Church Celebrates Paying Off $2.5 Million Debt During Pandemic

A Michigan church is celebrating being debt-free after paying off its more than $2 million mortgage in a short amount of time.

“Just 14 years ago, Galilee Baptist Church moved into a new building in Kalamazoo’s Northside neighborhood, and the senior pastor said it’s the community’s support that got them to where they are today: debt-free,” Fox 17 reported last week.

Neighbors are quite familiar with the house of worship that has served them for about 60 years.

“I believe that if we were not here, there would be a huge void being that we are located in this particular section of the Northside,” said Senior Pastor Dr. Michael T. Scott.

“We get a lot of walk-ins, individuals that are in the community that know that we are here, people are hungry, children need pampers, and individuals need financial support,” he added.

When the church changed locations, it gained an expensive mortgage.

“We were looking at 30 years of a total of about $2.5 million, and so we had to really be intentional with making our payments and doubling up with our payments,” the pastor said.

However, the church made its final payment just before the new year which it said was a huge accomplishment during a time when so many are struggling.

Scott praised the congregation for helping them reach the goal so they can continue helping their neighbors.

“A lot of people are going through trials and tribulations, personally and financially, mentally, spiritually, and so I like to believe that the church is something that reaches all of those areas,” he said.

“I would hate to think what it would be like if we were not here,” Scott noted.

On December 31, the church gathered for a “Mortgage Burning Ceremony” outside the building:

“To God be the glory!” one person in attendance said as the document burned.

On what appeared to be his Twitter profile, Scott shared photos of the event, writing, “What a great way to end 2020 tonight by burning the church mortgage and liquidation of all debt $2M”:

The church is planning a second expansion so it can eventually serve more residents in Kalamazoo.

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Senate race thrusts ‘Black America’s church’ into spotlight

ATLANTA (AP) — For decades, the red-bricked Gothic Revival church where the Rev. Martin Luther King Jr. once preached has been a monument to the history of Black Americans’ fight for civil rights and the legacy of an activist icon.

It took a high-stakes Senate race and a Trump-era cultural debate to thrust Ebenezer Baptist Church into the center of the current political debate.

Its senior pastor, the Rev. Raphael Warnock, is running for the Senate in one of two runoff elections that could decide which party ultimately controls Congress in the first years of the incoming administration of President-elect Joe Biden. But Warnock’s preaching has become a focal point in the debate about race and justice in the election.

His opponent, Republican incumbent Kelly Loeffler, has run attack ads using snippets of sermons Warnock preached from Ebenezer’s pulpit to accuse him of being a far left, radical socialist who doesn’t support police officers or military service members.

For King’s former church, the intense spotlight isn’t new. Its 6,000 members are accustomed to standing-room only Sunday services, due in large part to the out-of-town visitors who flocked to the church. Still, Loeffler’s criticisms have renewed attention on a pillar of Black life in Atlanta and a tradition of political activism it represents.

“The Republican attack is not just against Warnock, it’s against the Black church and the Black religious experience,” said the Rev. Timothy McDonald III, pastor of First Iconium Baptist Church in Atlanta who served as assistant pastor of Ebenezer from 1978 to 1984.

McDonald describes Warnock’s views as consistent with the church’s opposition to racism, police brutality, poverty and militarism. Loeffler’s attacks include selectively edited portions of Warnock’s sermon in which he decries “police power showing up in a kind of gangster and thug mentality,” as a criticism of law enforcement practices that have historically driven a wedge between departments and Black residents.

“I don’t care what you think about Warnock,” he said. “We’ve got to defend our church, our preaching, or prophetic tradition, our community involvement and engagement. We’re going to defend that.”

Ebenezer is “Black America’s church,” McDonald added. ”It’s bigger than any individual.”

Loeffler has responded, saying in a tweet last month that she isn’t attacking the Black church. “We simply exposed your record in your own words,” she wrote in a reply to Warnock.

Commonly referred to as “Martin Luther King’s church,” Ebenezer sits in the middle of a national park dedicated to the civil rights icon’s life and legacy, attracting hundreds of thousands of visitors and tourists annually. Warnock’s leadership at the church is his chief credential, a position so prestigious some note the U.S. Senate is a step down.

Warnock has continued to preach as he campaigns for office — albeit pre-recorded in an empty sanctuary, due to the pandemic. In a message delivered over the Christmas holiday weekend, he reflected on the challenge of keeping one’s faith in the midst of immense hardships.

