CHURCH SPLIT CUSTODY ORDERS

When the church split spills into the street one issue is who has custody of the church building.  Usually one faction is sufficiently predominate and in the majority that it retains control of the church building because it can pay the bills.  The minority faction usually cannot.  When the factions are sufficiently large, sufficiently financed, or otherwise equal, a court may have to decide who has custody of the church building.

In Yakob v Kidist Mariam Ethiopian Orthodox Tewahedo Church, Inc., Slip Op. (Ga. App. 2021), the pastor became a bishop.  However, the church apparently did not want to support a part-time pastor.  The pastor resided in the parsonage which was part of the church building.  The trial court entered an injunction requiring that the faction not supporting the pastor as bishop could have the church building on Sunday morning and the faction supporting the pastor as bishop could have the church building on Sunday afternoon.  The trial court later entered another injunction ordering some of the recalcitrants to attend a board meeting or that those in attendance constituted a quorum.  The appellate court affirmed the building custody order but overruled the order for meeting attendance because it intruded on internal church governance.

Church building custody orders are an expensive, time consuming, and very public way of resolving factional disputes.  Church building custody will usually go to the larger faction if a court can identify the larger faction because typically only the larger can pay the mortgage.

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