Prop Corp is the incorporated trustee under the Act on the basis that church titles are held for the Churches of Christ in Victoria under terms of trust contained in the Act, which is different to holding assets as a fixed beneficial trust directly for respective churches.
The nature of this trust comes from the historical position of each church being a member of a larger association, the Churches of Christ. Church trustee parliamentary Acts are typically drafted to enable a broader trusteeship in the interest of the churches corporately at the state level i.e. denomination or in our case movement.
It is for these reasons that the mainline churches have guarded their church trusts jealously. From a corporate church governance perspective, the benefits of trusteeship under parliamentary legislation include:
- Perpetual existence
- Certainty where gifts and bequests are ambiguous
- Obtaining fresh objectives for relocation of purposes where a church, department or agency, for example, no longer exists
- Protecting denominational (in our case Conference) property
- Facilitating financing and funding of church development and protecting church assets from bank mortgage foreclosure
- More sustainable charitable and religious exemptions
The Act is clear that the transfer of property titles, amendments to the trusts by which church titles are held under the First Schedule of the Act, and any rules made by the Trustees, are subject to the will of the Conference (sections 10, 13(3), 17(1) of the Act).
This means the Conference ultimately has the power to decide on whether or not to approve a transfer of titles, retain capital sale proceeds or decide on any other matter impinging on trusteeship of church assets, whether by way of an isolated or specific motion or more generally by way of policy, rule or amendment to trusts in the First Schedule of the Act.
Most titles are either listed in the Second Schedule of the Act, which is under the trusts of the First Schedule, or have been directly assigned, at purchase, to Prop Corp as Trustee, and therefore under the First Schedule (sections 6 and 4 of the Act).
In Victoria the Act’s First Schedule allows broad powers for the church to enjoy and use the property without the need to incorporate or seek external finance. This includes building, alterations, mortgage, sale and purchase, lease, repair, insure and use proceeds to meet liabilities and responsibilities.
The First Schedule of the Act defines the terms of the trust held for the church by Prop Corp which among other things allows for the congregation of any Church of Christ to manage its own affairs so no loss of autonomy in this respect is suffered by individual churches.
In Victoria, churches may request titles to be transferred from Prop Corp to the church on satisfaction of Section 10 of the Act which requires the direction and consent of the Churches of Christ in Victoria and Tasmania under a resolution of a Conference general meeting.
In Victoria policies impacting on Prop Corp’s trusteeship of church titles are subject to the will of the Conference general meeting according to sections 10, 13(3), 17(1) of the Act which govern the transfer of property titles, amendments to the trusts by which church titles are held under the First Schedule of the Act, and any rules made by the Trustees.