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It’s as heartwarming a Christmas story as Ebenezer Scrooge on a foul day.
A group of local Lutherans are battling with the national Lutheran organization over control of a century-old Boerum Hill church.
Parishioners of the Bethlehem Lutheran Church, 490 Pacific Street, have been holding outdoor services since the Metropolitan New York Synod, a division of the Evangelical Lutheran Church of America (ELCA), wrested control of the house of worship.
“They’ve been trying to close the church or at least obtain its property since 2004, and the congregation has been fighting that without a pastor since 2006,” said Rev. Norman David, from the Christ Lutheran Church in Massachusetts, who has been the congregants’ pastorial advisor since February.
David explained that the previous pastor, Rev. Paul Matson, 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 plans 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 currently has under 30 members, many of which now meet and attend in exile the Zion Lutheran Church, 125 Henry Street in Brooklyn Heights.
“I and two other pastors formed a religious corporation called Eastern Star LLC for the purposes of advising Bethlehem and providing legal counsel to look at their case and see what can be done legally,” said David.
David explained that since 2006, when congregants found out the church was going to be closed they took it upon themselves to rent out the facility to social service and religious organizations, and have been able to bring in between $150,000 and $200,000 annually.
The money has been used to rehabilitate the church in the hopes of renewing its mission to become a part of the community, he said.
However, since the synod took control of the church through the Kings County court system in January, congregants have been locked out.
Past church president Muriel Tillinghast said while she is a lay member and not clergy it became imperative for her to remain involved because helping the community is in line with what a Christian is supposed to do.
“The church council took two votes to keep the church alive,” she said, adding the membership has tried repeatedly to communicate and work with the synod, but to no avail.
Speculation runs rampart that the ELCA may want to sell the property.
Synod officials, when asked for their side of the story, played the issue quieter than a church mouse.
“We haven’t been able to comment on the story in the past because it’s under litigation,” said synod spokesperson Sarah Gioe.
©2009 Community Newspaper Group
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