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Harrison v. Floyd

Decided: June 8, 1953.

JOHN HARRISON, ET ALS., PLAINTIFFS,
v.
JOHN FLOYD, ET ALS., DEFENDANTS. OVEAN BISHOP, ET ALS., PLAINTIFFS, V. GALILEE BAPTIST CHURCH, A RELIGIOUS SOCIETY OR CORPORATION OF THE STATE OF NEW JERSEY, ET ALS., DEFENDANTS



Goldmann, J.s.c.

Goldmann

Galilee Baptist Church finds itself caught in a cross-fire of litigation because its pastor, officers and members, professing a common faith and pledged to the bond of Christian fellowship, are in conflict. The dispute centers upon Reverend Samuel M. Bagley, the pastor, and has divided the church into three camps: pro-Bagleyites, anti-Bagleyites, and a large group of members who take neither side but want to save the church from the corroding and destructive force of the controversy.

Galilee Baptist Church is an incorporated religious society of the State of New Jersey, established in 1920, and located in Trenton. It has no constitution or by-laws of its own; instead, it has relied upon custom and the writings of Hiscox, author of the standard guides for Baptist churches. There was a good deal of testimony relating to Hiscox' New Directory for Baptist Churches (1945 ed.), which was marked for identification but not offered in evidence, and to his New Manual for Baptist Churches (1931 ed.), a popular abbreviated version of the New Directory , which was marked in evidence. Both guides seem to have been used by members from the very beginnings of the church. However, there is no written record as to just when either was adopted, if ever. The court may properly note what so established an authority as Hiscox has to say, and refer to his New Directory as a standard reference work.

Each Baptist church is a self-governing body, independent of all other churches. Randolph v. Mt. Zion Baptist Church of Newark , 139 N.J. Eq. 605, 609 (Ch. 1947). Its affairs are administered by the membership acting together, and the will of the church is expressed by a majority vote of the members. Hiscox, New Directory, p. 144, and Manual, p. 13.

The Baptist church recognizes only two church offices: pastors and deacons. The spiritual welfare of the congregation is, of course, the pastor's special charge. Although he has the general oversight and superintendence of all departments of church work, both spiritual and temporal, Hiscox enjoins that the pastor should not needlessly interfere

with the deacons or trustees, "nor assume dictatorial authority over others in their service"; rather, in the administration of church affairs "he should secure the cooperation of his members, but gain his object by reason and persuasion, rather than attempt to force compliance by authoritative dictation." New Directory, pp. 97, 101. Almost universally a church engages its pastor for an indefinite term; his relation with the congregation may be dissolved at the option of either party by the giving of three months' notice, or otherwise by mutual agreement. Hiscox, New Directory, p. 108 and Manual, p. 16. This, as we shall see, is the arrangement at Galilee.

Baptist churches hold that a deacon is "a minister of temporalities, and a helper to the pastor in his ministry of the Word." Deacons "act as counsellors and assistants to the pastor in advancing the general interests of the body, both temporal and spiritual." They are commonly chosen for an indefinite period (Hiscox, New Directory, pp. 109-112, and Manual, pp. 14-16), and such is their term at Galilee.

Although traditionally the secular concerns of a Baptist church, including its financial affairs, would seem legitimately to be included in the duties of deacons, since such matters come under the head of temporalities, they are presently usually committed to trustees elected in accordance with state law. Hiscox, New Directory, pp. 115-116, and Manual, p. 16. R.S. 16:2-9 provides for the election of trustees who, in the absence of any resolution of the church as to their terms -- and there is none in the case of Galilee -- "hold office for one year from the date of their election and until their successors are chosen." The practice of Galilee has been to elect trustees at the annual meeting held toward the close of the year, and they have had the care and custody of the church property and the management of its finances.

In Baptist churches the pastor is, by virtue of his office, moderator of all " church business meetings, but not of society business meetings [ e.g. , annual meetings], which meetings are held according to statute law, for the election of trustees and for other matters pertaining to temporalities. These

meetings, even though composed of the same individuals, yet are not the same official bodies. The moderator is elected on nomination. The pastor is eligible to election * * * but cannot assume the chair by right of his office." Hiscox, New Directory, p. 191. Business meetings, both regular and special, should be announced from the pulpit at least one Sunday before they are held. Special meetings may be called at any time "by consent of the pastor and deacons, or by such other methods as the church itself may direct." Hiscox, Manual, p. 42, notes 2 and 3.

Reverend Bagley became the spiritual leader of Galilee Baptist Church in 1935. The church was then in debt, its total income was less than $3,000, and there were only some 400 members on roll. It could not afford to pay its pastor a salary. There was a gradual increase in both membership and income in the years that followed. The mortgage indebtedness was paid off and major repairs made, including the installation of a new electric organ and a heating system. The pastor was put on salary about 1938; it was increased until fixed at $50 a week in 1946.

During the year 1942 difficulties arose between Reverend Bagley and members of the deacon board. This resulted in a church meeting, held May 1, 1942, when it was voted that "the pastor remain as is as long as he and the church can agree," and in case of disagreement either the pastor or the church was to give the other three months' notice of the termination of the relation. The minutes record that Reverend Bagley "was duly elected indefinitely as pastor," and that he and the officers agreed to work with each other.

