Friday, January 9, 2009

Warning! Warning! Master Robinson!
Missouri Is Foreclosing Its Own Churches



Megachurches wil suffer foreclosure in the next few years.


Here is one story, CrossPointe Community Church.

The Crosspointe Community Church put up this building in 2001 with big hopes and a big mortgage. But differences over worship style led membership to drop nearly in half ... just 35 families and a daycare center are left. The church is 50-thousand dollars behind in the mortgage, with nearly another half million still owed, if they even catch up. So, the note-holder pulled the plug.

Ken Rundstadler, Jr, Crosspointe Board President: "Worst case, there are options we could continue as a ministry, but we would lose this building, of course, and seek renting elsewhere, or worshipping in someone's house. I mean who knows."

The church is appraised at 900-thousand dollars. The note-holder, a finance arm of the Lutheran Church, bid the minimum, 600-thousand and got the property. But Crosspointe leaders say they have a 30-day stay of execution ... one more chance to refinance. Some cash could come from selling one-third of the site to Hamilton Township.


Video.

Hamilton Township

Crosspointe.


Who took our church?
Timeline
May – 1996:
The congregation – formally named “The Lutheran Church of Our Redeemer” and located in the community of Silverton, OH for 75 years, facing declining numbers and an aging congregation with an average age of 64, and with facilities badly in need of expensive renovation and repair, having closed their Christian day school two years prior, makes the difficult, yet courageous decision to relocate its ministries to another locale.
August – 1997:
The congregation is led to re-locate its ministries to the Hamilton Township/Maineville OH area. Following the sale of the Silverton facilities – at a sale price that exceeded the appraised value by $275,000 the congregation is able to purchase 26 acres of farmland on the far eastern side of Hamilton Township. This parcel of land was purchased surprisingly from a former member of the congregation who had attended the Redeemer congregation from the 30’s through the late 50’s.
August - 1997 thru December - 1999:
The congregation becomes a “mobile church plant” and conducts its worship services at the Maineville/Hamilton Township Elementary school during the school year months and King’s Island Resort during the Summer months. It also rents out an area office space to conduct other matters of business. Its newly-formed mission membership numbers approximately 60 members from the former Silverton congregation. Within 2 years that number fluctuates as some longtime members – due to age and distance restraints, begin to leave while newer, younger families from the new community join the mission plant.
October – 1998:
A plan is developed to build a multi-purpose facility on the newly purchased land. A design build firm is contracted to construct the new facilities. The congregation receives an anonymous gift of $260,000.00. Combined with the remaining portion of the proceeds from the Silverton facilities and pledges from the current membership, construction begins in early 1999.



October – 1999:

Due to the costs of the newly constructed facilities, the congregation approaches the Ohio District Lutheran Church Extension Fund – the lending arm of their church body – and solicits their assistance. A request is made that the congregation, due to what was understood as its church plant status, would receive from this lending institution what is referred to as “Mission Status” – a status reserved for mission plants affording them the lowest interest rate possible thereby granting them sufficient time (usually a 5-year period) to establish a much firmer financial base before adjusting the mortgage rates to the normal rates offered. The congregation’s request is rejected based upon the contention that it is not purely a “mission plant,” but rather a “re-location” project.

Shortly after receiving notice of the denial of the congregation’s request, an article within the Ohio District newsletter highlighted the charitable actions of the ODLCEF towards another district congregation wherein that congregation received a non-repayable $500,000.00 and Mission Status in order to receive the reduced mortgage rate. What made this a unique and relevant circumstance to our congregation was that the benefiting congregation was also a re-location project! After our challenging this apparent double standard, the ODLCEF offered our congregation a reduced rate, not nearly the “Mission Status” rate but a rate of 1% less than the normal rate. The ODLCEF gave as their reason for this inequity, what they considered as our being more capable to fund our project than the congregation in the West Virginia. In one sense, it could be pointed out that in purely sound investment terms, it could be seen as quite obvious that in order to maximize opportunity for success and good stewardship, the ODLCEF should have given greater consideration towards a ministry with the growth potential as that of Crosspointe – having been planted in the fastest growing area of the state. This then in comparison with what by all accounts was a congregation with very limited growth potential in West Virginia. Not that any one mission is more important than another. Still, we believed, and with what we preceiveed as sound financial judgment, at the very least an equal dispersion of funds and treatment would have been a more prudent and appropriate action. Had that been the case circumstances here at Crosspointe would no doubt be very different today. Sour grapes? Possibly. But then we believe this has been the consistent pattern of lack of support Crosspointe has found from our church body and its agencies.