“In 2020, all of us have been living, it seems, in a pit,” Warnock said in a sermon broadcast from the church last Sunday.

“Hospitals full and schools closed. That’s a pit!” he preached. “Churches not able to worship together like we would like to on a Sunday morning. That’s a pit! Businesses closing and folks laid off. That’s a pit!”

The church has kept some distance from Warnock’s bid. Ebenezer declined interview requests for members of the pastoral staff. Instead, it issued a statement detailing its public ministry, including social services for the poor, elderly and formerly incarcerated people and more recently, free COVID-19 testing and flu shots.

“Ebenezer Baptist Church embodies the mission of Jesus Christ, through acts of service that strive to feed the poor, liberate the oppressed, welcome the stranger, clothe the naked, and visit those who are sick or imprisoned,” the church said in a statement emailed to the AP.

Since before the abolition of slavery, the Black church has played a role in brokering congregants’ relationship to political power. It’s not uncommon for politicians, most often Democrats, to campaign from Black church pulpits. But it’s still relatively rare for church leaders to cross over into public office.

If he were elected, Warnock would be sworn into a small group of other ministers who have served in Congress, including at least one other Black pastor, Rep. Emanuel Cleaver of Missouri.

Within the last year, Ebenezer has been part of a few major national news events.

It hosted the funeral of Rayshard Brooks, a Black man fatally shot in the back by Atlanta police in June, amid nationwide protests over George Floyd’s death at the hands of Minneapolis police in late May.

Warnock was an officiant for that service, and for the late July funeral of civil rights icon and Atlanta congressman John Lewis, who was an Ebenezer member.

“This church is situated at the heart of Atlanta and it’s leadership has always opened its doors to the community,” said Daunta Long, pastor of Seed Planters Church of God In Christ in McDonough, about 40 miles southeast of the city.

Balancing pastoral duties and a national public profile is a common source of tension, noted McDonald, the former assistant pastor. The Rev. Martin Luther King Jr. was not present for the voting rights march now known as Bloody Sunday because he was expected to preach at Ebenezer for communion Sunday, the first sabbath of the month, according to Clayborne Carson, the historian who maintains King’s papers at Stanford University.

Ebenezer was founded in 1886. Its second pastor, the Rev. Adam Daniel Williams, brought on his son-in-law, Martin Luther King. Sr., as assistant pastor in 1927. His son, King Jr., co-pastored from 1960 to 1968.

The elder King, who served as pastor of Ebenezer for more than 40 years, continued in leadership after his son’s assassination in Memphis in 1968. The Rev. Joseph Roberts, Jr. became Ebenezer’s fourth pastor after King. Sr.’s retirement in 1975.

Warnock, who is Ebenezer’s fifth pastor in more than 130 years, was selected as Roberts’s successor in 2005.

Ebenezer’s members, many who support Warnock’s candidacy, say they worry about losing his leadership.

“People love him as their pastor,” said Xernona Clayton, 90, a King family confidante and member of the church since 1963. “I think selfishly they don’t want to lose him. They want the best of two areas: good representation in the political arena and a pastor in the pulpit.”

“I’d imagine both of those jobs would be full-time,” she added.


Morrison is a member of The Associated Press’ Race and Ethnicity team. Follow him on Twitter:

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Washington, DC Relaxes Coronavirus Restrictions After Church Lawsuit

Washington, DC Mayor Muriel Bowser (D) eased coronavirus restrictions for religious gatherings in a late-night order Wednesday after facing a lawsuit from the Catholic Archdiocese of Washington involving attendance limit concerns.

The new order permits houses of worship to reach 25 percent capacity, or up to a 250-person cap at one event, regardless of the size of the venue. The modification scratches the 50-person limit for religious gatherings that was previously put in place.

Other public places like restaurants, libraries and gyms also apply to the order, as they must operate at 25 percent capacity, with even the city’s largest restaurants prohibited to allow more than 250 people.

“The lawsuit argues that houses of worship and restaurants should be treated the same, or the same as other activities where the large gatherings limits are not imposed,” the order says.

Bowser’s modification to the November restrictions took effect at 12:01 a.m. on Thursday, just a week before Christmas services are set to begin.

