Exclusive: Trust to distribute $35 million to Churches of Christ in Tennessee, Kentucky
A one-time traveling salesman born in small-town Kentucky before the…
Earl Bybee thought it was a hoax.
When the treasurer for the East Mud Lick Church of Christ in Tompkinsville, Ky., received a letter claiming the church might be one of the beneficiaries for a $35 million trust fund, he didn’t think much of it.
“I thought it was just junk mail, and I put it all with the other trash and tossed it.”
“I thought it was just junk mail, and I put it all with the other trash and tossed it,” he said.
Bybee checks the mail for the 20-member congregation about 75 miles northwest of Nashville. He said the church often receives “junk mail” containing monetary offers. This letter seemed no different.
Only after trashing the letter did Bybee hear that other churches in the area were receiving similar notices — and that the offer was legitimate. His congregation was, in fact, eligible to receive a portion of the trust established more than 60 years ago by R.W. Comer.
As The Christian Chronicle first reported in October, roughly 2,000 a cappella Churches of Christ in Tennessee and Kentucky will split the proceeds from a trust fund established by Comer and his sons in 1936. At the time, it was estimated that each church, regardless of size, would be eligible to receive about $17,500.
Since he no longer had the letter, Bybee contacted the Comer trust legal counsel in hopes that East Mud Lick church could still qualify as a beneficiary. Bybee said his congregation would benefit greatly from such a fund.
“We’d be tickled to death,” Bybee said.
The church received a response from the counsel on Wednesday.
As of this week, the trust fund administrator has received completed forms from 1,714 eligible churches, Nashville attorney Thor Urness told the Chronicle.
However, Urness is hoping to hear from more congregations.
“I expect there are still eligible churches we have not heard from,” Urness said, “both that we sent letters to but did not receive them and churches that are simply not in anyone’s database.”
Nov. 20 was the original administrative deadline for congregations to respond and qualify for the funds. However, Urness said the trustee wants to fulfill the intent of the trust, so they are allowing additional time for churches to send in the required paperwork. The deadline has been extended to Feb. 29.
Since the Chronicle first shared the story, several congregations have reached out saying they didn’t receive a letter. One of those is the Yuma Church of Christ in West Tennessee. Despite not receiving a letter, member Brandy Baumgarder believes the congregation should qualify as a beneficiary.
The Yuma church is not listed in the most recent edition of “Churches of Christ in the United States.” The national directory, published by Nashville-based 21st Century Christian, is what the fund counsel used to identify and contact Churches of Christ.
Carl Royster, who compiles the data for the directory, said since the Comer trust fund packets were sent out, he has received information from about 20 congregations to either update church information or be added in the directory.
Baumgardner learned of the trust through a friend who attends a different congregation. They had shared the Chronicle’s story about the trust.
“We would very much like to be included on the list of beneficiaries,” Baumgardner wrote in an email to the Chronicle last week. “Not only could our small congregation benefit greatly, but our ability to do local outreach and support missionaries would also increase. In addition, being on the list of beneficiaries would confirm to others that our congregation remains dedicated to conservative ideals as set forth within the Bible, particularly that of a cappella worship.”
After sending their information to the trust counsel, the Yuma church received the packet on Wednesday and plans to complete the form and be added as a beneficiary.
A business owner and charter member of the Chapel Avenue Church of Christ in Nashville, R.W. Comer established the trust with his sons in 1936.
There were three classes of beneficiaries: Class A and B were family members. The Class C beneficiaries are Churches of Christ in Kentucky, where he was born, and Tennessee, where he started his successful apparel company.
The following is an excerpt from an email the Chronicle received from Urness:
Any a cappella Churches of Christ in Kentucky and Tennessee that existed as of September 2019 that have not already received an information packet from the R.W. Comer & Sons Trust and returned to the Trust a completed Class C Beneficiary Notice Acknowledgment Form should send an email providing the following information to Thor Urness, counsel for the R.W. Comer & Sons Trust, to [email protected] by February 29, 2020:
Church name and address
Church representative name with phone number
Address where Church representative can receive and sign for Certified U.S. Mail, Return Receipt Requested.
To update church information in the national directory of Churches of Christ or add a congregation, visit 21st Century Christian’s website.
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