Appeal from the Circuit Court of Macon County; the Hon. ALBERT
G. WEBBER, III, Judge, presiding. Affirmed in part, reversed in
Rehearing denied November 14, 1969.
Defendants, First Pilgrim Holiness Church, Decatur, Illinois, a corporation, and Kennes K. Karnes, Dean Wood, Kenneth Roller, Trustees, James Southerland, Bessie Taylor, Chester Wood, Howard Beecher, Jr., and Eleanor McAnelly, appeal from a decree of the circuit court in favor of Pilgrim Holiness Church-Illinois District, a corporation, Orville M. Awe, L.A. Williams and Elmer Waltrip, Trustees of the First Pilgrim Holiness Church, Decatur, Illinois, plaintiffs, ordering defendants to transfer moneys, personal property and possession of real estate of First Pilgrim Holiness Church, Decatur, Illinois, to plaintiffs and enjoining defendants from the use of the name, First Pilgrim Holiness Church, or any other name incorporating the words Pilgrim Holiness or substantially similar words.
The origin of the dispute between plaintiffs, representing the district Pilgrim Holiness Church, and also the general, national and international Pilgrim Holiness Church, and the defendants representing the local church, was the adoption of a merger plan between the conference of the general Pilgrim Holiness Church and the conference of the Wesleyan Methodist Church wherein the merger was to be effective under the denominational name Wesleyan. Defendants assert that the merger resulted in the general Pilgrim Holiness Church abandoning established tenets, doctrines and practices.
The trial court determined that the property of the local church was held in trust for the general church under the rules of the Pilgrim Holiness Church, and that the court could not inquire into the doctrines of the church.
Defendants contend (1) that title to local church property vested in the First Pilgrim Holiness Church, Decatur, Illinois, an Illinois not-for-profit corporation upon its incorporation, (2) that under the church manual, the Pilgrim Holiness Church, Illinois District, had no authority to bring suit, (3) that appointment of new trustees for the local church was beyond the authority of the district church, (4) that the court erred in excluding evidence that neither the general church nor the district church contributed in the acquisition of local church property, (5) that the court erred in excluding evidence that the general church and the district church abandoned the ancient church denomination and doctrines, (6) that by the law of Illinois property received by a local church corporation belongs to the trustees of that church, (7) that by conveyances by the trustees to individuals free of the trust restrictions, the parsonage property was freed from an express trust in the original deed, and (8) that the trial court erred in denying defendants' motion for change of venue based upon bias of the trial judge.
[1-3] We will consider the last contention first. At the close of the plaintiffs' evidence, the defendants made a motion to dismiss for want of equity. Plaintiffs made a motion for a decree for plaintiffs. Both motions were denied. In the course of the denial of the defendants' motion, the trial court remarked that he was convinced that the answer did not present a meritorious defense but he would give defendants their day in court. Defendants moved for a change of venue. Defendants state that until the court made the foregoing statement, defendants were not advised of the bias of the trial judge. We think that both the denial of plaintiffs' motion for a decree and the denial of defendants' motion to dismiss for want of equity after plaintiff had rested were rulings on matters of substance. The Supreme Court of Illinois has consistently held that a motion for change of venue presented after the court has ruled on matters going to the merits comes too late. The People v. McDonald, 26 Ill.2d 325, 330, 186 N.E.2d 303. The rule is designed to preclude counsel from first ascertaining the attitude of the trial judge on a hearing relating to some issue of the cause and then, if the court's judgment is not in harmony with counsel's theory, to assert prejudice as a ground for allowing a change of venue. The People v. Chambers, 9 Ill.2d 83 on 89, 136 N.E.2d 812.
The second proposition is that the district church had no authority to bring suit, and the third contention is that the district church had no authority to appoint new trustees. A review of the pleadings and of the documents admitted in the pleadings and jointly agreed upon in the presentation of the evidence clearly discloses the nature of the structure of the Pilgrim Holiness Church, the line of authority within the church from local to district to general church, and the clear submission of the local church to these documents and lines of authority in its charter.
By the complaint and answer it is established that plaintiff, Pilgrim Holiness Church Illinois District, an Illinois not-for-profit corporation, is the legal entity in Illinois for The Pilgrim Holiness Church corporation, a not-for-profit corporation organized under the laws of Indiana, which latter corporation is the legal entity of the Pilgrim Holiness Church, a religious denomination in the United States and Canada, having a presbyterial form of church government. It is established that defendant First Pilgrim Holiness Church, Decatur, Illinois, began on April 26, 1938, as an unincorporated religious body first known as "The Pilgrim Holiness Church of Decatur, Illinois," and since May 15, 1962, has been an Illinois not-for-profit corporation with a charter, a copy of which is attached to the complaint. The corporate name in said charter is "First Pilgrim Holiness Church, Decatur, Illinois."
The complaint alleges also:
"4. Defendant First Pilgrim Holiness Church, Decatur, Illinois, is governed by, is a subsidiary of and is subject to the Manual of The Pilgrim Holiness Church Corporation, an Indiana Corporation, with General Headquarters at 230 East Ohio Street, Indianapolis, Indiana, and District Headquarters at Charleston, Illinois, in the entity of Pilgrim Holiness Church Illinois District, an Illinois corporation, as will more fully appear from Paragraph No. 5 of said Exhibit A."
The answer denies the allegations of Paragraph 4, except that it admits that defendants accede to such provisions of the Manual of Pilgrim Holiness Church "as do not conflict with the statutory and case law of Illinois and their rights thereunder."
The answer admits that on January 4, 1967, the official board of the defendant church severed relationship with the plaintiff, Pilgrim Holiness Church Illinois District and The Pilgrim Holiness Church Corporation, an Indiana corporation.
On or about January 16, 1967, plaintiff, Pilgrim Holiness Church Illinois District, in District Council assembled, did as a result of said severance, declare defendant church to be below the status of an organized church and did appoint new trustees and a new pastor. The answer admits the foregoing action, but alleges the action was in violation of the church manual, section 51, paragraphs 3 ...