Historic black church faces foreclosure from minority-owned bank

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Mrs. Waters has been accused of improperly applying pressure to get relief for OneUnited Bank, saving the value of her husband’s stock holdings. At the time of Mr. Frank’s legislation, Mr. Williams had stepped down from the bank’s board but still held stock.

OneUnited is not speaking to reporters about the specifics of the Charles Street AME Church case.

An outside public relations firm — which said it is not representing the bank on the foreclosure matter — forwarded a statement attributed only to the company in general, and not any bank official.

“It is not the practice of this bank to take steps to exercise collection remedies including foreclosure, in the absence of good cause,” the OneUnited Bank statement said.

“The overwhelming majority of our community lives up to their financial responsibilities and OneUnited works in good faith with borrowers who experience financial setbacks. We are flexible in our efforts to assist borrowers, while remaining consistent with safe and sound banking practices. We continue to be hopeful that our efforts will result in a stronger community.”

Banking values

One specialist in church ethics said that matters besides finance should enter into the church foreclosure equation.

“I know that banks are in the business of lending money and they make money by their loans,” said Cheryl J. Sanders, professor of Christian Ethics at the Howard University School of Divinity and senior pastor of the District’s Third Street Church of God. “There’s a certain callousness that comes across when there’s a church is involved” in a foreclosure, she added.

Saying that “unregulated banks that went amok caused the 2008 financial crisis,” Ms. Sanders said that in foreclosing on those trying to pay their bills, she said, banks are showing a “callous disregard for people’s lives and livelihood.”

Asked about the Charles Street situation and other foreclosures, Ms. Sanders said, “The word that I’ve been using is compassion; it means you give people a break. Take into consideration the factors that account for their inability to pay.”

Ms.. Sanders said her Third Street congregation was in a similar position “a few years ago,” when, she said, M&T Bank tried to foreclose on a loan on which the church was making on-time payments.

What she called “a technicality” led M&T to request Third Street to add collateral to a loan already granted; Ms. Sanders said the church found a bridge loan from another lender to pay off M&T. “It was a very difficult time,” she said.

According to its Website, Charles Street AME Church’s history is woven into that of the abolitionist movement. Organized by free blacks in 1818, the congregation “served as a major gathering place for abolition meetings and rallies led by such individuals as William Lloyd Garrison, Frederick Douglass, Sojourner Truth, Wendell Phillips, Charles Summer and David Walker (a Charles Street member).”

The church “was a haven for former slaves and a transit point on the freedom trail for runaway slaves fleeing to Canada,” as well as a leader in the fight against the 1850 Fugitive Slave Act, which imposed a $1,000 per incident fine on federal and other law-enforcement personnel who did not return runaway slaves.

The church has since remained a leader in Boston’s black community. Mr. Groover, its current pastor, has served since 2007 on the Boston School Committee, or board of education, and is currently its chairman.

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