A prominent Bay Ridge church sided with a controversial plan to tear down the historic “Green Church” this week — and for good reason: the cash-strapped church is about to suffer the same fate.
The Brooklyn Paper has learned that Our Saviors Lutheran Church, on 80th Street, will soon be put on the block — just like the 100-year-old Bay Ridge United Methodist Church that locals are in a last-ditch mission to save from the wrecking ball.
“We are likely finalizing a deal this spring that would involve tearing down our church and building a new structure that will provide senior housing, in addition to a space for us to worship,” said Lutheran’s pastor, Rev. Craig Miller.
Miller and his congregants believes they are spending too much on their 80-year old church building, and not enough on the community beyond its walls.
The 141-member church has experienced a 19-percent decline in baptized membership since 1999.
Over the same seven-year stretch, operating expenses have risen from $145,090 to $723,534, according to the church’s budget.
“We are currently spending 50 percent of our resources on maintaining the structure, and we would like to have that number around 15 percent,” Rev. Miller said.
In light of his own church’s predicament, Miller has argued that Bay Ridge United Methodist, whose stately cathedral has graced the corner of Ovington and Fourth avenues for a century, should be allowed to sell its building, too.
Councilman Vince Gentile (D–Bay Ridge) has led the local effort to prevent that from happening, but Miller warned him that by intervening in the business of a private church, he isn’t respecting their private ownership rights.
“I was greatly disappointed to hear you … presume to tell a congregation how to interpret its mission,” said Miller, who attended Gentile’s “emergency meeting” last week to preserve the the so-called Green Church.
“[No one] should presume to enforce on them our own interpretation of mission, let alone to dictate how they should use their resources to carry out that mission.
“To tell the church that the preservation of their deteriorating building is the core of their mission is to inject an inappropriate political influence into the affairs of the church,” Miller added.
That wasn’t all that was coming from Lutheran’s pulpit, as Miller lambasted community leaders who had their chance to save the church, but had other priorities when it mattered most.
“I heard several voices describe the Church as an important part of the Bay Ridge community,” Miller continued. “Yet in the years in which the [church] sought the help of the community to repair the clock tower, [it was] unable to gather the support needed.”
Last week’s “emergency meeting” was sparked by the pending sale of the church for $12 million.
Gentile is still pushing for a deal that would create 87 units of subsidized housing on the church campus while generating $300,000 in revenue annually to pay for upkeep of the church building itself.
Gentile denied the motives Rev. Miller ascribed to him.
“We firmly recognize their private property rights,” a Gentile aide said. “It is their church and they can do what they want with it, but our job is to also recognize that the community has an interest, too, and all we are looking to do is come up with a plan that works for everyone.”
Gentile better hope so, because according to Rev. Miller — God is on Lutheran’s side.
“The Church of Jesus Christ is called together by the Holy Spirit to proclaim the good news to the people God has created in all the world,” Miller said. “At no time in all of the Bible does Christ give to the church a command to build structures and preserve them for all of time.”
©2007 Community News Group
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