A church building in California has been occupied by its elders after they found the offices ransacked, records and checkbooks gone and new locks on the building, all done by their own church conference in its process of “taking possession” of the structure and “securing the building,” members have told WND.
The situation has developed at the Grace Community Alliance Church in Baldwin Park, Calif., now in conflict with the Christian & Missionary Alliance conference based in Colorado Springs.
The district leadership of the conference is pursuing a reversion clause that it says applies to conference churches, and officials most likely want to sell the church assets of some $1 million, even though the congregation and the pastor are pleading for mercy.
Church leaders told WND church elders have been occupying the building around the clock after the district leadership broke into the locked building, ransacked the offices, removed records and checkbooks, and attempted to lock the pastor and his flock out, all unbeknownst to the congregation.
The “break-in” was labeled “securing the building” after “taking possession of it” according to a South Pacific District email obtained by WND.
The church has had a spotless record of paying “dues” to the C&MA “Great Commission Fund,” and members say they have had no issues with the district, until very recently.
But that recent contact quickly spun out of control, with the district being accused of lying to the elders and congregants, stripping the pastor of his credentials, labeling the healthy church as “development,” even entering the building without notifying the congregation in recent weeks.
“We are not in chaos, we are not in financial difficulty,” Pastor Fred Cheock of Grace Community Alliance Church tells WND.
“Still, the District Superintendant Bill Malick labels us as ‘development,’ and within weeks tries to cancel all of our worship services and lock our people out of our building.”
The district entry into the building was discovered by accident by the wife of an elder who drove past the church and noticed padlocks on the gates.
She contacted her husband, Avery Schott, who proceeded to the church to discover that the locks on all but one door had been changed.
“I think they just missed one,” he says.
“I proceeded into our church, and discovered the offices were completely ransacked, and many items were missing,” he said.
“While I was investigating this, and contacting the other elders to report what I found, I received an email on my phone, and immediately knew who had done this to our church.”
The email from Malick had this to say about the break-in,
“The South Pacific District of the Christian and Missionary Alliance has had to make the difficult decision to take possession of the Grace Community Alliance Church (GCAC) property. Today the building was secured and all services and use of the building canceled until further notice.”
“This was news to us,” says Schott. “We soon discovered that someone from the district had pretended to be from our church and canceled all utilities to the building.”
“We’ve since straightened that out with the utility companies,” Schott says.
The bylaws of the C&MA apparently give a district superintendent the ability to step in and downgrade a church’s affiliation with the C&MA if certain conditions exist.
The bylaws also say that the purpose of the downgrade to “development” status is to help that congregation “fix” whatever problems may exist, so that they can regain their full status back, usually by following a 9-12 month plan of action.
But that process also includes the option, WND has been told, for “reversion.”
According to Cheock and Schott, it was only this past spring that the district honed in on the congregation after an elder was removed from his post upon being allegedly caught in adultery, prohibited by the Bible.
Cheock alleged that individual then complained to the district.
“The superintendent never talked to any of our members or elders except the one complaining about being removed,” says Cheock. “The next thing we knew he was revoking my pastor credentials, without offering any explanation why.”
WND has documented in the past that C&MA districts have used the “reversion” clause to try to shut down churches and seize all its assets.
In some cases selling the property of what they label a “struggling” church generates revenue that is reinvested by the conference.
James Sundquist has extensively researched the subject and has produced a DVD documentary that explores what he calls the hijacking of churches in a title called, “Making Merchandise of Men’s Souls.”
He documents cases similar to the Grace Community Church situation on his PerfectPeacePlan.com website.
Sundquist points to a number of congregations that have had the C&MA step in, seize their assets, padlock the doors, and sell everything off.
“It’s interesting that they only close down ‘debt-free’ congregations,” he says. “You don’t usually see them take this action with a church that rents space every Sunday.”
In Colorado Springs the C&MA is accused of using this reversionary clause to wreak havoc with a Chinese congregation.
The Mid-America District of the C&MA allegedly locked the congregation out of their own building, which was owned free and clear by the Chinese congregation.
The district then sold the building to a karate studio for $500,000, and threw the Chinese Bibles and literature away.
A 2008 article in the local Gazette reported, “When the church locks were changed on a summer’s day two years ago, Zhen Xue and the other congregants were dumbfounded. After all, the Chinese Alliance Church parish owned the Colorado Springs property and had money in the bank to keep it running.
“Two days later, on July 2, 2006, the congregation got the explanation: Leaders of the MidAmerica District of the Christian & Missionary Alliance said they were shutting down the church because church membership, and thus donations, had fallen. The district later sold the storefront property to a karate studio for nearly $500,000, records show, and used the money to invest in other C&MA properties.”
WND previously reported extensively on the Paramus Community Church in New Jersey, and their plight with the District Superintendent Bruce Terpstra.
In that case, the district superintendent used the New Jersey court system to evict the pastor and church goers from their completely paid for church building.
The battle in New Jersey rages on to this day, with a judge allowing the congregation to remain in their building while the expensive court hearings continue.
In Baldwin Park the church also continues to meet despite the threats of Malick to cancel all services.
Schott said the dispute culminated when district officials arrived at the church to level a series of charges against the pastor and congregation.
“Many of the accusations were proven false even without being able to prepare, but the district would not allow the elders a chance to rebut,” he said. “They sat Pastor Cheock in one room, and the elders in another, and wouldn’t allow us to talk to him.”
Malick’s response to WND questions came in a written statement.
“Ultimately the removal of the pastor was based upon an evaluation of the congregation’s health and ministry to the Filipino community in Baldwin Park,” the statement said.
The statement said there was a “significant decline in attendance” to just 17 adults, and there was “significant and persistent division” in the church.
The district statement also accused the church of “evidence of flagrant disregard for proper governance,” “failure of the congregation’s leadership to convene and keep written record of annual meetings,” and “elders were placed in office arbitrarily, without proper elections.”
The district also provided a letter indicating the support for the decision from a number of pastors. But WND also located a separate letter signed by many of these same pastors that indicates a slightly different set of reasons.
The letter from the pastors reported they met with Malick and were told his reasons for removing Cheock. Most of them did not respond to WND questions, but one did confirm he hadn’t seen any evidence regarding the removal of Choeck.
“Our church is current on all of its bills, and only has about $50,000 remaining on a mortgage, for a church that’s worth well over a million dollars,” Schott tells WND.
Schott said many of the accusations generate from the one elder who became upset with the church and left, taking his family with him.
“We’ve always been cohesive, had great giving and attendance, and have recovered nicely with the departure of this very vocal and divisive family,” says Schott.
Cheock told WND in an emotional interview that he had supported another church, the Paramount Alliance Church, a year earlier when Malick closed its doors.
“I educated them on the ability of the district to use this reversionary clause to shut them down and take everything away, and because of my efforts Reverend Malick had to delay his plans for the church,” he said. “In the meeting with me in May, when he separated me from my elder board, he told me that I had caused him much trouble by intervening for the Paramount church.
“He said, ‘You put me in a very bad situation,’ and emphasized that the troubles with my church were stemming from my support of the Paramount Church,” Choeck said.