By Dave Tombers
Joseph Smaha, pastor of the Paramus, N.J., Community Church, has preached one last time in the sanctuary long ago built and paid for by members of his small congregation. Now, he said, the Metropolitan District office of the Christian and Missionary Alliance denomination has told his flock to go elsewhere.
It was an emotional service last Sunday, attended by around 50 people, in which Smaha turned the keys to the building over to a Korean pastor whose congregation will now occupy the facility.
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WND reported earlier on the battle in which Metropolitan District Supt. Bruce Terpstra has worked through the district's legal counsel to evict the Paramus congregation. The district has concluded that the church is dying, and so ownership of the property and all of the congregation's assets must be turned over to the denomination.
With the congregation now left on its own to find a place to worship, it has hired a legal representative and is contesting the court decision.
Terpstra had appealed to a judge in Bergen County, N.J., who already had barred the Paramus congregation from using the church over the Christmas holidays, swearing that there were no plans for any events.
The judge did allow the members to meet in the building they built and paid for, even though Terpstra submitted a statement to the court that when he reviewed the facility Dec. 13 he found "no evidence of toys, candy, Christmas literature, or other items such as might be used with children at a Christmas gathering for their benefit."
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Terpstra also has argued to the court that throughout "the course of this litigation I have remained on the email list for the church and in that regard receive information regarding such events as occur at the property."
He stated, "I have received no emails even suggesting that defendant, Community Church, was preparing for 'a number of religious activities for the Christmas week which had been planned for a considerable period of time' nor have I received any emails indicating any special focus on children or the needy on the part of the defendant, Community Church, during the Christmas season."
Once again, the congregation says that's simply wrong.
"There is no such list. We don't communicate through email in our congregation. Had Rev. Terpstra looked at the bulletins right in the sanctuary, he would have seen our entire Christmas schedule printed out in our announcements," Smaha said.
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He said his church held normal services Christmas week and also a children's Sunday night Christmas service, a Friday Christmas dinner, Christmas Eve services, Christmas Day services, New Year's Eve services, and New Year's Day services.
"None of which were announced by email, because there is no email list," Smaha said.
He told WND there were several other points made by Terpstra that the church contests. And the church attorney, E. Allen MacDuffie, agrees.
In Terpstra's affidavit, he tells the court his district had to pay nearly $3,400 in costs to carry insurance on the church, "since the Defendant, Community Church, apparently was unable to afford the same."
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Further, the congregation is raising questions about claims by the conference that there was a day-care center. There also remain questions about why the church would be shut down with 15, 20, or 50 participants when there were only 13 members when the conference agreed in 1996 to accept the congregation.
WND first reported last week that Judge Harry Carroll of the Superior Court of New Jersey ordered Smaha's congregation to relinquish the property after the Metropolitan District of the Christian and Missionary Alliance invoked a "reversionary" clause in church documents, which they say gives the district the right to order the church closed, take its property and bank account contents.
Terpstra has declined to respond to attempts by WND to reach him for comment. But another district official, Fred Henry, who is mentioned frequently in court filings, told WND there would be no comment from the district except for an email sent to all pastors earlier this week.
Henry told WND that the email was written by Dan Wetzel, from the denomination's national headquarters, and cites Bruce Terpstra's explanation of events.
As WND previously reported, Wetzel told WND that his office had no information about the Paramus church situation, saying, "We are not a hierarchical body. Each district acts independently. … I don't have anything to do with the Paramus situation."
Wetzel told WND to talk to Terpstra, but multiple messages to Terpstra have not generated a response.
Wetzel's comment also conflicted with the district's court filings, in which the district attorney told the court: "The C&MA is a hierarchical denomination."
Wetzel's email said:
Over the past few weeks, numerous stories have surfaced through both printed and Internet media channels regarding the closing of the Community Church of Paramus (NJ).
However, many of the statements published are simply untrue.
One story that appeared in WND online gave significant voice to those disgruntled with the The Christian and Missionary Alliance (C&MA) and the Metropolitan District and slanted the story in a way that seemed to justify the angry, unfounded accusations of these individuals.
The WND story has been reposted to Facebook and other social media outlets, causing some alarm within the C&MA and the greater body of Christ.
Last week Wetzel told WND, "No comment."
Reached by phone this week, Henry told WND, "You should talk to [Terpstra], but I don't think you can. I refer you to the credible information written by Dan Wetzel from our national headquarters."
However, those interviewed about the situation did not give evidence of being "disgruntled."
Those interviewed, including Smaha, said they cherish the C&MA but have differences of opinion on how best to further the mission of the church at that location.
