At a June 3 foreclosure auction, Everence sold Los Angles Faith Chapel’s church building in Inglewood, Calif., for $525,100.
Grace Pam, who with her husband, Chuwang, is a founding pastor of the Nigerian Mennonite immigrant church, said church leaders would break the news to the congregation during its Sunday service June 8.
“We are a people of faith, so we’ll just encourage them to be strong,” she said. They plan to keep worshiping at the foreclosed location until evicted.
Pam said the foreclosure had been a painful process, and the church body had been involved with each decision along the way.
In an unsuccessful effort to prevent the sale, five pastors of the church sent an open letter May 6, asking Mennonite Church USA to help mediate the situation.
The Pams received a letter of response dated May 19 from MC USA executive director Ervin Stutzman on behalf of the Executive Board.
“We had hoped that the negotiations over the past several years would point the way to a viable and mutually agreeable solution,” Stutzman wrote.
He wrote that after conversation with Everence and Pacific Southwest Mennonite Conference, the board had come to accept Everence’s decision.
Everence is the stewardship agency of MC USA.
“We understand that nearly from the beginning, your congregation has had difficulty making the payments on this facility,” Stutzman wrote. “While we had hoped that your congregation would be able to purchase and maintain the property for long-term ministry, it appears that you will need to find a less expensive facility.”
Douglas Yoder, a pastor at Los Angeles Faith Chapel, said June 3, “I am saddened to learn the foreclosure sale has taken place, and that the MC USA Executive Board chose to support this action after speaking with Everence but not with L.A. Faith.”
Charged with debt
According to public legal documents, Everence charged Los Angeles Faith Chapel with $632,226 of debt in February 2013. Two loans — in 2001 and 2005 — were issued to the church by MC USA’s Church Extension Services.
Church Extension Services, which was transferred to Everence’s management in 2012, provides loans for new and immigrant churches that don’t qualify for traditional loans.
In a May 19 press release, Everence president Larry Miller said Everence’s “practice is not to talk publicly about sensitive relationships we have with individuals.” The press release said conversations continued between Everence and Los Angeles Faith Chapel lawyers.
According to Pacific Southwest Mennonite Conference moderator Olufemi Fatunmbi, the conference attempted to assist in mediating the situation from December 2012 to January 2013.
Since then, Yoder said, “Everence’s position remains that L.A. Faith must pay a loan reinstatement fee to Everence of $88,209, which includes $37,010 in Everence’s attorneys’ fees and foreclosure costs, prior to any potential renegotiation of loan terms. This fee is out of reach.”
The congregation filed for bankruptcy in March, hoping to avoid foreclosure. But after court delays in April and May, the path was cleared for the sale when a judge signed an order May 19 granting relief from an automatic stay put in place after the bankruptcy filing.