Judge puts congregation back in own church

Halts 'eviction' that would turn property over to conference

WND News, New Jersey/February 8, 2012

A judge in New Jersey has decided to put a church congregation back in its building as the arguments move forward over who controls the facility members built and paid for.

Judge Philip S. Carchman of the Superior Court of New Jersey, appellate division, issued a stay order in the dispute between the small congregation in Paramus, N.J., and the Metropolitan District of the Christian & Missionary Alliance denomination.

It was signed Feb. 2 but today reached the church.

The congregation of the Community Church of Paramus, led by Pastor Joseph Smaha, had been ordered to turn over the keys to the mortgage-free building six weeks ago after an eviction order was obtained by Bruce Terpstra, the superintendent of the C&MA district.

Carchman's order essentially puts the eviction on hold.

"We are so thrilled," Smaha told WND today.

The eviction came about when the C&MA exercised a little known "reversionary" clause that allows the denomination's leaders to close down a church under some circumstances and take its property.

But the congregation argued that it shouldn't be forced to shut down, and its own members had built and paid for the building many years ago.

It was in the 1990s when the small, independent congregation sought the umbrella of a large denomination and became affiliated with the C&MA, which is based out of Colorado Springs.

There remains a dispute over whether that affiliation ever was formalized.

But then in 2009, a question arose over how to deal with an allegedly dishonest bookkeeper, and the pastor sought guidance from the denomination. He said when a denomination representative came and saw the building, including its recent renovation, trouble started.

"We were informed that the district was going to shut us down," Smaha told WND.

The reason?

"He told us that we were too small."

Smaha told WND that membership in the congregation has always been fairly low, but that over the years it has been as high as 70 to 100 people showing up for the variety of weekly services.

When word of the closure plans arrived, Smaha said he wasn't even allowed to argue that the church's membership was reasonable.

He said district officials wouldn't allow him to provide a list of members and attendees, telling the pastor, "You might be making it up."

In December, a judge allowed the small church congregation, now known as the Community Church of Paramus, to remain in the building until Jan. 1 in order to hold a variety of annual Christmas events there.

Terpstra had argued against allowing the congregation to remain in the building, saying that there was no evidence that the group had any Christmas plans.

The eviction order then became effective Jan. 1.

When it obtained possession of the building, the C&MA turned it over to a Korean congregation of about 20 members, while the Community Church members, estimated at 70 at this point, were told to find another location.

Smaha told WND today that the church members now have "no intention of evicting the Korean church now that we are moving back into our building."

"I've already extended the invitation for his congregation to continue meeting in our building, and we'll work around schedules as best as we can," he said.

"My mom always said, 'two wrongs don't make a right,' and I don't think it would be right to do to them what the CMA did to us," Smaha told WND.

The Korean church pastor, Cliff Chung, was grateful.

"That is so very kind and generous of them," he said. "We are truly brothers and sisters in Christ, and we are so appreciative of their welcoming spirit."

What lies ahead for the Community Church is still up to the New Jersey courts, as the recent court order simply "stays" the eviction order. The underlying question brought by the C&MA will still have to be sorted out.

Smaha said that within the past few weeks, Terpstra filed a motion to find the Community Church in contempt for failing to turn over $28,000 in savings to the district, even though the money was placed in trust with an attorney because of the controversy.

The new order stays that action as well.

"I pray, and ask others to join us in this prayer, that the Christian & Missionary Alliance will simply have a change of heart and drop their claim to our building," Smaha told WND. "Either that, or I pray that we'll make solid, legal precedent so that they can't continue treating church congregations this way."

The denomination could not be reached tonight for comment.

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