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Service with a stamp! New church owners are known for mail-order prayers

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The church group that bought Salem Lutheran Church on 67th Street is a controversial ministry known more for mailing out literature than holding services.

More information has come to light about St. Matthew’s Churches, based in Tulsa, Oklahoma, which acquired the property in October. Recognized by the federal government as a tax-exempt religious institution, St. Matthew’s is actually known for sending out letters soliciting donations of “seed” money from worshippers who contribute in hope of some sort of miracle, according to Ole Anthony, the president of the Trinity Foundation, a company that investigates religious fraud. St. Matthew’s raises tens of millions of dollars annually, making the $2.65 million the church paid for the Salem property almost pocket change, he added.

“Conservati­vely, they take in probably in the neighborhood of $50 million a year,” said Anthony, whose organization recently completed a report on St. Matthew’s Churches for the U.S. Senate Finance Committee.

St. Matthew’s is just the latest incarnation of the mail-order ministry founded originally by the Reverend Gene Ewing in 1951, said Anthony. Its name has changed — Church by Mail and Church and Bible Study in the Home are two others Ewing has used in the past — but its modus operandi remains the same, Anthony said.

“They send a million mailings a month to people living in the poorest neighborhoods in America,” he said. “They say, ‘We are a group of praying mothers and grandmothers and, while deep in prayer, the Holy Spirit brought your address to our attention and said God wants to bless you.’ He [Ewing] probably is the most successful direct mail guy in the country.”

Ewing also is a ghost-writer for other televangelists, Anthony said, who send out virtually identical letters soliciting money that “we know came from him originally.”

When news broke that Salem Lutheran, which closed about a year ago, had been purchased by another church, many in Bay Ridge rejoiced that it would not meet the fate of the so-called Green Church on Fourth Avenue, which ended up being demolished.

But, given the church’s on-line presence, some residents are beginning to question the integrity of their new neighbor.

“I’m just concerned about what I’ve read,” said Pedro d’Aquino, who has lived nearby for about 20 years. “I thought people should be brought to some awareness.”

Finding out information about the church’s plans for the site is difficult.

Its website lists no e-mail address, and calling the number listed only leads to a recorded prayer.

Even the church’s attorney, Tulsa-based J.C. Joyce, didn’t return two phone calls seeking information about the church and its plans for the property.

The most information you can find about the church is on its website, www.saintmatthewschurches.com, which contains a dramatically worded defense of its activities:

“In its mail sermons, it [the church] preaches that God answers prayer, which cannot be construed as a mail scam or mail fraud,” it reads. “However, the published sermons and sacred literature sent free of charge by St. Matthew’s Churches crosses the paths of atheists; communists; drug dealers; criminals; the lunatic fringes of society; those who hate the United States, God and Christianity and those who hate us because we are gospel missionaries. They accuse all churches which mail sermons of mail scams and mail fraud.”

St. Matthew’s has also declined to be evaluated by the Better Business Bureau’s Wise giving Alliance, and the business watchdog group warns potential contributors that such refusal “may demonstrate a lack of commitment to transparen­cy.”

The Bay Ridge location is not the church’s first brick-and-mortar sanctuary. It also owns the Cathedral of Saint Matthew in Houston, Texas. That church is a whopping 100,000 square feet in size, which makes it about six times as large as the buildings on the Salem property. It seats 1,600 in three chapels, and has an air-conditioned basketball and volleyball court, as well as a lighted soccer and baseball field.

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Reader Feedback

Ed from Bay Ridge says:
"I thought people should be brought to some awareness.”

Well ... I wondered, from the start, when-if anyone would check this out, since St. Matthew's Churches isn't-aren't some kind of big secret. Its "activities" have been known for years.

In fact ... when the sale was announced (with random comments re: how great it was to preserve the building.) my first thought was, "Well, I sure hope these folks stay happy with their new neighbor," and that it wouldn't result in another neighbors-vs-church war.

My next thought was: When an Oklahoma fundraising mega-corp. is the only viable buyer you can find for a Brooklyn, NY, church, doesn't that tell us something?

