case of Connitt v. R. P. D. C. of N. Prospect, 54 N.Y. 551, Earl, C., speaking for the court, said: "Having thus reached the conclusion that this was an ecclesiastical matter, and that the church jud......
  • 120 S.W. 783 (Tenn. 1907), Landrith v. Hudgins
    • United States
    • Tennessee Supreme Court of Tennessee
    • 19 Noviembre 1907
    ...435, 436, 34 N.E. 1022; Everett v. First Presbyterian Church, 53 N. J. Eq. 500, 517, 518, 32 A. 747; Connitt v. Reformed Dutch Church, 54 N.Y. 551, 554, 557, 558, 560, 563; Nachtrieb v. Harmony Settlement, 3 Wall. Jr. 66, Fed. Cas. No. 10,003; Bonacum v. Murphy, supra. As to the difficultie......
  • 85 N.E. 359 (Ind. 1908), 21,097, State ex rel. Hatfield v. Cummins
    • United States
    • Indiana Supreme Court of Indiana
    • 2 Julio 1908
    ...(1893), 117 Mo. 502, 24 S.W. Page 362 52; Hale v. Everett (1868), 53 N.H. 9, 16 Am. Rep. 82; Connitt v. Reformed, etc., Church (1874), 54 N.Y. 551; Christ Church, etc., v. Phillips (1882), 5 Del. Ch. 429; Ferraria v. Vasconcellos (1863), 31 Ill. 25; Papailiou v. Manusos (1903), 108 Ill.App.......
  • 211 N.Y. 214, Westminster Presbyterian Church of West Twenty-Third St. v. Trustees of the Presbytery of New York
    • United States
    • New York New York Court of Appeals
    • 28 Abril 1914
    ...N.Y. 243; Wheaton v. Gates, 18 N.Y. 395; Petty v. Tooker, 21 N.Y. 267; Gram v. Prussian Society, 36 N.Y. 161; Connitt v. R. P. D. Church, 54 N.Y. 561; Watkins v. Wilcox, 66 N.Y. 654; Baxter v. McDonnell, 155 N.Y. 94; Matter of First Presbyterian Society, 106 N.Y. 251.) The consolidation of ......
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1 books & journal articles
  • The common law sovereignty of religious lawfinders and the free exercise clause.
    • United States
    • Yale Law Journal Vol. 101 Nbr. 1, October 1991
    • 1 Octubre 1991
    ...also Chase v. Cheney, 58 Ill. 509 (1871). (54) 18 Vt. 511, 550 (1846). (55) Id. at 558. (56) Connit v. Reformed Protestant Dutch Church, 54 N.Y. 551, 564 (1874). (57) See, e.g., McGinnis v. Watson, 41 Pa. 9 (1861) (Congressionalist church forms union with Presbyterian church). (58) See, e.g......