Harmony reigned until the spring of 1950 when a young unmarried parishioner accused the pastor of being the putative father of her unborn child. A church trial was held May 6, 1950, presided over by Reverend Woodson, pastor of another Trenton Baptist church, whom the congregation had requested to act as moderator. The membership heard the testimony of the accuser and her witnesses, as well as Reverend Bagley and his witnesses. Those present, including the deacons and trustees, agreed to abide by the decision of

the majority. The meeting found the accused pastor not guilty by a vote of 171 to 95.

Subsequently, Reverend Woodson called a council of ministers at the request of the pastor and officers of Galilee, to consider the differences which divided them. See Hiscox, New Directory, c. VIII, passim , as to church councils. The council, whose function was merely advisory, recommended that the parties get together and make their peace. But the breach would not heal; the morals charge brought against the pastor had cut deep into the fibre of the church. Tension was particularly evident in the relations between the pastor and the deacon board.

Matters reached a head at the church meeting of August 31, 1950 when a motion was made that Reverend Bagley be dismissed because of the bastardy charge brought against him. The pastor, presiding as moderator, ruled the motion out of order. Confusion and disorder followed, and the pastor walked out of the meeting, followed by some of his supporters. There was testimony that he did so after a motion to adjourn. However, there is strong evidence that no such motion was made or put to a vote. The minutes kept by John C. Glover, then church clerk and supporter of the pastor, show extensive erasure and a rewriting at this point of the meeting record. After Reverend Bagley's departure the meeting continued, elected a temporary chairman and clerk, and passed the motion dismissing the pastor with three months' pay.

On September 20, 1950 proceedings were instituted against the pastor in the case of Galilee Baptist Church v. Bagley (Docket C-121-50). The complaint recited the action taken on August 31, the notice of dismissal sent to the pastor, his refusal to obey it, and his persistence in carrying on his duties, to the detriment of religious services and the church generally. Judgment was demanded restraining Bagley from carrying out or attempting to carry out his duties as pastor, from presiding at meetings of the congregation, board of trustees or board of deacons, and directing him to turn over all records and papers in his possession. The complaint

was certified by John Floyd, chairman of the deacon board and a defendant in the present litigation, and Abraham English, chairman of the trustee board, now deceased. It is clear that associated with them in the action brought in the name of the church were the present defendants in Harrison v. Floyd. It is equally clear that the litigation was without prior authority sought and obtained from the church body.

The reaction of Reverend Bagley was immediate. Without consulting the deacon board he called a special meeting on September 22, 1950 and complained to the members assembled of the suit that had been brought against him. He charged Deacons Floyd, Dawsey, Dyous, Joyner, Miller, Thomas Glover and Thomas (seven of the nine members of the deacon board), and Trustees English, McKeever, Scott and Williams with dismissing him, engaging an attorney, bringing him to court, and withholding salary, all without church consent, and asked that they be dismissed from office and silenced for 12 months. This was done by an overwhelming vote. The meeting authorized the hiring of an attorney to defend the pastor or the church, and also appointed one Roosevelt Walker as chairman of the trustee board in place of English, and one Maynard Stephens as treasurer in place of Thomas Glover. No regular church meeting was held until January 4, 1951, at which time the membership rejected the minutes of the September 22 meeting and reinstated the discharged officers. During this troubled interval between meetings the church treasury declined from $4,023 to $1,636; $1,885 of the difference allegedly was spent for a new heating system.

In the meantime, a bastardy complaint had been filed against Reverend Bagley in the Municipal Court of the City of Trenton. He was acquitted of that charge on December 11, 1950.

The action in Galilee Baptist Church v. Bagley was dismissed, the order bearing date March 29, 1951. The parties had agreed that a church meeting be held on that date to consider the tendered resignation of the pastor, the parties to abide by the vote of the majority. Such a meeting was

held and was presided over by a court-appointed representative, assisted by a local minister as moderator. It rejected the resignation by a vote of 213 to 193 (or 188). In ordering the Galilee action dismissed the court directed that the church pay the pastor's salary up to and including March 29, 1951. The sum of $450, representing nine weeks' salary, was subsequently paid to Reverend Bagley.

The complaint in Harrison v. Floyd was filed May 22, 1951 by Deacon John Harrison and Reverend Bagley. Harrison sued on behalf of himself as a member of Galilee and other members similarly situated; the reverend sued as pastor of Galilee and by virtue of having a property right in his position. The first count, brought by Harrison, recites that despite the vote of March 29, 1951 and the order of dismissal, the disgruntled defendants had harassed the pastor and the entire membership, caused disorder at meetings, not permitted the church to operate smoothly, and refused to allow the pastor to exercise his duties. It is alleged that membership and collections have fallen off, and that this would continue unless order was restored at once. Harrison demands judgment restraining defendants and others similarly situated from interfering with the business and religious functions of Galilee or otherwise causing damage, harm or interference to the pastor.

In the second count, brought by Reverend Bagley, he repeats the allegations of the first count and states he cannot conduct church affairs because of the interference of defendants and others similarly situated. He further alleges that Thomas Glover, the treasurer, has upon the illegal order of Floyd, chairman of the deacon board, withheld and refused to pay his salary and that he has not been paid since March 29, 1951. The pastor demands judgment restraining defendants and others similarly situated from interfering with the business and religious functions of Galilee or otherwise doing harm or injury to or interfering with him as pastor; ordering the ...


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