top of page

When Faith and Property Intersect


  • One notable area of contention has been within the Presbyterian Church, where Presbyteries have, at times, aggressively pursued legal action against local congregations. This has resulted in costly litigations, even when historical and legal factors seemingly favor the local congregations. Notably, the traditional Presbyterian position, dating back to the Westminster Confession, has been that local congregations own the property. Deeds are often held in the name of local congregation trustees with no reversion provisions, and no trust agreements have been signed by the local congregation. Local congregations have often borne the financial burden, and the denomination's Constitution's ecclesiastical trust clause is generally not enforceable in civil courts.

  • Church property disputes are not unique to the Presbyterian Church; they have also emerged within the Methodist Church, which has a distinct history and polity. In these disputes, the governing law is based on the neutral principles of law established by Jones v. Wolf, 443 U.S. 595 (1979), and adopted for New York by the Court of Appeals in First Presbyterian Church of Schenectady v. United Presbyterian Church in U.S., 62 N.Y.2d 110, 464 N.E.2d 454, 476 N.Y.S.2d 86 (1984).

  • At the Law Offices of Philip A. Byler, we have extensive experience representing congregations in church property disputes. We understand the complexities and nuances of these cases and are dedicated to advocating for our clients. We are currently representing an Evangelical Presbyterian Church in a litigation that has spanned over four years against a suing PCUSA Presbytery.

In the realm of church property law, disputes often arise when theological differences and contentious social issues lead congregations to break away from their denominations. These conflicts can escalate into complex litigations over the ownership of church property. In particular, mainline Protestant denominations, including the Presbyterian and Methodist Churches, have witnessed such congregational schisms.

Church Property Law

Discover more about our expertise in church property law and how we can support your congregation's legal needs. Contact us today to schedule a consultation.

bottom of page