Highland Park Presbyterian Church here will pay $7.8 million to Grace Presbytery in order to obtain both a release of its obligations under the Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.)'s trust clause and ecclesiastical dismissal from the denomination.
The settlement agreement ― which also includes an agreement between Highland Park and Grace Presbytery to send a joint letter to the members of Highland Park allowing them the opportunity to choose whether they wish to remain affiliated with the Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.) ― will resolve the pending lawsuit between Grace Presbytery and Highland Park.
The lawsuit involved a dispute between Highland Park and Grace Presbytery over whether the Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.)'s trust clause, which Highland Park agreed to abide by, is legally enforceable under Texas law. Ultimately, three experts in Texas trust law retained by Grace Presbytery agreed that Highland Park's agreement to hold its property in trust for the use and benefit of the denomination was enforceable under neutral principles of Texas law.
In an attempt to privately resolve their disagreement before trial, Grace Presbytery and Highland Park entered into a mediation process presided over by former federal Judge Jeff Kaplan on Feb. 21 and Aug. 25, 2014. Judge Kaplan worked tirelessly to bring the parties to an agreement to resolve the case.
The parties reached an agreement in principle at mediation, which obtained final approval of the parties Sept. 8. The $7.8 million settlement figure represents 26% of Highland Park's “approximately thirty million dollars” of property, as alleged in Paragraph 18 of Highland Park’s amended petition filed in the lawsuit.
In response to the settlement, the Rev. Janet DeVries, general presbyter of Grace Presbytery, said, “We give thanks to God for this moment and trust that this settlement serves as a witness across the PC(USA) that the trust clause is an integral part of our constitution and will be taken seriously by Grace Presbytery. We are pleased to have been able to mediate this situation and avoid a court trial. We are grateful for the strong support of Grace Presbytery in this cause and colleagues across the larger church as well.”
Grace Presbytery wishes to thank the many of you who have shared your kind thoughts, prayers, and support during this difficult time of litigation filed by Highland Park. Throughout this process, we have sought to vindicate the connectional nature of the church, which is reflected by our Book of Order and which Paul described so well in 1 Corinthians 12: “Just as a body, though one, has many parts, but all its many parts form one body, so it is with Christ.”
Grace Presbytery believes that the resolution of this lawsuit has accomplished this goal, and fervently hopes that it can avoid all legal disputes with congregations in the future.