Liberia: Supreme Court to Decide Ownership of ‘Church’

Supreme Court of Liberia.

Gongloe and Associates, the law firm representing the legal interest of the Living Bread Pentecostal Church, rejected a judgment from the Civil Law Court, claiming  that the Court’s decision is marred by "irregularities and is erroneous." 

According to the law firm, it has completed the preparation of its legal pleadings to have the Supreme Court review the judgment as delivered by Judge Kennedy Peabody,  declaring one of the sons of the late Ben Atachie, as his successor and sole legitimate owner of the church.

Judge Peabody in his ruling said the Living Bread Pentecostal Church was established by a single individual and, “upon the founder's death, the family members take over the affairs of the church.”

“The court ruled that the petitioner Timothy Atachie’s rights to the Living Bread Pentecostal Church are hereby declared and, as the Pastor and General Overseer, is hereby sustained and considered the successor to the founder, pastor and general overseer and owner of the Living Bread Pentecostal Church,” Peabody ruled.

He added and that the respondents are hereby ordered to give a full accounting of the operations of the church to include all income and expenses within the period of 90 days as of the date of this ruling "

However, Gongloe and Associates noted that Judge Peabody’s ruling is contrary to the church’s bylaws, constitution and articles of incorporation.

Article 1 of the church’s Constitution, among others, states that: “The pastor shall be elected by the church and shall continue as pastor until his service is terminated by his death or resignation.”

And, Article IV of the Article of incorporation also says, “the pastor and other elected board members shall hold office until their successors are elected.”

The church, during the trial, repeatedly argued that its bylaws and constitution were cleared to a successor, and provided as to how its decisions are reached. “So, for Atachie to say that his father took the decision without following the guidelines laid out in the church constitution, speaks volumes.” 

But Judge Peabody said the constitution of the church is a product of ambiguity and is “declared a legal nullity, and the articles of incorporation is also declared the only legal instrument substantiating and verifying the creation of the church.” 

“The cost of these proceedings is hereby ruled against the respondents,” he said. 

The disputed church is situated on 6.42 lots of land, with a school building and a hospital in the Wood Camp Community, in Paynesville. It was established in 1993 by Pastor Ben Atachie along with several other members.

Pastor Timothy's lawsuit against the church comes days after his father's burial. The senior Atachie died on May 6. 

During the trial, Pastor Timothy argued that the church founded by his father in 1993 has no constitution and that board members and others were appointed when his father deemed it necessary. 

Another issue raised by Judge Peabody's judgment, which the Supreme Court would decide, is that of the funding to purchase the land, the construction of the church, the school, and the hospital.

The Church, in its argument, said with the consent of then Pastor Ben Atachie, they took a loan from Ecobank Liberia and used the church as collateral, while payment of that loan was made by church members through dues, fundraising, and tithes. 

They later presented into evidence the loan agreement between the church and Ecobank with Pastor Ben Atachie’s signature.

But Judge Peabody, while addressing the issue, said he wondered why, during the case, the respondents did not subpoena Ecobank Liberia to substantiate the loan claim and to produce the deed that was used to be offered as collateral for the payment of the loan.

"The court takes note of the contention of the respondents that payment of the loan was made by church members through dues, funding raising, and tithes. But, no tithes book was in evidence, no due books, no fundraising rally report, no members listing of the church,” Judge Peabody ruled.  “In the absence of all of these relevant and material documents, a single loan document is insufficient on its face.”