AUSTIN W. CONKLIN et al., as Trustees of the Johnsontown Methodist Episcopal Church, Appellants,
STATE OF NEW YORK, Respondent. E. R. LEACH et al., Constituting the Board of Trustees of the Newark Annual Conference of The Methodist Church, Respondents,
STATE OF NEW YORK, Respondent. Claim No. 29681. Claim No. 30648.
APPEAL from a judgment, entered January 8, 1953, upon a decision of the Court of Claims (GORMAN, J.), which (1) awarded $1,700 to E. R. Leach and others, constituting the Board of Trustees of the Newark Annual Conference of The Methodist
Church, as damages for an appropriation of property for park purposes by the Palisades Interstate Park Commission, and (2) dismissed the claim of appellants to the award.
Paul R. Carr for appellants.
Nathaniel L. Goldstein, Attorney-General (Richard H. Shepp and Wendell P. Brown of counsel), for State of New York, respondent.
Frederick H. Frey for E. R. Leach and others, respondents.
This controversy involves the title of property in the town of Haverstraw, Rockland County, New York, conveyed on May 9, 1872, by Cortland Conklin and Margaret Jane, his wife, to four named 'Trustees of the Methodist Episcopal Church of Johnsontown.' Between that time and 1875 a small church was constructed. In 1947 land and buildings were appropriated by the Palisades Interstate Park Commission. Notices of claim, as owners, were filed by Austin W. Conklin and two others, designating themselves as trustees of the Johnsontown church, and by the trustees of the Newark Annual Conference of the Methodist Church (hereinafter referred to as the Johnsontown church and the Conference, respectively). The claims were consolidated for trial in the Court of Claims and stipulation made that the court have jurisdiction to determine title as between the claimants. Judgment was rendered awarding $1,700 to the Conference. The Johnsontown church has appealed, contending that it is an independent church, with no surrender of control to a religious denomination and that, in any event, it is located outside the boundaries of the Newark Conference. By way of emphasis it is declared that a religious body organized before the 1875 and 1876 amendments (L. 1875, ch. 79; L. 1876, ch. 110) to chapter 60 of the Laws of 1813, whose deed contained no clause restricting it to a denomination, was and is free to change its affiliation at will.
The Methodist Episcopal Church was organized in the United States in 1784 and continued as a separate denominational body until 1939. In that year it united with the Methodist Episcopal Church-South and the Methodist Protestant Church under the name of the Methodist Church. The record in the court below demonstrates conclusively such a relationship between the Johnsontown church and the Newark Annual Conference of the parent body from 1875 until 1946 within the church practice and discipline as to refute the claim of independence. Ministers were assigned by the Conference to the parish. Reports and
contributions were made to Conference. Prescribed Quarterly Conferences were held in the local church under the supervision of Conference representatives. It is true that, in the period from 1885 to 1925, no references to Johnsontown church appear in Conference minutes, but there is no evidence that the connection did not continue during that time. It is significant that Reverend Abram J. Conklin served as minister at Johnsontown from 1907 until his death in 1925. He was a retired minister member of the Conference and the son of the donors of its property. At times during his ministrations to the parish he attended annual sessions of the Conference as a member. Following his death the minutes show the resumption of pastoral assignments by Conference and from that time on are reasonably consecutive in demonstrating the ecclesiastical relationship until the end of the church's history.
Austin W. Conklin, one of the appellant trustees, had a substantial role in the relationship in later years. He had been licensed by the New York Conference in 1922 as a local preacher. Returning to Johnsontown he became a member of that church in 1926. In March, 1927, he received a local preacher's license from Newark Conference. Later he was licensed as a deacon and ordained as a local elder. Under the Discipline of the church he held the various offices by virtue of membership in a church subject to Conference jurisdiction. Conference appointed him minister at Johnsontown in 1935 with annual reappointments until 1945. During his ministry he attended some meetings of Conference. In that period reports of the Johnsontown church appear in the statistical records of the Conference and contributions were made to the pension fund. The court's findings in the foregoing respects and in other related matters are supported by substantial evidence.
American Methodist polity is a modified episcopacy consisting of governing legislative bodies from the Quarterly Conference in the local churches to the area annual Conference and to the quadrennial General Conference. The executive body is the Council of Bishops. This differs from the polity of Congregationalism where, traditionally, the autonomy of the local church is preserved. An independent Methodist Episcopal church (and since 1939 an independent Methodist ...