Green v. Lewis, No. 781388

Docket NºNo. 781388
Citation221 Va. 547, 272 S.E.2d 181
Case DateNovember 26, 1980
CourtSupreme Court of Virginia

Page 181

272 S.E.2d 181
221 Va. 547
Wesley J. GREEN, Pastor, et al.
v.
Timothy LEWIS et al.
Record No. 781388.
Supreme Court of Virginia.
Nov. 26, 1980.

[221 Va. 548] David T. Balfour, Richmond (Maloney, Yeatts, Balfour, Ayers & Barr, Richmond, on brief), for appellants.

Lawrence D. Diehl, Petersburg (Spero & Diehl, Petersburg, on brief), for appellees.

Before I'ANSON, C. J., and CARRICO, HARRISON, COCHRAN, POFF, COMPTON and THOMPSON, JJ.

HARRISON, Justice.

We review an order of the lower court resolving a dispute between the congregation of Lee Chapel, African Methodist Episcopal Zion Church (A.M.E. Zion Church) on the one part and the general church on the other. 1 The court found that the general church had failed to establish that it had a proprietary interest in the property of Lee Chapel and decreed that the trustees of the local congregation and the congregation should enjoy the ownership, control, and use of [221 Va. 549] the real and personal property in controversy to the exclusion of the general church.

The A.M.E. Zion Church, organized in 1801 and reorganized in 1819, is Methodist Episcopal in belief. Its Virginia Conference was organized in 1866. The rules, regulations, and doctrines, governing and controlling the operation of the church are found in "The Doctrines and Discipline of the

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African Methodist Episcopal Zion Church," revised in May 1972, and hereinafter referred to as "the Discipline." It is a hierarchical church composed of local pastors, deacons, elders, presiding elders, and bishops, whose duties are specified in the Discipline. Periodic meetings are held, known as the General Conference, Annual Conference, District Conference, and Quarterly Conference.

The structure of the A.M.E. Zion Church and its general plan of operation are not unlike that of other supercongregational or hierarchical churches. It has a home mission department, makes grants and loans to local churches and has a publishing house in Charlotte, North Carolina, which provides literature for the local churches and Sunday Schools, and publishes the Discipline and hymnals. The Church operates an institute in Dinwiddie County, near Petersburg, Livingstone College in Salisbury, North Carolina, and two junior colleges, Clinton College in South Carolina, and Lomax-Hannon in Alabama. The Church makes scholarships available for students to attend these colleges. It also conducts Hood Seminary, a part of Livingstone College, to train its pastors. Missionary work is done by the church in three areas-Africa, the West Indies, and South America. The A.M.E. Zion Church is financed by assessments, called "general claims," which are paid by the members of the local churches to the "Connection," meaning the central or general church. Pastors are appointed by the bishops, and it was testified that a local congregation could not refuse to accept a pastor. Guidelines for worship are set forth in the Discipline and are followed by the various local pastors.

The real estate involved consists of a one acre lot in Chesterfield County, conveyed, by deed of Hector F. J. Dahl and Lucie H. Dahl, dated February 2, 1875, to the Trustees of the African Methodist Episcopal Church of Zion for the purpose of erecting an A.M.E. Church of Zion to be known as Lee Chapel. The church was constructed on the lot and thereafter continuously operated as an A.M.E. Zion Church until October 1977, when the controversy erupted that brought about this litigation. The original church building was destroyed by fire in 1939 and was replaced by the present building which [221 Va. 550] previously had been used and abandoned by the Pine Grove Methodist Church. All labor incident to the removal of the building to the Lee Chapel site was performed by the local membership. No funds of the A.M.E. Zion Church, state or national, were used incident to the reconstruction of the church or to pay for any improvements subsequently made thereon.

It is conceded that until October 1977, all pastors of Lee Chapel have been installed by the Annual Conference and their appointment accepted by the local congregation. The church owes no funds, assessments or other monies to the A.M.E. Zion Church or its Annual Conference.

On October 11, 1977, a meeting was held at Lee Chapel by a substantial majority of the membership of that church. At this meeting it was decided that Lee Chapel would separate itself from its parent organization, the A.M.E. Zion Church. Pursuant to this decision, the congregation, at a meeting held on November 20, 1977, adopted the following resolution:

RESOLVED :

1. That Lee's Chapel of the African Methodist Episcopal Zion Church, in accordance with the resolution of the members of its congregation adopted on October 11, 1977, shall become and it is so declared to be, by its members and congregation, an Independent Methodist Episcopal Church, to be known as Lee Chapel Methodist Episcopal Church, free from any affiliation with the African Methodist Episcopal Zion Church in Virginia; the African Methodist Episcopal Zion Church in America; the General, Annual and District Conferences of said church; and the Bishops, Elders, Pastors or other officers of said Church.

2. That all decisions concerning the Lee Chapel Methodist Episcopal Church and its property and all of its affairs shall be lawfully made by its local

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membership and congregation, through their duly elected officers or trustees.

