- The Washington Times - Wednesday, August 1, 2001

From the Heart Church Ministries of Temple Hills yesterday became the latest of 500 churches in the nation chartered to operate credit unions, a trend the National Credit Union Administration hopes to expand.

"We believe faith-based credit unions are a part of the solution to the predatory lending problem in some low-income communities," National Credit Union Administration (NCUA) acting Director Dennis Dollar said at a church ceremony giving the Rev. John A. Cherry approval for the None Suffer Lack Credit Union.

"We usually do this by mail, but I believe this is a special day for faith-based credit unions," said Mr. Dollar.

The church, which began as a storefront ministry in 1981, applied to open a credit union five years ago. It reports 26,000 members through branch churches and a national broadcast ministry.

"We are doing ministry, not doing business," Mr. Cherry said. "The faith-based idea has merit, not because we need government money, but by protecting us from government intrusion."

Lisa Cummins, an associate director of the White House Office on Faith-Based and Community Initiatives, lauded the ability of Mr. Cherry's congregation to organize and set an example for other groups.

"This must be a church," she said, speaking after the Gospel hymn and enthusiasm subsided.

The church board yesterday announced a $1.5 million deposit in the credit union, which under the charter insures individual depositors up to $100,000.

After the ceremony, church officials hosted a walk-through of the credit union's offices, a former Farmers Bank site.

Credit unions organize under a 1934 law as nonprofit membership "banks." They charge members no fees and provide low-interest loans and dividends instead of deposit interest. Some officials may become full-time and salaried, but for the most part trained volunteers operate the financial service.

Churches have not taken advantage of these benefits because of the complex start-up process and regulation, Mr. Dollar said. "We are trying to make the process easier and clear away obstacles without sacrificing safety and soundness," he said.

The nation's 500 faith-based credit unions have $2 billion in assets.

The None Suffer Lack Credit Union is the third church-based credit union in Prince George's County. Sixteen churches in the District operate credit unions, according to NCUA figures. Maryland has six church-based credit unions and Virginia has 20.

The NCUA has highlighted Shiloh Baptist Church of Alexandria as the first in this region to expand its service beyond the church membership to include neighborhood residents, allowed by a revision of the federal charter.

Mr. Dollar said the nation's 10,000 credit unions have 77 million members, and while many could use banks, the poorer majority likely would be diverted to pawn shops or costly check-cashing services and title loan companies.

Mr. Cherry founded his congregation as the Full Gospel AME Zion Church, but in 1999 decided to become independent of the denomination.

He claimed that the $40 million in assets the church had accumulated up until July 1999 belonged to the congregation, but a county circuit court ruled in favor of the AME Zion denomination. The case is on appeal.

Meanwhile, church attorneys said yesterday's $1.5 million deposit comes from offerings and revenue the church has generated since July 1999 and is not part of the litigation.

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