The Archdiocese of Washington’s lawsuit was filed Friday against the mayor in the U.S. District Court of the District of Columbia over attendance limits due to the coronavirus, arguing they are “chilling” and “discriminatory.”

“The archdiocese has shown that they can have mass and be socially distanced . . . so really what this boils down to is discrimination on the part of the city. They are choosing to treat the religious entities different from restaurants where you can sit down for ninety minutes with no masks or tattoo parlors or liquor stores,” Montse Alvarado, vice president and executive director of Becket Fund for Religious Liberty, a group that represents the Archdiocese of Washington, told FOX Business.

Although Bowser implemented the new order, public health officials disagreed with the Church’s concerns, urging residents in the region to socially distance or stay home to avoid a likely infectious wave expected after the holidays. The District of Columbia, Maryland and Virginia have all seen surges in cases in recent weeks following Thanksgiving celebrations. 

“Large gatherings remain discouraged. With such a high rate of community transmission, some persons at large gatherings are likely to be exposed to the virus. Such exposure is likely even when a range of additional preventative actions are taken, such as adherence to social distancing rules,” the order says.

Bowser’s modification to the order comes after the Supreme Court’s conservative majority handed victories to religious leaders in Colorado and New Jersey, as they pleaded that their states’ pandemic-related restrictions disrupted religious freedom.

“A recent lawsuit appears to insist on a constitutional right to hold indoor worship services of even a thousand persons or more at the largest facilities, which flies in the face of all scientific and medical advice and will doubtless put parishioners in harm’s way,” the order says.

Rachel Bucchino is a reporter at the National Interest. Her work has appeared in The Washington Post, U.S. News & World Report and The Hill.  

Image: Reuters

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Former Marist College students sue Catholic Church over historical sexual abuse allegations

Four former students of a Catholic secondary school in Tasmania’s north-west are suing the church over historical sexual abuse allegations involving a former international cricket umpire convicted for sex offences two decades ago.

The women all attended the Marist Regional College in Burnie in the early 1980s, where Stephen “Steve” Grant Randell was employed as a teacher.

Randell was sentenced to four years in prison in 1999 on 15 charges of indecent assault against nine girls between 1981-1982. He served less than three years, being released on parole in May 2002.

Three of the four women who have launched legal action against the church were not part of the ’99 criminal proceedings.

Olivia* was and to her, this case means “peace”.

“Peace in knowing I can finally tell that 11-year-old little girl that she did nothing wrong,” she said. 

“I don’t think of the abuse consciously on a daily basis, but it is with me subconsciously every day, in my thoughts and actions.

She believes her decision “to sue the church directly” will force them to confront their past.

“[It] will make them realise that they cannot cover up the long-term effects abuse has on the survivors, their families and close friends,” she said.

“This civil case gives me a chance to have complete control in telling them of the pain they have inflicted on me for many years.”

And she hopes her case will encourage others to come forward.

“If from me sharing my story others can see that I am just an ordinary person, who has survived unimaginable things, then maybe they too will believe they have the courage to come forward,” she said.

More cases, involving other staff

Randell is one of five former staff members associated with the college to have been convicted of historical sex offences.

Senior associate at the Canberra-based law firm Porters Lawyers, Thomas Wallace-Pannell, is representing the four women.

But he said there are about 15 cases involving numerous staff members at the school currently before the Supreme Court of Tasmania — and he expects more survivors will come forward.

“At the moment, we’re only really scratching the surface.

“That’s why I think it’s very important that as many people come forward as possible, so as to cast light on exactly what was going on and the extent of what was occurring at the school in those particular years.”

He said while it was hard to put an exact number on how many people may launch legal action, the firm continues to receive enquiries.

Church ‘should have known’ of Randell’s ‘predatory sexual disposition’

The documents lodged in the Supreme Court in Tasmania earlier this year, relating to the four women, allege that the sexual assaults occurred between 1980 and 1983, while the women were in years 6 or 7.

The allegations range from the undoing of bras to digital rape.

One woman’s Statement of Claim alleges that:

“On a number of occasions in 1982, either before or after PE classes, Randell walked into the girls’ change rooms while girls (including the Plaintiff) were in a state of undress.”


“Randell would routinely change his clothes in the classroom while students (including the Plaintiff) were present.”

All four women say that as a result of the sexual assaults by Randell, they have developed anxiety and depression and chronic dysthymia and other disorders, including post-traumatic stress disorder.