It SHOULD tell us that NYC churches are struggling or closing for legit reasons, can't afford new space, and see no point in expanding. And-or that they'd rather use nonchurchy space (or cut some building deal) instead of blowing $ to maintain an old or just-acquired "trad" building. It's just common sense.
Dec. 27, 2010, 2:56 pm
Allen from Brooklyn says:
from the BK Paper's last story on this -
“To have a developer come in and possibly knock it down, that’s not what we want,” Hofmo added. “Churches are part of the fabric of the community, so we never want to lose a religious institution.”
Dec. 28, 2010, 12:58 am
Concerned Neighbor from Bay Ridge says:
What a shame. This is such a beautiful church and now it seems it's owned by snake oil salesmen. Also a shame that the Evangelical Lutheran Church of America Synod, which owned the church, didn't care to check out the potential owners but apparently jumped at the chance to get the $2.65M. They did a disservice to the community that they are still a part of i.e. Bethlehem Lutheran, Our Savior, etc.)

Beware what they'll do with the Salam property.
Dec. 28, 2010, 1:25 pm
Brad from Bay Ridge says:
Concerned Neighbor says: 'What a shame. This is such a beautiful church and now it seems it's owned by snake oil salesmen.'

Doesn't matter as long as they don't break fed-state-city laws. Can't tell people how to run their religions. From what I see, they probably think that other churches are hell-bound rackets, too.

Concerned Neighbor says: 'Also a shame that the Evangelical Lutheran Church of America Synod, which owned the church, didn't care to check out the potential owners but apparently jumped at the chance to get the $2.65M.'

How is it "apparent" that they jumped? Do you know of any reasonable offers they turned down? Or is it "apparent" only because you don't like the buyers?

C'mon, how easy do you think it *is* to sell old churches to other churches, esp when a lot of churches are just hangin' in? And B Ridgers would've screamed about any kind of *non* church development there.

I honestly don't fault the the Luths for selling it ASAP to a church that could pay for it, instead of getting stuck or having it turn into a Green Church replay.
And if they'd sold it cheap just to make the rest of us happy, they'd have reneged on duties to their own organization.

Lesson learned is, be careful what you wish for [like maintaining status quo by having a church buy a church], 'cause you just might get it, and you can't control everything.
Dec. 28, 2010, 11:02 pm
neighbor from b r says:
this is too funny, looks like no matter what they do, churches cant win for losing, all because people dont want anything to change
Dec. 29, 2010, 11:42 am
allsiknowis from Bay Ridge says:
Alls I know is that they are going to have a lot of asbestos removal work to do....
Jan. 14, 2011, 1:53 pm
Dorothy Bryant says:
Scam andtook all my saving and call me Negro cotton picking Negro tried to killme and myfamily they tookaway my xmas and I had nothing they tried to force me to give money
Oct. 6, 2011, 11:53 pm
Nancy from nj says:
Shame on them...God is watching.
June 16, 2012, 11:41 am
NJ says:
Scripture/prayer is scripture/prayer regardless of the means of delivery. Church *employees* get paid $ including your Pastor, Minister, Reverend etc., and this operation suggests that by giving you shall receive and for a giving of seed money offered with faith. This is scripturally sound. I think what people are most *disturbed* by is the elevated lifestyle the founder(s) are able to live.

Judge not, that ye be not judged. - St. Matthew 7:1

http://biblehub.com/matthew/7-1.htm
Nov. 26, 2013, 1:30 pm
Megan from Jacksonville says:
On their website, how come it states that they do not have a church in Tulsa, Oklahoma or any church in the state of Oklahoma? I am confused. Do they have an actual church or not? I am also very disappointed, I thought these people were actually trying to do something kind, but its actually just a scam. I never sent money, and I'm glad I didn't, but I do enjoy the things the letters say.
April 6, 2014, 1:13 am
mary hill from mistake says:
I sent a seed but it was the wrong money order that was put in the envelope for them and it was a payment to someone else and the money order for saint mathews was in the other one, I need it back topay my bill to the loan company, my phone no Is 786 287 9185, my address Is 495 nw 71 st#314, miami fl 33150, I get home mail from st mathews, please get in touch with me, thank you
June 14, 2015, 6:56 pm
Chris from Bay ridge 67th st says:
The property is completely gated off with a big ole gold cross on the top and no one is welcome. I see some activity inside sometimes but they sure spent a pretty penny to fix it. Maybe another million dollars on renovation. I feel that it's just a getaway house for the CEOS of that church. 6 years after purchase and It looks like they have no intention to open to the public, I wouldn't give them any money anyways.
April 12, 2016, 4:22 pm

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