Denominational determinations that a church or parish is no longer viable usually start with a nearly empty church building the remaining membership of which, no matter how faithful, can no longer financially bear the burden of the corporeal existence of the church. Even without a mortgage, church buildings require maintenance, grounds must be maintained, and parking lot potholes must be filled.

In St. Cyrillus v Polish National Catholic Church, Slip Op. (unpublished) (NJ App. 2020) the local church building was destroyed by fire. All that was left of the church property was the land and the $1,000,000 paid out under the fire policy. The church building could not be rebuilt for $1 million but the local church had no fund-raising plan to accumulate the difference. The local church membership prior to the fire had dwindled. The denomination dissolved the local church and took control of the land and money. The trial court granted summary judgment to the denomination. The appellate court affirmed. The governance documents of the local church required the local church to obey hierarchical rulings as did the governance documents of the denomination.

The process by which a non-viable church is swept from existence is usually foreclosure by a lender. However, in those rare instances in which a church is no longer viable, and under denominational control, denominational decision making will likely be binding. For churches not under denominational control, winding up the affairs of the church, once the excruciating decision to do so has been made, an asset merger with a viable congregation is the most pain free method.

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