January – 2001:
Though opened for our first worship service on Christmas Eve 2000, the congregation officially dedicates its new 13,000 square foot, $1.2 million facilities on January 21, 2001. It secures a $450,000.00 loan from the ODLCEF to complete this building project. Over the course of the next two years the congregation settles into its new facilities. It also begins and invests itself in a new ministry to the community via its excellent preschool program, “Wee Creations.”

May – 2003:
As the congregation began to take on new members, new leadership emerged and with it new ideas and methodology regarding ministry. A dramatic change in worship styles and a change in leadership structure that moved people out of meetings and into ministry were part of these new developments. Even the name of the congregation was changed from Our Redeemer to Crosspointe Community Church to reflect the desire to reach out into our area by promoting the concept of “community” over simple religious affiliation.

All of the above created an unforeseen dilemma. Over time the older, longtime members began to feel disenfranchised. They felt they were losing their beloved church. Soon this group, feeling disenfranchised, began to express their discontent in both overt and covert fashion, thus creating a seed bed for division. Growth became stagnant and members began to choose sides.

It was also at this time that the congregation began to experience some financial difficulties. Recognizing the impending possibility that we might find ourselves unable to continue to fund our ministries, our pastor was asked to contact the ODLCEF in order to ward off the potential for financial trouble. He then contacted the ODLCEF seeking relief. The plan was to attempt to purchase a possible second mortgage in order to subsidize mortgage payments until we could grow and mature. With well over $1 million in equity via our ownership of nearly 2/3 the building and the land, we felt this was a reasonable request. Their response, as shared by the board member who would soon become the Chairman of the Board himself, “We don’t give rainy-day slush funds to people.”


To combat the divisive circumstances now facing the congregation, the Spiritual leadership of the congregation were prayerfully led to bring healing and calm by crafting what was hoped to be a positive, Scriptural manner with which to foster unity within the congregation. After presenting this plan, the congregation voted by a very small majority to employ a new Membership Covenant designed to offer a clear manner with which to address conflict and divisive behavior. Sadly, a large portion of members rejected this hoped-for opportunity to heal the rift in our congregation. Therefore, by virtue of their refusal to sign the covenant these members forfeited their voting membership and any rights to participation in the leading and direction of the church, as stipulated within the covenant itself. Inevitably these members left the congregation altogether. Those who then chose to leave the Crosspointe family numbered nearly half of the congregation’s membership.

Though unaware of such a factor in the life of a mission plant congregation, this process has been termed the “Scaffolding Principle” by those who are supposed experts in the field of mission planting. The principle follows the process of a building program wherein as the bricks of the building are laid higher and higher via the use of scaffolding, once the final bricks are laid the scaffolding comes down. So also as a church is built in terms of its newer membership, utilizing the “scaffolding” of the older members to do so, often times when the growing process reaches a point, the “scaffolding” of older members comes down as in leaving the church for a variety of reasons. Some experts even claim that statistics have shown that on average only 5% of the original mission planting group remains in membership after the initial 5-year period of growth.

Nonetheless, the congregation faced tremendous challenges immediately following this split and variable loss in membership – most notably in the realm of financial viability.



May – 2004:
Amazingly, within a short period of time the growth of the congregation was restored. Within approximately a one year span we replaced all of the former members with new ones! For all intents and purposes, the leadership of the congregation truly felt that it was at this very point that we truly began to be a mission plant congregation. The general feeling was that of a sense of freedom from the constant inner struggles and conflict and we were now free to focus upon reaching out into our community. Thus, we experienced exponential growth like we had not experienced in the previous years following our re-location to the Hamilton Township area.