3. That the local members and congregation, through their locally elected officers, shall endeavor to make, of their church, a House for the Worship of God, serving the religious needs of the people in their community, and, as a continuing Methodist Episcopal Church, will base their faith and belief in Jesus Christ as head of the Church and in the Bible as the Word of God and in the faith and practice of the Methodist Episcopal religion.

[221 Va. 551] Thereafter, Wesley J. Green, pastor of Lee Chapel, sought an injunction against certain members of the church to prevent them from entering or using the premises of Lee Chapel in a manner contrary to the wishes of the proper officials of the A.M.E. Zion Church. The trial judge granted a temporary injunction which he subsequently dissolved on motion of the respondent members of the congregation who had petitioned to intervene.

There is little conflict in the evidence. Appellees do not deny that Lee Chapel has been an A.M.E. Zion Church and through the years has been a part of that hierarchical organization. There is no testimony that the original church was or was not formally dedicated. A member of the local congregation testified that the church building constructed from the old Pine Grove Methodist Church was never dedicated. The Reverend S. P. Spottswood, testifying about the differences between the A.M.E. Church and the A.M.E. Zion Church, said that they were both "independently autonomous," and that each had its own hierarchical structure. He said that both grew out of the Methodist Episcopal Church, that the Discipline of each was taken...

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7 practice notes
  • Falls Church v. Protestant Episcopal Church in the United States, Record No. 120919.
    • United States
    • Virginia Supreme Court of Virginia
    • April 18, 2013
    ...the disputed property, the constitution and canons of TEC and the Diocese, and the dealings between the parties. See Green v. Lewis, 221 Va. 547, 555, 272 S.E.2d 181, 185–86 (1980) (“we look to our own statutes, to the language of the deed conveying the property, to the constitution of the ......
  • Reid v. Gholson, No. 840057
    • United States
    • Virginia Supreme Court of Virginia
    • March 8, 1985
    ...upon matters of faith and doctrine. Serbian Eastern Orthodox Diocese, 426 U.S. at 724-25, 96 S.Ct. at 2387-88; see also Green v. Lewis, 221 Va. 547, 272 S.E.2d 181 B. CONGREGATIONAL CHURCHES. Congregational churches, on the other hand, are governed by the will of the majority. Abyssinia Mis......
  • Institution v. Rector & Visitors of the Univ. of Va., Record No. 130934.
    • United States
    • Virginia Supreme Court of Virginia
    • April 17, 2014
    ...published, copyrighted or patented.Code § 2.2–3705.4(4). UVA argued that the definition of “proprietary” applied in Green v. Lewis, 221 Va. 547, 555, 272 S.E.2d 181, 186 (1980), should be applied in the VFOIA context. In Green we stated: “A proprietary right is a right customarily associate......
  • Am. Tradition Inst. v. Rector & Visitors of the Univ. of Va., Record No. 130934
    • United States
    • Virginia Supreme Court of Virginia
    • April 17, 2014
    ...published, copyrighted or patented.Code § 2.2-3705.4(4). UVA argued that the definition of "proprietary" applied in Green v. Lewis, 221 Va. 547, 555, 272 S.E.2d 181, 186 (1980), should be applied in the VFOIA context. In Green we stated: "A proprietary right is a right customarily associate......
  • Request a trial to view additional results
7 cases
  • Falls Church v. Protestant Episcopal Church in the United States, Record No. 120919.
    • United States
    • Virginia Supreme Court of Virginia
    • April 18, 2013
    ...the disputed property, the constitution and canons of TEC and the Diocese, and the dealings between the parties. See Green v. Lewis, 221 Va. 547, 555, 272 S.E.2d 181, 185–86 (1980) (“we look to our own statutes, to the language of the deed conveying the property, to the constitution of the ......
  • Reid v. Gholson, No. 840057
    • United States
    • Virginia Supreme Court of Virginia
    • March 8, 1985
    ...upon matters of faith and doctrine. Serbian Eastern Orthodox Diocese, 426 U.S. at 724-25, 96 S.Ct. at 2387-88; see also Green v. Lewis, 221 Va. 547, 272 S.E.2d 181 B. CONGREGATIONAL CHURCHES. Congregational churches, on the other hand, are governed by the will of the majority. Abyssinia Mis......
  • Institution v. Rector & Visitors of the Univ. of Va., Record No. 130934.
    • United States
    • Virginia Supreme Court of Virginia
    • April 17, 2014
    ...published, copyrighted or patented.Code § 2.2–3705.4(4). UVA argued that the definition of “proprietary” applied in Green v. Lewis, 221 Va. 547, 555, 272 S.E.2d 181, 186 (1980), should be applied in the VFOIA context. In Green we stated: “A proprietary right is a right customarily associate......
  • Am. Tradition Inst. v. Rector & Visitors of the Univ. of Va., Record No. 130934
    • United States
    • Virginia Supreme Court of Virginia
    • April 17, 2014
    ...published, copyrighted or patented.Code § 2.2-3705.4(4). UVA argued that the definition of "proprietary" applied in Green v. Lewis, 221 Va. 547, 555, 272 S.E.2d 181, 186 (1980), should be applied in the VFOIA context. In Green we stated: "A proprietary right is a right customarily associate......
  • Request a trial to view additional results

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