Judge says church can keep donation

June 26, 1997


Staff Writer, Waynesboro

GREENCASTLE, Pa. - A U.S. Bankruptcy Court judge has ruled that a Greencastle church won't have to repay a court trustee $7,000 that was donated by Mercersburg, Pa., couple before they filed for bankruptcy in January 1995.

The money was given to the Greencastle Baptist Church at 2377 Buchanan Trail by Paul B. and Norma J. Williams, formerly of Mercersburg, Pa., said the Rev. Chuck Schroer, pastor at the time the bankruptcy was filed. Schroer, of Greencastle, left the church in December for other religious pursuits.

The Williamses are living in Texas, Schroer said. They could not be reached for comment.

According to court records, Williams was a deacon and Sunday school teacher in the church. His wife was the church's financial secretary and a youth leader. They joined the church in January 1993 and believed in the practice of tithing - giving 10 percent of their weekly income, court records said.


The money the couple gave the church in 1994 represented 10 percent of their annual income, according to court records. The year before they gave the church $4,700, court records said.

The couple owed more than $118,000 when they filed for bankruptcy. Most of the money was owed to Williams' former business partner, said attorney Steven M. Carr of York, Pa., trustee in the bankruptcy case.

Schroer said Tuesday that he refused to return the money because, "it belonged to God not the trustee. We felt the money was given in good faith according to what the Williamses believed was their tithe."

The church hired Harrisburg, Pa., attorney Richard Connell to fight Carr's order. Connell argued in a brief to the bankruptcy court judge that Carr's claim violates the U.S. Constitution because it deprives the Williamses of their rights to free exercise of their religion and the church's rights to be free of government entanglement.

"There is no compelling state interest which allows control of free-will offerings to a church by a trustee," Connell wrote.

The church's legal fees were paid in part by the Alliance Defense Fund of the Baptist church, Schroer said.

Carr said he won't appeal the bankruptcy court judge's ruling. "The amount of money involved doesn't justify an appeal," he said.

The $7,000 represents 10 percent of the church's annual $70,000 budget, Schroer said.

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