Unfortunately, these many new families were most often the young families of our community. Most often they themselves were financially tied down and not able to help we replenish our fast-declining income levels. Likewise, most came from un-churched backgrounds and new little of what we believe to be godly stewardship principles. The most glaring of all financial obligations not being met by the congregation was that of the mortgage with the ODLCEF.

We called the ODLCEF and pleaded for relief. We attempted to purchase a second mortgage in order to subsidize mortgage payments until we could grow and mature. With well over $1 million in equity via our ownership of nearly 2/3 the building and the land, we felt this was a reasonable request. Their response, as shared by the board member who would soon become the Chairman of the Board himself, “We don’t give rainy-day slush funds to people.”

It was at this point in time, after threats to foreclose upon the congregation that we were given an opportunity to re-finance the mortgage. Though this staved off immediate damage to the ministry, the re-financing was not such that our payments would be lowered and therefore the problem would still ultimately exist.

Over the course of the next year and a half we continued to struggle to make our mortgage payments. We survived this brief period by continually cutting our operating budget until we were in essence simply paying for the upkeep and maintenance of the facilities and limiting and ultimately eliminating any funds for ministry purposes.

August – 2006:
As noted, though we had been re-financed, we recognized that time was not on our side as we were still under the pressure of a mortgage payment that was beyond our means. Our hopes were that we could somehow bring our new membership of young families to a better understanding of stewardship and our giving would increase. Unfortunately, as one might expect, such a process does not happen overnight, especially with young families who are already financially strapped. Thus it did not take long for us to fall behind once again. We were summoned to appear before the ODLCEF board and offer a report on our circumstances. Once again we pleaded for some relief regarding our interest rate and were denied such. Again, we were simply told, ‘Get the money from your members.” Thus we attempted to do so. Such constant pressure upon our young members brought with it a somewhat natural response as several of these new families chose to shift membership to other churches in order to avoid the constant call for more money. Still, though unable to offer full payments, Crosspointe continued to make monthly installments of at least nearly half of each month’s mortgage payment.

April – 2007:
Having once again fallen into arrears, the ODLCEF summoned our pastor to give an accounting of our circumstances. At that time our arrears had reached a total of approximately $15,000.00. This came to roughly 3 months arrears. Our pastor offered a report showing that despite our financial challenges the ministry was thriving in terms of its success in making a tremendous impact upon the community. In the fall of 2006 we had held our 2nd annual community festival “Pumpkin Fest” with over 8,000 area residents in attendance. Our preschool, Wee Creations, was thriving with over 70 children registered. Our other outreach efforts had become popular events with the community, including a summer Bible camp that brought hundreds of children out to our campus which had been transformed into a country farm with live animals and all!

The ODLCEF board was not impressed. They’re only concern was for the financial affairs of the church and most specifically how Crosspointe would make good on its mortgage with the ODLCEF. Once again, via our pastor’s pleas, we requested a break on our mortgage interest rate so that we could realistically attack this matter. Our pastor also plainly recognized our delinquency and stated that we had every intention of making this matter right. It was at this point that the ODLCEF Chairman brought up the issue of placing some of Crosspointe’s land up for sale to meet the ODLCEF’s mortgage demands.

Our pastor noted that there would be hesitancy on the part of the congregation to do so, citing the vision for the future of the ministry would be impacted by such an action. Of course the ODLCEF board noted that there would be no future for ministry at all if this matter continued. In hindsight one now recognizes the reality of the board’s statement and intentions.

May– 2007:
Our pastor returned from this meeting and a special congregational meeting was called to hear his report and to discuss our options. As stated, the congregation was hesitant to place land up for sale – particularly in a changing real estate market wherein land values were declining. Nonetheless, the decision was made to parcel off a 2-acre piece of our 26-acre campus in the hopes we might sell said property. The land value at the time was roughly $20,000 per acre. The congregation hoped this sale would erase all arrearage and provide some funds for subsidizing future mortgage payments.

