Exodus! Homeless church keeps wandering

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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.

Updated 5:13 pm, July 9, 2018
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Reasonable discourse

Observer from Brooklyn says:
Having followed this story, and as an old hand at "religious" [ahem!] disputes ... These people are trying to frame this as persecution, but it looks like they thumbed their nose at the denomination's rules, want to start their own Church Biz and cash in on the property, and are driven by one woman's personal grandiosity.

A previous story said she was claiming to be "president for life," which is nutty, and violates ANY church's regs. (And I've never HEARD of a salaried church president -- not in any legit mainline church. She seems to view this church as a personal small business.) If they're hiring clergy from another denomination: they clearly rejected some legit appointee, and are doing an end-run around the denomination. And electoral irregularities and nose-thumbing invalidate standing in ANY legal/representative body.

They're also trying to claim the property as their own. That does NOT work in most mainline denominations, including the Lutherans: The property belongs to the "Church" as a whole, not to the local church, and everybody knows that from Day One.

This isn't some underdog protest vs. institutions. It's more like having a fast-food franchisee violate every "brand" standard, then complain that his-her franchise was being yanked. Or like having a private group try to claim title to the local public library (since they donated to and volunteered in it), run it their way, and make $ from it.

Based on the drama to date: If these folks get their way, the NEXT battles will be re: demo/construction and financial irregularities. And if the rebuilding fizzles, the property-sale $ will go into private pockets.
May 19, 2009, 4:39 pm
alex from carr. gardens says:
So the ex-pres paid herself a salary to do a normally unpaid job ... and makes more money if she gets control of the building.
Why would a 'pastor from another branch of Lutheranism' want to work for such a sketchy group? loose cannon? personal agenda?
Somebody's trying to cash in, while complaining that the 'Synod' wants to cash in.
May 19, 2009, 11:21 pm
Paul from Park Slope says:
What is it with the one-sided reporting on this? Did you try to talk to anyone at the Synod, or are you just going by whatever Pay-Me-Mine Tillinghast says? If you had bothered to even check with the Synod you would have found they couldn't seat these pretenders because of pending litigation.

And how many pastors did they reject? It wasn't just one; the handful of supporters who were left after driving away the rest of the assemblage rejected multiple pastors and LOCKED THEM OUT! The Synod didn't do it first; this bunch locked the Synod out of church property.

What kind of amateur journalist can't even pick up a phone, huh? I don't care how many awards you get for being entertaining, how about being professional? It definitely looks like there's an editorial agenda here.
May 25, 2009, 2:53 pm
Vince from Boerum Hill says:
The paper keeps covering this as some kind of arch or semi-humorous (?) 'little guys' vs. Goliath story, while leaving details undetailed. It's annoying to keep reading about this goofball stuff, and learning no more than I did before ... especially when it's about a potential demolition site.

As a reader, I'd like to know
... on what *basis* the dissidents claim the property, since congregations usually *can't* run off with the real estate.
... *what this group did* to make their synod regard them as 'un-kosher.'
... how did they plan to stay in a 'disrepaired' building?
... *why* did they choose a minister from another sect? is this really a religious issue?
... what kind of group *is* this, and how big, *really*? did it lose people who disagreed? is this a battle of newbies vs. longtimers or vice versa? how did Tillinghast get to be in charge?
... are there *any* other leaders or members? Tillinghast is the only person ever quoted ... though groups usually encourage *some* kind of supportive 'testimony' from members. So where's the rest of them?
... who okayed her salary? what fees would she get, and from whom, and how was this *already* arranged? Since most churches would flip at this, it makes you wonder why they agreed, or who else might profit.
... why is this only about real estate? Church people usually say *something* about religious purpose, but this group doesn't. With all the things a church could do ... why build 'artist studios'? Is this just one person's whim?

If you're gonna keep covering this story, please *dig* a little, instead of making it the haha-of-the week .. especially since this could turn into a longterm badly-planned construction project and 'war zone.'
May 26, 2009, 11:40 pm

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