Posted by: Damon Whitsell | February 4, 2010

Time runs out for Wall’s Shore Christian Center and Pastor Dewey Friedel

By Jamie Biesiada*

WALL TOWNSHIP — The members and pastors prayed for a miracle and hoped for a last-minute reprieve, but time ran out for help to arrive, and Shore Christian Center was officially evicted yesterday morning from its home on Squankum Road, here.

A somber group of two congregation members and a church elder, who declined comment and withheld their names, left the complex yesterday as David Spector, of Waring Investments, the Clifton-based mortgage holder that foreclosed on the church, and the company’s lawyer, David Grantz, of the law firm Meyner and Landis, had a locksmith change the locks on all the buildings.

Officers from the Monmouth County Sheriff’s Office oversaw the peaceful eviction, which took place at 10 a.m.

Nina Lane, the church’s financial secretary, informed sheriff’s officers that all of the church’s belongings had already been removed from the complex. She declined further comment.

Mr. Grantz and Mr. Spector also declined comment.

Pastor Dewey Friedel, who runs the church with his wife, Pastor Ronda Friedel, was not at the church for the eviction. Instead, he was at his 18th Avenue home, waiting to leave for New York City to film television segments for the Trinity Broadcasting Network [TBN].

He agreed to speak with a reporter at his home shortly after the eviction took place.

While he said he felt “sad” about losing the Shore Christian complex, he added, “We’re learning and we’re going on.”

Pastor Dewey said, “I feel I cannot leave the area … We’re going to try everything we can to still help people and bring them into wholeness.”

The congregation was initially set to have its regular service this Sunday in one of the buildings owned by the Brick Township Board of Education, but that is now up in the air, Pastor Dewey said.

“There’s a [group of] 10 to 20 people,” he said. “They’re very vicious with an agenda to demoralize me.”

That group, made up of disgruntled ex-church members, made several calls to officials in the Brick school system, Pastor Dewey said. Because of those calls, he said, the church did not gain official permission to use a school building for services this Sunday, as of yesterday.

“It [the calls] upset the school board,” the pastor said. The school board will meet this week about Shore Christian’s request, he added, saying “they still might meet and say yes.”

The group of ex-church members, Pastor Dewey said, are angry at the church for various reasons, including not receiving salary increases or not being granted a larger position at weekly services.

Though he is seeking a new meeting place now, Pastor Dewey said if the land Shore Christian resided on was not sold immediately, the church would consider buying it back if they were able to gain the necessary funds.

The church defaulted on its $4.8-million mortgage last year, and, Waring Investments, the mortgage holder, purchased the property at a July 13, 2009, sheriff’s sale for $100.

The church complex is located on 13.59 acres of property near Allenwood-Lakewood Road and houses several buildings, including a former school.

Before the sheriff’s sale took place, Shore Christian Center filed for bankruptcy in an attempt to gain some more time as church officials sought donors to bring the mortgage current. That was in April, and the first bankruptcy filing occurred in the Southern District of New York, the wrong district. Subsequently, the case was transferred to the correct court, the District of New Jersey.

The filing was subsequently thrown out because the church did not file the required paperwork with the court, including financial statements.

Pastor Dewey claims the paperwork was filed, but it was not filed on time.

The church attempted to reinstate the bankruptcy claim, which could have possibly overturn the sheriff’s sale, but the judge refused to overturn the decision to invalidate the claim.

Since the church’s troubles began, Pastor Dewey has maintained that an anonymous donor would pay the church’s mortgage in full.

Yesterday, he maintained money will be coming to the church from a United Nations [UN] fund. Monday night, he and two other people — one a pastor and one a businessman and member of Shore Christian Center — had dinner at the home of a UN official, he said. That official is also on the board of the UN division which will, he said, give money to the church.

A UN investigator said in the past they are unaware of any such promise to give the church money or why a donation would be delayed due to the UN. Pastor Dewey has also refused to reveal exact specifics behind the purported donation, including a contact name.

Pastor Dewey was planning to meet with several other officials in New York City yesterday, he said.

“I’m meeting with some pretty interesting people,” Pastor Dewey said.

The financial downfall of Shore Christian Center, Pastor Dewey said, can be attributed to several factors. First, he said, there are more evangelical churches in the area than there were when Shore Christian Center began in 1977.