The congregation contacted the ODLCEF and reported our plan to address the arrearage and how we would satisfy such. As was expected, the property did not garner much interest, which in fact led the congregation to lower the asking price by 10% of the original asking price to try to secure a buyer.

June – 2007:
After contacting the ODLCEF with our plan to satisfy our arrearage, the ODLCEF in turn offered what we now believe was a definite plan to in essence create the circumstances we face at this time. In June of 2007 we received notice that the ODLCEF would be raising our mortgage interest rate by nearly 2%. This raise in the interest rate, coupled with already growing late fees and interest penalties effectively raised our monthly mortgage payment by over 50%. The overall effects of this action made it next to impossible for Crosspointe to make its monthly payments and pay down the mortgage arrears. These arrears kept growing and with such growth came growing late fees and interest penalties.

We have since learned from area lending institutions that this practice is what has been termed the “snowball effect.” The practice is most often employed by questionable and unscrupulous lenders, as reported, most specifically those in the credit card market. The overall result of such practices is that the lender creates a mountain of debt that the borrower eventually cannot overcome. Such was the result of the ODLCEF’s action as within a 10-month period of time Crosspointe’s mortgage arrearage more than doubled from approximately $17,000.00 to an overwhelming approximate amount of $38,000.00.

October – 2007:
Facing the reality of such an overwhelming debt the congregation met for its annual budget meeting in October of 2007. The decision was made to accept our pastor’s offer to “gift” back to the congregation half of his salary. The congregation also reduced the annual budget to the bare minimum. As had been the case over the course the previous several years, the congregation’s leadership again pleaded with members to increase their giving in whatever way they could. Such pleas were once again met with several families leaving the congregation due to what they felt was simply an untenable financial circumstance – thereby causing even further loss to the congregation’s income and cash flow. Once again, this issue had been consistently brought up with the ODLCEF in terms of the negative effects such financial pressure brings upon the membership of a young mission plant. As in the past, the ODLCEF simply ignored such pleas for understanding and the problem continued to “snow ball” out of control.

May – 2008:
Having reached the untenable circumstance of not being able to overcome such a mountain of debt, the ODLCEF then summoned the leadership of Crosspointe to a meeting. This became the “last chance” meeting we had all been dreading. The ODLCEF demanded that we sell nearly all of the 26-acre campus in order to satisfy the entire loan amount. Had the congregation even agreed to such a demand, due to the severely declining real estate market, the net proceeds would not have come close to meeting their demands to pay off the entire mortgage.

The congregation offered another proposal to meet the demands of paying up our arrearage. The proposal was that the congregation would continue to market the 2-acre parcel of land with the intention of selling it at a “fire sale” (as in whatever we could get) price. Included in this proposal were pledges by 19 member families to forward to the ODLCEF their entire stimulus tax rebate to pay off the arrearage. Following a meeting in which the Executive Ministry Team and our pastor traveled to Toledo, OH to present this plan, the ODLCEF Board of Directors summarily dismissed such.

Upon our return to Cincinnati it only took a matter of days for us to receive notice that the ODLCEF board had chosen to foreclose upon us. Our leadership certainly felt that the board had already reached such a conclusion even prior to our meeting with them, and said meeting was simply a formality to give a semblance of fairness.

June – 2008:
On June 16th we received the official papers from the ODLCEF attorneys indicating that they had filed foreclosure proceedings with the Warren County Courts. Our contact with the ODLCEF Executive Director was such that he indicated that the board was overwhelmingly in favor of this action. He also indicated that he wished us luck as we sought other means to re-finance our mortgage in order to pay off the note being called by the ODLCEF. This note had now reached the amount of $478,000.00. This amount included the addition of fines, penalties and fees thereby increasing the loan amount that seven years earlier, at its original amount, was $450,000.00. Over the course of the 7-year period of our relationship with the ODLCEF Crosspointe had paid into this loan approximately $170,000.00 – without a penny going toward the principle of the loan.