They are claiming the Catholic Church was negligent in that it:

  • Failed to institute and maintain a system where students were encouraged to report abuse [including sexual abuse] and misconduct by teachers at the school
  • Failed to remove Randell from contact with school students
  • Allowed Randell to perform teaching and pastoral activities at the school when the Defendant knew or should have known of his predatory sexual disposition

The women are seeking damages for pain and suffering, interference with enjoyment of life, past and future economic and superannuation loss and out-of-pocket expenses for past medical treatment, future medical treatment and future psychological assistance.

Redress scheme ‘failing survivors’

The option to take civil action regarding historical sexual abuse allegations is new.

Previously, the statute of limitations prevented survivors from taking their abusers to court if the abuse occurred more than six years ago.

The abolition of limitation periods was a recommendation to come out of the Royal Commission into Institutional Responses to Child Sexual Abuse, as was the redress scheme.

But Mr Wallace-Pannell said “the redress scheme was not doing what it was set up to do”.

“It appears that there are significant delays at the moment resulting in claims progressing through the redress scheme taking just as long as what it would take to proceed with a civil claim through the courts,” he said.

He said his firm also had “an issue with the cap [of $150,000] on the amount of money that would be available to victims who make a claim to the redress scheme”.

“Obviously, it’s much lower than what they would be entitled to in awarded damages should they proceed through a claim to the court,” he said.

Olivia also said the redress scheme wasn’t “good enough”.

“It does not support the victim and have their best interests as their number one priority. Unlike a civil case. The redress scheme is like a government cover-up,” she said.

Regardless of the outcome of her case, she says she has won the toughest battle.

In a statement, the Archdiocese of Hobart said the “claims of historical sexual abuse against the Church are taken extremely seriously … and it urges the reporting of abuse to police”.

“The claims by former students of Marist Regional College against the Catholic Church in Tasmania are headed for mediation on 2-3 February 2021,” the statement said.

The Archdiocese of Hobart said it had “signed up to the National Redress Scheme in December 2018”.

*Olivia’s name was changed for legal reasons

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VHP threatens to ‘beat up’ Hindus if they visit church for Christmas

Nath said he was ‘outraged’ over the alleged shutting down of Vivekananda Centre in Christian-majority Meghalaya state’s capital Shillong

Guwahati: The Vishwa Hindu Parishad (VHP) has warned Hindus against visiting churches during Christmas in Assam’s Barrak Valley, saying if they go they “will get brutally beaten”.

In a video that has gone viral, Mithu Nath, the general secretary of Cachar district unit of the VHP, says, “If Hindus go and visit Churches on Christmas Day, they will get brutally beaten.”


Speaking amidst the slogan of “Jai Shri Ram” by his supporters, he adds, “They are locking temples in Shillong and we are going and celebrating Christmas with them. This cannot happen, we will not allow this to happen.”

Mr Nath said he was “outraged” over the alleged shutting down of the Vivekananda Centre (part of the Ramakrishna Mission) in Christian-majority Meghalaya state’s capital Shillong.

While Mr Nath tried to peg his communally divisive and criminal threat as a retaliation to the alleged closure of a Hindu temple in Meghalaya by the Khasi Student Union, the charge has been denied by the Meghalaya government.

An official in the government said that the Cultural Centre (where students are taught advanced computer courses) whose gates had been closed — not locked — was because of a district holiday. No temple of the Ramakrishna Mission has been shut, the official added.


However, the rightwing group, which has always sought to create communal issues to drive a wedge and then consolidate its position, remains undeterred by facts.

“We will not allow Hindus in programmes during Christmas when they are locking gates of temples in Shillong,” Mr Nath said while addressing a crowd of around 70 people dressed in saffron and shouting “Jai Shri Ram”.

Although the Christian population in the northeastern state’s Cachar district is relatively small, Christmas is traditionally celebrated by the Oriental School at Ambikapatty near Silchar. People from various religions gather there to mark the birth of Christ every year.



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Fire at Hillsong church linked to Lismore cathedral blaze

AN ALLEGED arsonist, who caused significant damage, to a Lismore Cathedral is now facing allegations he also set fire to a Hillsong Church in Sydney.

Police will allege Stephen Anthony Luke, 45, carried out a week-long crime spree across NSW, which culminated in his arrest after he allegedly set fire to St Carthage’s Cathedral in Lismore on September 18, according to court documents.

