Churches in America Struggling to Cope with Foreclosures

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The churches had always been thought of to be the safest among borrowers. But during the boom they gambled in the real estate market and are now struggling to cope with foreclosures right across America.

When Easter celebrations are held at Ebenezer AME Church the leaders of the church hope to celebrate something else – its financial revival. With 3,000 seats it is one the biggest congregations in the country. It has been furiously trying to get together dollars to save the sanctuary, almost the size of an arena, from being foreclosed. For this purpose it has roped in the help of national leaders like Rev. Jesse Jackson and Charles Ogletree of Harvard Law School who had been Obama’s professor. Ebenezer is hopeful of avoiding the shut down because of its 10,000 strong membership and good connections.

But other churches are not so lucky. They are defaulting on their loans and being served foreclosure notices. Some are declaring bankruptcy. The pace is alarming. Rev. Grainger Browning of Ebenezer said, “It’s happening to virtually every church. At a recent meeting with the 100 to pastors in the country, it was amazing how all of us were facing some sort of challenge with the banks.”

The churches too could not resist the temptation of taking loans with teaser rates and having no questions asked. But now the time has to pay for succumbing to temptations as the foreclosure crisis walks into the houses of God. The lenders were too lax in their lending standards while generously advancing loans to churches.

Meanwhile the economic crisis is battering the churches in other ways. Donations have decreased and returns from investments have gone down. Bank credit is difficult to get. Brad Hampton, Pastor of Faith Centre of Rockford Illinois said referring to the younger generation of church goers, “You build it and they will come. It really was true through the years. They like newness.”

Hampton had been involved in constructing a mega church that would be able to seat 2,000. Half way through the lender refused credit over and above the initial amount of $4.2 million. Another unit of Faith Centre covering 48,000 square feet that operates as a “life centre” is also facing foreclosure. Hampton rued, “People call and say “You’re not alone.”

It is not easy to get a comprehensive picture of the financial condition of the churches across the nation.

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