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A moral divide

A solution for Charles Street AME Church

Melvin B. Miller

With the support of 90 percent of their congregants who were voting, Mishkan Tefila recently sold its synagogue and 24 acres in Chestnut Hill to Boston College. This sale has been especially noted because of the substantial value of the property on Hammond Pond Parkway. Transactions involving real estate owned by religious organizations are quite common. However, congregants who have become attached to a church building might protest its sale as is the situation with Charles Street AME Church in Roxbury.

This is a problem encountered by the Boston Catholic Archdiocese. In the past decade or so they have closed 63 churches. It became too expensive to maintain numerous neighborhood churches, and the rising value of church properties made it financially astute to sell the real estate and use the proceeds to finance projects or liquidate debt.

Sometimes the real estate transaction results from a demographic shift in the location of the congregants. The Mishkan Tefila synagogue was originally located at the corner of Elm Hill Avenue and Seaver Street in Roxbury. However, when the congregants moved to Brookline and Newton the synagogue was reestablished nearby. The original site has been repurposed as the United House of Prayer for All People.

Similarly, Bethel AME Church in Jamaica Plain outgrew its house of worship on Forest Hills Street. When the opportunity came to relocate to what was formerly St. Andrews Church on Walk Hill Street, Bethel AME was then able to move to a resplendent edifice.

Perhaps that is a solution for Charles Street AME Church. They are unable or unwilling to repay the loan from OneUnited Bank, and one of Boston’s major law firms has provided pro bono legal services to facilitate a major default on one of the nation’s leading black-owned banks.

This is an untenable position for a law firm aspiring to be a benefactor. The best solution would be to help Charles Street raise the funds to pay the debt, or help them relocate and transfer the collateral of the loan to the creditor.