Residents and parishioners win in battle over Grover Beach church

By KAREN VELIE

An expensive legal battle over ownership of the Bethel Baptist Church in Grover Beach concluded with the parishioners saving their church through a private settlement agreement.

After learning in late 2018 that the 57-year-old church was being sold to build a homeless facility, many congregants were dumbfounded. After all, the parish owned the property free and clear.

Then on May 5, 2019, representatives of the Christian & Missionary Alliance (C&MA) asked parishioners to attend a meeting where they explained that the parish and all its assets now belonged to them. C&MA is a group known for closing churches and selling off assets with none of the proceeds going to the parishioners who funded the churches.

C&MA representatives said they were shutting down the church because parish membership had fallen. However, the independent Baptist church’s bylaws required a vote of the Board of Trustees to dispose of the property, a vote parishioners said was not properly conducted.

At the end of the May 5 meeting, C&MA representatives told the more than 100 attendees that they were no longer permitted to hold services in the Grover Beach church. C&MA then changed the locks.

Parishioners soon discovered that in 2018, then-pastor Ronald Kennedy, a long-time employee of C&MA, had filed a grant deed transferring the property from Bethel Baptist Church to the C&MA, according to the deed. At that time, Kennedy was in negotiations to sell the the church and the 3.1-acre lot valued at between $2.4 million to $2.9 million to the 5 Cities Homeless Coalition.

In May 2019, then-pastor John Fleming filed a grant deed transferring the property back into the ownership of Bethel Baptist Church.

C&MA responded with a lawsuit against Fleming and the Bethel Baptist Church congregation seeking quiet title. The suit, filed in May 2019, alleged wrongful possession of property, trespass and intentional interference with a contract.

The court case dragged on for more than a year, partially because of C&MA’s failure to provide court-ordered records. Following depositions, the parties entered mediation which resulted in the parishioners prevailing and C&MA relinquishing their claim on the Bethel Baptist Church property through a private settlement agreement.

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