July – 2008:
We began the process of seeking other financing. One of the first organizations we approached was our Church body’s national Lutheran Church Extension Fund. Operating as a conglomerate including most of the 34 districts of The Lutheran Church – Missouri Synod, this organization is in itself a separate organization from that of the ODLCEF. The first response we received from the national LCEF was very positive. After sharing our circumstance with the ODLCEF the national LCEF representative encouraged us to submit an application to his organization. In the course of our conversations with this representative he indicated that there were certainly some political ramifications between the ODLCEF and the national LCEF, particularly pertaining to the parochial mindset of the ODLCEF and the Ohio District who had consistently refused the opportunity to merge its enterprise with the national organization. He, like other area lenders we had been in discussion with, was equally surprised at the actions of the ODLCEF, particularly as pertaining to the raising of the interest rate in the “snow ball” manner. In point of fact, he noted that even the normal rates of the ODLCEF were much higher (approximately 2%) than the normal lending rates of the national LCEF.

Approximately two weeks after our discussions with this national LCEF representative, and following our submission of a very detailed and time consuming application packet we received notice from his supervisors that the national LCEF could not work with us due to their unspoken agreement with the ODLCEF. Apparently, though certainly not in written form, the two lending organizations have agreed in principle that they would “not compete” with each other when it came to loans to congregations within the Ohio District. Thus, without even looking at our application we were dismissed out of hand from consideration by the national LCEF.

We continued with our search for local lending institutions only to be met with what we now understand as the general feeling among lending agencies. In most cases we have found that they are extremely wary regarding loans to churches. Couple this with what we now know is the extreme crisis facing the lending markets and Crosspointe has found no one willing to fund our re-finance. In point of fact, though unable to assist us, many of these lending institutions are shocked by the treatment we are receiving from our own church body’s lending agency.

The congregation also received the Warren County Court’s judgment against us pertaining to the foreclosure suit filed by the ODLCEF. Though we were well aware of the case’s filing, we were caught off guard regarding the judgment being made without our being able to attend the court’s decision. We found that this was done because of a small matter of the fine print in our previous re-finance which stated that our signing of said document forfeited our right to appear and contest such actions. Our current attorney was shocked by our having signed such an agreement and asked us why our former attorney did not warn us and demand that this contention be removed from the re-financing agreement. Unfortunately, as we noted, our former attorney sat across the table from our leadership at the time at the signing and said nary a word of warning. This was because he was sitting in as an ODLCEF board member at that time. As we were informed by our current attorney, the actions of this former attorney display at best an act of betrayal towards the Crosspointe congregation, and at worst, a serious conflict of interest on his part as an attorney-at-law.

This serious conflict of interest remains as this former attorney, who represented the congregation at the purchase of the property now under foreclosure, and in many other significant legal issues such as our incorporation as a congregation etc., is the none other than the Chairman of the ODLCEF board who has led the charge in these foreclosure proceedings.

Likewise, in another disturbing display of unethical and questionable behavior, this very same individual, while serving as the Chairman of the ODLCEF Board of Directors as a retired Lutheran Church – Missouri Synod pastor is also listed as an assisting pastor on the staff of a Cincinnati area Evangelical Lutheran Church in America (ELCA) congregation. This action not only violates our Church body’s ethical and doctrinal standards, but also raises grave concerns regarding the legitimacy of his position on an LCMS agency’s board to which he was elected to by the people of the Ohio District – Lutheran Church Missouri Synod.

August – 2008:
The story becomes even more interesting as at the end of the month of July negotiations began surrounding a possible land sale deal with our local township – Hamilton Township, OH. This deal centered upon the township’s desire to expand its park lands and to place a fire station in the corner of the township within which the church is located. This plan fit perfectly with the Crosspointe’s overall vision for a particular parcel of the 26-acre campus in that the congregation had always intended to put in place athletic fields to meet the growing need for such in our burgeoning community.