Church member Thomas McCoy said he took the Christmas photographs of the church because he was concerned about the criticism from the denomination.
"I truly pray that the CMA and Bruce will find their way back to spreading the Word instead of being in the real estate game," he said. "We are to build one another up and not tear each other down, especially churches."
Smaha pointed to more of the sworn statement Terpstra provided the court.
It said that Terpstra found the church unlocked and unsecure when he arrived with a locksmith on Dec. 13 to "secure the property pursuant to the court's judgment."
He also expressed concern that the congregation would take things out that now belong to the district.
But Smaha said the doors and windows never are left unlocked, and the locksmith had to drill out a lock from the door.
Henry told WND that the district wouldn't be able to provide the name of the locksmith for verification of Terpstra's claims.
After WND reported on the plight of the Paramus congregation, the conference posted on Facebook the statement:
More than two years ago the executive committee of the Metropolitan District of The Christian and Missionary Alliance made a decision to close the community Church of Paramus of The Christian and Missionary Alliance. The events precipitating the closure included (1) the embezzlement of funds; (2) the complete absence of constitutional leadership; (3) a failure of oversight; and (4) the assessment of the district leadership team that the church was no longer viable. Over a two-month observation period, church attendance ranged from 10 to 16, including the pastor and his family. The financial desperation of the church was causing its leaders to make decisions that would encumber the church and the district, forcing the district to invoke the reversion clause in accordance with its procedures and regulations.
Because we rely so heavily on the Internet as a source of information that is often unverifiable, we must exercise great caution in what we choose to accept as truth. More than any other generation, we must read Internet articles with great discernment and a healthy dose of skepticism. The sworn enemy of Christ's church has vowed to stop at nothing to bring about its demise. And the use of media has become a frequent weapon of choice.
Smaha said the embezzlement suggests much, but it was the church that discovered a treasurer over time allegedly had taken money from the church account to pay her debts.
"We wanted to handle her in a God-honoring way and not involve courts or police, so we called the district for biblical advice. They told us we needed to 'pursue charges' against her, which we were reluctant to do," he said.
Smaha told WND that it was in a meeting at the church regarding how to biblically handle this congregant that the district discovered how nice the church building was.
"They hadn't set foot in our building for years," he said. "Now that we fixed the roof and remodeled it, they see a value."
As for the allegation of "complete absence of constitutional leadership," Smaha said there was a "functioning, governing board made up of officers."
Smaha also said the attendance count cited by the conference, ranging from 10 to 16, was wrong.
"Not everyone comes to every service, and different people come on different Sundays," he said. "I offered to provide them a list of congregants, and they told me it wouldn't matter because I might be making things up."
Smaha said the district's reasoning for closing the church was simple: Not enough attendees, not enough leaders, not enough income, not enough money to the district.
The district's posting also said the church "attempted to revise its articles to remove the reversion clause, and voted to leave The Alliance. It retained legal counsel, which advised the church's leadership to cut all communications. … The district also attempted to resolve the dispute by seeking binding arbitration with Christian conciliators. The church again refused. The district, still liable for the ministry and the property, had no choice but to turn to the legal system to resolve this conflict."
The result was its lawsuit demanding the property and bank accounts.
The district said a "remnant" decided to dishonor the "previous commitment."
The story from Smaha is different. He said Henry informed the Paramus church in January 2010 that it was being evicted, so the property could either be sold or another congregation placed in it.
"He told us that if the C&MA didn't sell the church, maybe we could approach the new congregation to see if we could meet in the building if it was convenient for them."
Smaha also said that the church agreed to mediation and a meeting was scheduled with a judge in October.
"On Saturday, October 29th we had that surprise snow storm hit this area and knocked out the electricity for 90 percent of Paramus for three to five days. We asked to reschedule, but they didn't agree to that," he said. "Also, Judge Mecca told [us] they were not really interested in mediating anyway, telling him there was nothing to mediate.
"I also told them that I'd be willing to step down so they could have another pastor come in and give this congregation a chance to grow, and they told me that's not an option."
As WND previously reported, the issue has arisen in the past. Pastor Joe Broz told WND his church helped another pastor whose congregation was closed down. And James Sundquist has researched similar stories and provides information at perfectpeaceplan.com.
Morris Webster was an elder in another C&MA church that was taken by the Metropolitan District a few years ago.
"They are not a spirit-led organization," he charged.
In 2008, the Colorado Springs Gazette reported on a Chinese C&MA congregation who had its church taken away and sold to a karate studio. The report said at that time the C&MA threw remaining Chinese Bibles into a garbage bin.