IS THERE JUSTICE IN THE CHURCH OF GOD IN CHRIST?

March 26, 2013

INJUSTICE AT MT. OLIVE; MUNCIE, IND

“Local churches and Pastors are leaving the Church of God in Christ.  They are leaving because they see no benefit in laboring to develop a strong congregation whose assets are vulnerable to the intrusion of those who have contributed nothing to its well being, or establishment.  Can we validly insist on authority without any investment, withdrawals without any deposits?”

These are not the words of some radical, this is a direct quote from a book written by Bishop Charles Blake, Presiding Bishop of the Church of God in Christ (page 4, para 5:     Why I Testified For The Defense In Orlando ).

Remember the words of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr “Injustice anywhere is a threat to justice everywhere.” (Page 1. paragraph 4, Letter From Birmingham Jail ).  Another quote from this same letter says “Oppressed people cannot stay oppressed forever”,  Page 6, paragraph 4.  Make no mistake about it,  the people have no rights as can be evidenced by these events and others chronicled in this blog.   In 2 Corinthians 3:17,  the Bible says  ” Now the Lord is that Spirit: and where the Spirit of the Lord is, there is liberty.”     The converse to that is also true, if there is no liberty, there is no Spirit. 



Here is an article from The Star Press, a newspaper which serves Muncie.

Divided church faces foreclosure

Written by Robin Gibson

Mar. 25

thestarpress.com

MUNCIE —When two opposing groups within a church each declare they constitute the actual church, who pays the bills?

In the case of Mount Olive Church of God in Christ, a 60-year-old congregation divided since last year between the family of the founding pastor and his successor, the answer is apparently no one.

The result has been an ongoing conflict now further complicated by proceedings on church property, damage to a day care facility owned by the church, the apparent departure of the new pastor and an uncertain future for the longtime southside congregation.

After the death of Mount Olive’s founder, Pastor Jesse Branson, in July 2011, Victor Champion, a pastor from out of state, was named to succeed him at the request of some church members but against the wishes of the Branson family.

The struggle between the family and Champion for control of the church and records eventually ended up in Delaware Circuit Court 1, with the red brick church closed to everyone for 30 days, then reopened for separate services by the two groups each Sunday.

After an August 2012 court ruling that both sides interpreted in their own favor, Champion had police stop Branson family members and their supporters from entering the church the Sunday of Labor Day 2012 weekend, warning them they would be trespassing if they did so.

Since then, the Branson side of the dispute has tried without success to regain access to the church property, including calling for a vote by church members in September 2012 to withdraw from the denomination entirely. That vote and supporting signatures were duly submitted to the denomination’s bishops, but the local group has never received a response, according to B. Joseph Davis, attorney for the Branson family. The Bransons’ supporters have taken a “wait and see” approach on that matter, since pursuing that in federal court would be so costly, he added.

Champion and Bishop Nathaniel Wells Jr., who oversees the Muncie church from Michigan and who appointed Champion as pastor, both said before the September vote that it would not be considered valid since the pastor had not called the meeting at which it was taken.

Damaged day care

Another issue resulting from the clashes between Champion and the Branson family was the closure of Little Lambs Day Care. Located in a separate building owned by the church, the day care —run by Pastor Branson’s daughter, Dorothy Jean Mills —closed shortly after Champion used a padlock and chains to lock the building’s doors in September 2012. Mills initially moved the day care to another, temporary site, but was soon after forced to close it down entirely.

Little Lambs later sued Champion and won a default judgment against him in November when Champion failed to appear in court, with damages still to be determined. At a hearing earlier this month, Delaware Circuit Court 1 Judge Marianne Vorhees issued an order allowing Little Lamb’s representatives access to the building to retrieve any personal property and documents.

Davis said the building’s power had been cut off, resulting in frozen, ruptured pipes and damage to the property over the winter. The emergency motion to permit entry also contended “agents of the defendant” had been removing property from the building.

Davis said last week he believed Champion had left Muncie and was no longer serving as pastor at Mount Olive. Champion appeared in person in Muncie City Court in mid-December to plead guilty to operating a motor vehicle without ever having been licensed and disregarding a stop sign, resulting in a suspended 60-day jail sentence and 60 days’ unsupervised probation through City Court, according to court records.

Sheriff’s deputies attempting to deliver notices related to the Little Lambs lawsuit to Champion at 815 S. Hackley St. on Nov. 30 noted the “house is vacant,” court files show.

Bishop Wells did not return multiple phone messages inquiring about Champion and the current status of Mount Olive Church, and his office would not confirm whether Champion was still at the Muncie church.

Foreclosure

The church’s future is all the more tenuous because multiple properties it owns —including the church building itself —are facing foreclosure.

According to court records in a mortgage foreclosure case filed Jan. 30 by First Merchants Bank, Pastor Branson and three deacons of the church took out two mortgage loans on the church’s behalf, each for $100,000, in June 2001.

First Merchants notified the church in early December 2012 that it was in default on both loans and that failure to pay would result in foreclosure. As of Nov. 28, Mount Olive owned $35,372.23 on one of the loans, and $69,831.52 on the other, according to court records, which cite liens on properties including the church building at 821 S. Hackley St.

The issue with the mortgage payments —as well as non-payment of utility bills at the Little Lambs building and its subsequent damage —according to Davis, attorney for the Branson family, is that both sides had stopped paying the bills. His clients stopped handling mortgage payments after being kicked out of the buildings in the wake of the earlier court case; Champion allegedly had the original church trustees removed from church banking information after that, but also apparently did not pay the bills either, Davis said.

The foreclosure action on the church’s property could have at least one positive outcome in the overall conflict, Davis said; it will clarify who “owns” the church.

As many as 17 people and entities —including Mills, Champion, the local church and trustees designated by both factions, the Church of God in Christ office in Michigan and Little Lambs Day Care —are listed in court records as defendants in the mortgage foreclosure case. Davis said last week that more would likely be added.

Also listed in the foreclosure case is the Muncie Industrial Revolving Loan Fund Board, likely because of a $50,000 loan the board made to Little Lambs in 2004 for such things as furniture, paving and operating capital. Todd Donati, director of the MIRLF, who has been researching the matter, said a church-owned property on South Hackley was put up as collateral for the loan, on which about $37,000 is still owed.

Neither members of the Branson family nor supporters of Champion returned calls inquiring about the church’s current status.

Contact Robin Gibson at 213-5855.

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1 Comment »

  1. The silence by the jurisdictional Bishop is deafening and his refusal or inability to act to bring to proper resolution this matter is disgraceful. He created this problem and now ignores, hides or runs from it. Such incompetence at his level does not bode well for the grand ole COGIC. This is what happens when you have the foxes guarding the hen house. They have no motivation to stop the destruction of the house, because they were only in the house to exploit it for what gains they could get for themselves. When the wolves are guarding the sheep, it should come to no surprise when the sheep start disappearing! COGIC it is time, not PAST TIME to get the wolves out!

    Comment by COGICWatcher — March 28, 2013 @ 8:16 AM | Reply


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