A deal was worked out and a contract for purchase was signed. The proceeds of this deal would have enabled Crosspointe to pay off all arrearages and would provide funds to subsidize mortgage payments for 5 to 7 years.

When the ODLCEF Executive director received word of this deal he contacted our congregational leadership and expressed great joy and excitement over the prospects of the deal and what this would do to further the future of Crosspointe’s ministries while reconciling our debt issues with the ODLCEF. Through these initial discussions our congregational president and the Executive director of the ODLCEF proceeded to negotiate a plan to fulfill Crosspointe’s financial obligation to the ODLCEF, with the Executive Director clearly stating that he felt sure that the ODLCEF board would rescind its foreclosure proceedings. Obviously the people of Crosspointe were overjoyed and breathed a sigh of relief. Such was only for a fleeting moment.

One week later the ODLCEF Executive Director contacted Crosspointe’s leadership with the stunning news that the board had rejected this plan and would simply continue with the process of foreclosure. Obviously the leaders and members of Crosspointe were shocked. This also left us in a difficult position because we also had to explain to the leadership of Hamilton Township that the ODLCEF would not release the land we had agreed to sell them. And this became all the more difficult after hearing that the attorney for the ODLCEF had originally informed the attorney for Hamilton Township that the ODLCEF would not get in the way of this sale.

What had been a real and substantial act that garnered such hope and promise was now simply rejected via the ODLCEF board that now stated they had no confidence the congregation would have the where-with-all to survive for more than 3 years even with this deal in place. Thus, as was nearly absurdly shared with us via the ODLCEF Executive Director, “We do not want to put the congregation at risk in the future of having to face foreclosure in the end anyway.”

Currently:
At the present time Crosspointe, having been informed by the ODLCEF Executive Director that no further talks will be held between the parties, has embarked on a campaign to bring this matter into the courts of public opinion. We do so with a heavy heart, recognizing that this is not what we had ever intended to do. We recognize that such an action on our part may very well paint a negative image of our Christian community and our beloved LCMS Church body. Our greatest concern is that this circumstance might cause some to call into question the very nature of the Christian faith and its message of grace, mercy and hope. We the people of Crosspointe believe that it is on behalf of this true Christian message, and because of the actions taken against us that would result in a silencing of our family of believers who desire to share Christ’s words of hope with people hurting and in need – particularly in our own community – that we must speak out. Unfortunately we have been left with little to no other options in terms of sharing our plea for help in the hopes of finding aide and assistance in order to rescue what we truly believe is an incredible ministry opportunity.

The obvious point of our going public within our Church body is to expose what we believe is a tragic circumstance that could have been realistically averted. We believe that such actions on the part of an agency of our own Church should not be allowed to take place. We are also hoping that the Lord might move someone to come to our aid and rescue this very viable ministry.

Just a few weeks back Crosspointe held its annual community “Pumpkin Fest” festival. Once again over 10,000 residents attended this huge family event. Some asked us why we would continue to do such an event in the midst of such a tragic crisis. Our response was similar to that of the great church reformer himself, Martin Luther. When asked what he would do if someone told him the world were to end on the morrow, Luther replied, “I would plant a tree today!”

At the present time we have been informed that on January 5th, 2009 our facilities and land will be up for Warren County Sheriff’s Auction. We are still attempting to re-finance prior to that fateful day. Obviously we are deeply saddened that we have been seemingly abandoned and worse, continually criticized by our own Church body. On the other hand, we are confident that our Mighty God is still with us, and we look for His rescue, in whatever form that may come.

So Crosspointe continues to minister to its families and its community in the hopes that the tree planted in this community some years back will grow, right here in Hamilton Township, OH. If this is not to be, we will continue to praise God. For we know that in spite of such circumstances and our own failures – those even initiated and committed by ourselves as we too stand as imperfect people before the Lord - we will have remained faithful to what we believe is His call for our congregation. Likewise, through His strength and the faith He provides, we will have stood firm in the face of trial and struggle. We await God’s move in this matter, trusting in His provision and protection. To God be the glory.
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