Legal battle over Grover Beach Church draining church coffers

By CCT STAFF

Parishioners at Bethel Baptist Church in Grover Beach have won the right to hold services at the church while they continue the expensive legal battle over ownership of the Newport Avenue property.

Members of the Bethel Baptist Church have been battling the Christian and Missionary Alliance (CMA) over ownership of the property since early 2019, when they were told by CMA that the church was being shuttered and sold because membership had fallen. If CMA wins ownership rights, it plans to sell the 57-year-old church and 3.1-acre lot valued at between $2.4 million to $2.9 million, and pocket the money.

In an attempt to raise funds for their legal case, Bethel Baptist Church is holding a rummage sale on Saturday, Feb. 22, from 8 a.m. to 3 p.m. at the church at 1935 Newport Avenue. On March 21, the church plans to hold a save-the-church drive-thru BBQ from 10 a.m. to 3 p.m.

The court case has dragged on for almost a year, partially because of CMA’s failure to provide court-ordered records. Earlier this month, CMA  released another trove of documents leading Bethel Baptist Church board members to believe they will prevail in the case.

“I am very confident we are going to win,” said Board Member Tom Girard. “We have the evidence.”

On Oct. 17, 2018, then-pastor Ronald Kennedy, a long-time employee of CMA,  filed a grant deed transferring the property from Bethel Baptist Church to the CMA, according to the deed. At that time, Kennedy was in negotiations to sell the debt-free building to the 5 Cities Homeless Coalition.

In early May 2019, Bethel Baptist Church’s current pastor John Fleming filed a grant deed transferring the property back into the ownership of Bethel Baptist Church.

On May 17, 2019, an attorney for the CMA, Michael Pick, filed a lawsuit against Fleming and the Bethel Baptist Church congregation seeking quiet title. The suit also alleged wrongful possession of property, trespass and intentional interference with a contract.

Since then, the parties have primarily battled over control of the property, which the Bethel Baptist Church congregation won, and for access to documents.

In April, both parties are scheduled to attend court-ordered mediation.

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