Paramus congregation locked out; scrambling for place to hold Christmas services

North 15, 2011

Paramus -- Members of the Community Church of Paramus have been barred from their place of worship as a result of a court decision, leaving them scrambling to find a location to celebrate Christmas services.

Locks were changed Wednesday following a decision by Superior Court Judge Harry G. Carroll to grant possession of the Cedar Lane church property to the Metropolitan District of the Christian and Missionary Alliance, of which the church was an accredited member.

The Alliance is a Protestant evangelical denomination with more than 2,000 churches nationwide.

Deacon Peter Ferriero said he begged an Alliance district superintendent Wednesday for permission to allow the church to worship through Christmas, to no avail.

"That's not a Christian thing to do," Ferriero said of the Alliance's move. "Where is the forgiveness regardless of who is right and wrong?"

The church, which has owned the property since 1929 but only joined the Alliance 10 to 15 years ago, requested a stay this week to allow members access while they appeal. The motion is scheduled to be argued today.

"The Community Church of Paramus has a number of religious activities scheduled for the Christmas week which have been planned for a considerable period of time and had been anticipated by the parishioners," E. Allen MacDuffie, the church's attorney, said in his request. "Additionally, the Community Church of Paramus had provided food and religious solace at the Thanksgiving holiday and plans also on Christmas Eve to extend the joys of Christ's birthday to various needy persons and children who otherwise might not enjoy such benefits."

Bruce K. Terpstra, district superintendent for the Alliance's Metropolitan District in Newark, and Arthur C. Hopkins, the Alliance's attorney, could not be reached for comment Thursday.

The Alliance's Metropolitan District filed a lawsuit last year, maintaining it was entitled to the property. It noted that the church voted to become an accredited church in 1996.

By doing so, it accepted a clause that stated "should the church cease to be subject to the purposes, usages, doctrines and teachings of the Christian and Missionary Alliance, then legal title to all property, appurtenances and effects then owned or held by it shall revert to the benefit of and become the property of the district of the C&MA … without regard to how or from whom such property was acquired."

In 2009, the Alliance, which is based in Colorado Springs, Colo., changed the church's status from "accredited" to "development" and determined the church should close due to a declining membership, a lack of elder leadership and financial difficulties.

That triggered the clause that reverted ownership of the property and assets to the Alliance, the group argued.

But according to court documents, church attorney MacDuffie countered that the Alliance recently amended its constitution to allow accredited churches of less than 10 years to revoke that clause. He said the church fell into that category because it had only amended its certificate of incorporation in 2000 to reflect the accreditation.

The judge last week granted the Christian and Missionary Alliance possession of the church and barred the defendants from entering or occupying the property.

The church, which has more than 100 congregants, completed $210,000 in renovations a couple of years ago, said Pastor Joseph Smaha. While it's not clear what the Alliance will do with the building, Ferriero and Smaha said it has assumed control of other churches and sold them for profit.

"We believe in the Lord and we believe this is a battle to expose the Christian and Missionary Alliance, how really what they're doing is stealing," Ferriero said. The building's estimated worth is $500,000, Ferriero said.

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