Facing foreclosure by Everence, a Nigerian Mennonite immigrant congregation in Inglewood, Calif., has asked Mennonite Church USA to help halt the sale of its building.
In a May 6 open letter, the pastors of Los Angeles Faith Chapel asked MC USA to mediate between the congregation and Everence. They said Everence had refused requests for mediation and had acted in ways that the congregation’s attorneys described as malicious.
The letter was signed by five pastors of Los Angeles Faith Chapel, including Chuwang Pam, senior pastor and founder.
Everence released a statement May 7 defending its actions: “On June 12, 2013, Everence President and CEO Larry Miller sent a letter to L.A. Faith Chapel’s lawyer, saying, ‘After extensive review of this situation with legal counsel, it remains clear that both Church Extension Services and Everence have acted ethically, morally, legally and even generously in their dealings with Los Angeles Faith Chapel. We are proceeding with the foreclosure.’ ”
In a May 19 press release, Miller called the situation unfortunate but said that “our practice is not to talk publicly about sensitive relationships we have with individuals, congregations or organizations. And, in this case, we are also constrained from commenting because it’s in legal proceedings.”
The sale, originally scheduled for May 8, was delayed twice. As of May 19, the sale was scheduled for May 23.
The church filed for Chapter 11 bankruptcy in March.
According to Los Angeles Faith Chapel’s letter, Everence’s attorney said in court that Everence would never approve any reorganization plan the church proposed. Since Chapter 11 bankruptcy requires creditor approval, the court allowed the sale of the building to be scheduled.
According to bankruptcy records filed at the court of Los Angeles County, Church Extension Services Inc. claims two debts, one of $275,100, incurred in 2002; and one of $250,000, incurred in 2005.
MC USA’s Church Extension Services, supported and supervised by Everence since 2012, provides uncoventional, high-risk loans for urban, racial-ethnic and new immigrant congregations that do not qualify for traditional loans to buy facilities.
In the May 19 press release, Everence said $4.1 million in loans are active in 23 other churches and nine nonprofits.
In a May 16 interview, Pam said the congregation took out the initial loan for a church building. They would sometimes fall behind on payments, but it was manageable. In 2005 the church used the second loan to purchase a building they intended to use as a homeless shelter. But the city would not grant permission for a shelter, so the church sold the building, but for less than they paid for it. With debt remaining on the second building in addition to the first, Pam said, the payments were too much to handle.
In February, a public foreclosure sale notice indicated Los Angeles Faith Chapel owed Everence $632,226.
Olufemi Fatunmbi, moderator of Pacific Southwest Mennonite Conference, said the conference tried to mediate several times. He helped the church draft steps to pay the debt.
“Between the conference minister and the board of Everence, the deal was killed,” he said. “I think we did our best. But it didn’t work out.”
Pam said that after sending the letter a few pastors called to offer their support, but no agencies or church leaders did.
Apart from the conference, “no one in the Mennonite church has attempted to even mediate,” he said. “That is a shock to us. If people in the Mennonite church step in, we could still resolve the issue.”
Fatunmbi appealed to Everence to stop the foreclosure.
“Please give L.A. Faith another chance for the sake of stewardship and the mission,” he said. “These immigrant churches today that are not doing well, they will become like the Anglo churches tomorrow. So it’s good to treat those that are your mission churches very well.”