A Lutheran congregation that has been locked out of its Boerum Hill church since January by the denomination’s governing body was driven deeper into the wilderness last week as church members were blocked from taking their complaint to an assembly of regional congregations.
The New York–area Lutheran Church’s Synod Assembly did not seat churchgoers from the Bethlehem Lutheran Church at their conclave on Long Island over the weekend, silencing members of the Pacific Street church from addressing the assemblage about their plight.
“It was supposed to be the place where we could petition for redress of our grievances,” said Muriel Tillinghast, former president of the congregation (and a one-time vice-presidential candidate for Ralph Nader. “We’re being blocked from any redress process, so we’ll have to seek other remedies,” suggesting that another lawsuit in a long battle could be imminent.
The simmering intra-faith struggle goes back to at least 2003 when the Synod appointed an unpopular pastor to the 1874 temple. But the battle escalated in January when the Synod shut the church, saying it was in disrepair.
Tillinghast, along with a visiting priest and a handful of other church members, contend the Synod seized their enormous place of worship to sell it.
They have held weekly services in the Zion German Evangelical Lutheran Church in Brooklyn Heights and have turned to a pastor from another branch of Lutheranism to lead them.
Tillinghast is a controversial figure herself, having received a salary for her past work as church president — which Synod sources say most congregation presidents do for free — and proposing a fundraising plan to demolish the existing church and build a smaller chapel with additional space for offices and artist studios.
Tillinghast would collect fees for herself under this plan, too.