Largest Presbyterian Church's (PC USA) Property Ownership Case Headed to Court

A lawsuit aimed at guaranteeing ownership of church property by the largest Presbyterian Church (USA) congregation will be tried at the state level rather than federal, ruled a U.S. District Court.

Judge Jane Boyle of Dallas ruled Monday that the Highland Park Presbyterian Church congregation's lawsuit will be held in Texas state court.

Monty Montgomery, an elder and Session-appointed spokesman for Highland Park Presbyterian, told The Christian Post about the reasoning behind Judge Boyle's ruling.

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"HPPC filed the case in state district court, the proper court in which to file, because the issues involved – control and use of the HPPC property – are governed by Texas property, corporate and trust law," said Montgomery.

At present, a Temporary Restraining Order is keeping the property under the possession of Highland Park Presbyterian, which shall continue through next Monday.

"The lawsuit filed by HPPC's Board of Trustees seeks a declaration clarifying the property rights of the parties under Texas law for the property owned and maintained by HPPC for 87 years," said Montgomery.

"The TRO does not prevent the parties from negotiating a resolution of their differences and, in fact, a HPPC Session-appointed negotiating team will have its second meeting with Grace Presbytery on Thursday."

In September, Highland Park Presbyterian filed a lawsuit to seek legal protection for its claim to the church property should the congregation decide to leave the denomination.

Later that month, the leadership for the 4,000-member congregation voted to begin the process of discernment for leaving PC (USA) due mainly to theological differences.

The Session voted unanimously to recommend dismissal, with their resolution next going to a vote before the congregation on Sunday, October 27.

If dismissed from the mainline denomination, Highland Park Presbyterian intends to join the recently created Evangelical Covenant Order of Presbyterians, a small conservative church.

At present, Highland Park Presbyterian belongs to Grace Presbytery, a regional body of PC (USA) based in Northeast Texas that contains 41,000 members and 162 congregations.

Janet M. DeVries M.Div., D.Min., General Presbyter for Grace Presbytery, told CP she considered Boyle's decision to be "sound" and "well-reasoned."

"We contended that, even though there was no merit to Highland Park's claims that we had violated their rights of free speech and religion in the federal constitution, the Court should, at least for now, keep the case," said DeVries. "We have an excellent state court judge who will hear this case, and we look forward to presenting our arguments to her."

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