The national Lutheran organization that wrested control of a century-old Boerum Hill Church from locals parishioners broke its silence last week to this newspaper.
The Metropolitan New York Synod, a division of the Evangelical Lutheran Church of America (ELCA), said it gained control of the Bethlehem Lutheran Church, 490 Pacific Street, in 2007 after a meeting in which a congregational quorum voted to close the house of worship and turn it over to the ELCA.
Bishop Robert Rimbo of the Synod said after that meeting one church member, without the consent of the rest of the congregation, filed a lawsuit in the civil courts to take ownership of the property.
“The civil court ruled in favor of the Synod. The dispute, however, between the individual and the Synod regarding the disposition of the property continues. We now understand that the individual is seeking funds for a fourth civil suit in this matter,” said Rimbo.
“Such situations are extremely rare and unusual. We are saddened that the spiritual lives of the congregation and the community were affected by this situation. We offer our prayers for healing and peace for all former members of Bethlehem Lutheran Church,” he added.
The Synod response drew a sharp rebuke from Rev. Dr. Norman David, the acting pastor of the church membership, which now numbers about 30 people.
The meeting which the bishop refers to was a so-called congregational meeting and was called after a majority of the members had either resigned or were expelled,” said David.
David said the meeting went against the church constitution and documents that the Synod confiscated would bear that out.
Further, the person who filed the lawsuit was then-church president Muriel Tillinghast, who did so with the backing of the secretary and others on the church board, he added.
David explained the takeover began following the death of Rev. Paul Matson, who died in 2002 after ministering at the church for 20 years.
At that point ELCA Bishop Stephen Bouman appointed Rev. David Anglada to be interim pastor for a period of five years and upon arrival he announced he is there to close the church, said David.
David said the congregation, like many Lutheran churches, is a member of ELCA, but feels the national organization is going against its charter of being congregational and the congregation should come first.
The church congregation has shrunk over the years and now meet in exile at the Zion Lutheran Church, 125 Henry Street in Brooklyn Heights.
Current church president Stephen Johnson said his family has been members since the church inception and he would like to see the church re-opened and developed into a bigger enterprise to serve the community better.
“They (Synod) misled people to believe they would help the church get back on its feet, but we speculate they do not plan on re-opening the church,” he said.
©2009 Community News Group
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