He was charged with damaging more than $15,000 worth of property with fire, using an offensive weapon to prevent lawful detention, two counts of assault with intent to rob armed with an offensive weapon, armed robbery using with offensive weapon, two counts of dishonestly obtaining financial advantage by deception and larceny.


Stephen Luke is facing a number charges, including setting fire to two churches.


However, NSW Police have since laid new charges against Mr Luke in relation to the alleged damage he caused to Hillsong Church in Norwest, Sydney on September 16.

Court documents reveal Mr Luke allegedly set fire to garden plants and irrigation plumbing pipes a the Hillsong property, causing about $2000 worth of damage, and painted a building wall without consent.

Police will allege Mr Luke’s crime spree started in Griffith where he allegedly threatened a 20-year-old woman in a car park with a knife before demanding she give him the car keys on September 14.

He then fled the area in her Volkswagen Polo, along with her handbag containing personal items, court documents reveal.


A view of the damaged roof at St Carthage's Cathedral, Lismore.

A view of the damaged roof at St Carthage’s Cathedral, Lismore.


Mr Luke then allegedly approached a 23-year-old woman outside a shopping centre at Hornsby and threatened her with a large knife.

Police allege he demanded she hand over her cash, but she was able to flee without handing over any of her possessions.

Then, according to the timeline outlined in court documents, Mr Luke allegedly set the fire at Norwest on September 16 before he travelled to Lismore, where he set fire to St Carthage’s Cathedral in Lismore on September 18.

Multiple fire crews were called to the cathedral and managed to extinguish the blaze.

Mr Luke was later arrested on September 19 on Magellan St, Lismore.

A taser was used to subdue Mr Luke after he allegedly threatened officers with a large knife.


Clean-up and assessment of the damage is under way at St Carthage's Cathedral, Lismore, after a fire.

Clean-up and assessment of the damage is under way at St Carthage’s Cathedral, Lismore, after a fire.


When his matters were briefly mentioned before Lismore Local Court on Wednesday, the police prosecutor told the court more time was required to make the brief for the other three charges compliant.

Mr Luke, who remains in custody at Clarence Correctional Centre, did not apply for bail and bail was formally refused.

He will appear at Lismore Local Court on February 10 for further mention.

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Attica’s Ben Shewry x Church Road Wines

Join award-winning chef and owner of Melbourne’s Attica restaurant, Ben Shewry, Church Road Wines’ chief winemaker, Chris Scott, and Good Food’s national food and drink writer, Callan Boys, for an evening of cooking, fine wine and entertaining conversation at 6.30pm on Thursday, November 26.

Here is the Sirloin steak, salsa verde butter and kale mashed potatoes recipe Ben will prepare, created especially for this event and designed to pair perfectly with the selected Church Road wines that Chris discusses. You can still purchase the wines at a special price, plus here are the tasting notes.

Join Ben, Callan and Chris for a virtual tasting.

Church Road Merlot Twin Pack – $230 (RRP $249.99)
– Church Road Grand Reserve Merlot
– Church Road TOM Merlot

Church Road Chardonnay Twin Pack – $170 (RRP $179.99)
– Church Road Grand Reserve Chardonnay
– Church Road TOM Chardonnay

Church Road Twin Tasting Pack – $79.99 (RRP $99.99)
– Church Road Grand Reserve Chardonnay
– Church Road Grand Reserve Merlot

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New development in priest’s fight against Catholic Church

A SERVING priest who was suing the Catholic Diocese of Lismore over allegations he was sexually abused as a child by another has discontinued proceedings, a court has heard.

The Catholic priest, who cannot be identified because of a court order, had initially launched the action against the Catholic Diocese of Lismore and Mercy Support Limited for damages.

He alleged the dioceses had committed a breach of duty and personal injury after he was allegedly sexually abused in the 1960s at St Joseph’s Convent School, according to court documents.

It is understood this was the first time a serving priest has filed a complaint of this type against the church.

However, last month in the NSW Supreme Court, a notice of discontinuance was filed with the court and all proceedings were stopped.

Justice Peter Garling ordered the proceedings commenced by the priest, known as SL, against the diocese be discontinued by consent.

Justice Garling made no order for costs to be paid by either party.

*For 24-hour sexual violence support call the national hotline 1800RESPECT on 1800 737 732 or MensLine on 1800 600 636.

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