Some of the church’s members left to attend smaller churches, he said, telling him “Pastor, thanks,” but a smaller church would be “better for us as a family.”

Pastor Dewey also explained that many left Shore Christian Center to attend churches closer to their homes. Of people who have left the church, he said, about 90 percent left to attend either a smaller church or one closer to their home.

Pastor Dewey estimated his congregation had about 1,000 to 1,200 people at its height. Now, he said, it has had about 300 people at Sunday services for the past several months, and the church is continuing to grow. Last week, he said, nine new people attended services.

The economy can be cited as another reason why the church suffered financially, Pastor Dewey said. Several of the church’s biggest donors left the church, and Shore Christian counted on those donations, he said.

“We’ve always been a giving people,” he said, citing donations to other ministries overseas, outreaches and the church’s school, Shore Christian Academy, which always cost the church money.

In fact, Pastor Dewey said, he was advised against starting a school by the church’s financial advisor, Michael Chitwood of Chitwood & Chitwood. The firm works with hundreds of churches throughout the country. However, education was important to him, Pastor Dewey said.

Shore Christian Academy did not re-open this school year.

Of the donors who would regularly give to the church, Pastor Dewey said they were a group of successful businessmen. It was not uncommon for them to give bonuses gained at work to the church, he said.

Before the economy went downhill, Pastor Dewey said it would not be uncommon for the lowest donation check to be for $10,000, with the highest at $120,000.

Even losing just a few of those donors in late 2007, he said, impacted the church a great deal.

Also, around that time, the pastor said, Shore Christian’s monthly mortgage payments shot up from $25,000 to $47,500. Pastor Dewey said vaguely, the increase stemmed from “the economy,” adding the church missed its first mortgage payment in 2008.

That, combined with $40,000 worth of overhead costs, plus salaries, proved to be too much for the church’s budget, Pastor Dewey said.

He declined to reveal the salaries of any Shore Christian employees, including himself and his wife, as Mr. Chitwood had advised him not to discuss specifics.

Pastor Dewey explained that Mr. Chitwood has been working with Shore Christian Center since 1988, and offers suggestions about the amount of salaries that should be given to employees, including pastors.

In a statement prepared by Chitwood & Chitwood, the company said, “We have always found this ministry [Shore Christian Center] to be a ministry of integrity.”

It also states, “Pastor Dewey Friedel is a proponent of strong compliance and to the best of my knowledge all transactions, including disbursements to qualified expenses, have been reasonable and approved by the Internal Revenue Service.”

In the past, Pastor Dewey said, Mr. Chitwood has encouraged both he and Pastor Rhonda to take higher salaries, but they did not. He also said they pay for their own vehicles from their salaries.

Pastor Dewey drives a Lincoln Navigator, which he often uses to transport people to and from the church, he said, and Pastor Rhonda drives a 2001 Lexus which was purchased used.

“I don’t think it’s extravagance for where God has placed me [in life],” he added.

Additionally, Pastor Dewey said he has been criticized by some for wearing designer clothing. He referenced one black jacket he wore recently — as he reached into its breast pocket, the designer tag “Barcelino” was revealed.

“I don’t even know what ‘Barcelini’ is,” Pastor Dewey said, mispronouncing the name of the San Francisco Bay area retailer of upscale clothing.

He explained that he bought that particular jacket in the Los Angeles’ Garment District at a reduced price. He also said it is common for members of other ministries to treat him to clothing when he visits other areas.

“People take care of you,” he said. “They bless you if they see value in what you do.”

If he could re-do his time at Shore Christian Center, Pastor Dewey would only do a few things differently, he said.

Even though it was a financial burden to the church, he would still create Shore Christian Academy, as education is very important to him, he said.

However, he would be more selective when hiring church leadership, he said. One associate pastor who worked at the church years ago did not share Pastor Dewey’s “vision” for the church, and thought once its members passed 200, it was too many people.

“He didn’t share the vision of growth,” Pastor Dewey said, noting he would rather work with someone who would say to him, “I believe in that, too.”

While it is unclear where Shore Christian Center will meet this Sunday, or any Sunday in the future, Pastor Dewey believes he will continue to preach, somewhere.

“People are ministry,” Pastor Dewey said. “The ministry is in us.”



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