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Church Leaders Say They Won't Lose Their Church To Foreclosure

This article is more than 11 years old.

By the end of March, the nation's largest black bank could foreclose on one of Boston's historic black churches. Charles Street African Methodist Episcopal Church has existed for nearly 200 years, and has worshipped in its Roxbury building since 1939. And the congregation shows no signs of leaving.

Keeping The Faith

Parishioners sang and prayed much like they do on any Sunday, but this Sunday the specter of foreclosure influenced much of the service at Charles Street AME church in Roxbury.

"God is bigger than any institution."

The Rev. Gregory Groover

"God is bigger than any institution," The Rev. Gregory Groover told the congregation. "God can work all things out. If we're faithful, and trust God, he will see us through."

"You are not losing this church," Ross Martin, from the law firm of Ropes and Gray, told parishioners from the pulpit. Martin has represented the church for free over the last two years in a messy battle against OneUnited Bank.

Martin said he is trying to negotiate with the bank. Other financial institutions in the city have come forward to help.

"As you all know, March 22nd is the day the bank has supposedly scheduled to have a foreclosure sale on this church and on the pastoral house and another building," Martin said. "That's still a long way in these kinds of disputes. These things come down to the last moment more often than not."

Martin asked church members to stay steadfast and strong.

It wasn't clear just how parishioners are feeling about the possibility of losing their church. Many didn't want to speak about the high-profile situation, deferring all questions to the pastor and attorney.

A High Stakes Case

The dispute is all the more charged since it's between two prominent local black institutions. Politicians from Mayor Thomas Menino to U.S. Senators Scott Brown and John Kerry have called on the bank to meet with Charles Street AME Church.

The bank won't say whether it will. And it wouldn't comment on the boycott threatened against the bank should it move to foreclose.

"I can say that it is not the practice to discuss the details of any discreet customer relationship," Robert Cooper, general counsel for OneUnited Bank, said in a phone interview.

"That said, and without commenting on this particular customer relationship, the bank has a process for working with borrowers who have had difficulties meeting their financial obligations," Cooper said. "And I can assure you that it is not the practice of OneUnited bank to exercise collection measures including foreclosure in the absence of good cause."

The bank is foreclosing on the church over a loan for $1.1 million. It's also suing Charles AME for a construction loan to build a banquet center. That loan is worth around $3 million.

Groover says the church is ready to pay back the money, but he disagrees how much the church really owes the bank.

"We're not looking for a pass," Groover said. "We've been paying our bills. It's not because we haven't paid our bills. It's not because we took out a loan that was too big for us to manage. It's none of that. Our loans, we're responsible for them."

Groover is trying to talk to the bank, but is having little success. Still, the reverend thinks something will work out.

"We're not going to lose our property. We're just not," Groover said. "We have several plans leading up the 22nd. We're just convinced that we're not going anywhere. We're not going to go anywhere. This will still be Charles Street AME church at the end of the day."

Groover and church attorney Ross Martin wouldn't detail their legal strategy. But they stress that saving the church really may come down to the very last minute.

This program aired on March 12, 2012.


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