(Compiled by The Seattle Medium staff from various news outlets and public domain social media accounts)
One of the great fears that many members of Mount Zion Baptist Church has is that the pastor and trustee board will begin selling off valuable church property. Well, that is a reality that may soon take place as members of the church leadership – including the pastor, trustees and church treasurer – are poised to try to sell off parts of Mt. Zion’s property, the church’s most valuable financial resource with an estimated total value of $51 million.
Thanks to the wisdom and vision of the Rev. Dr. Samuel Berry McKinney, Mount Zion — located at the tip of the Central Area on the corner of Madison and Rev. Dr. S. McKinney Ave., the street recently re-named for him (formally 19th Ave.,) — has been labeled the icon of Seattle’s African American strong religious culture and social justice advocacy. While its location and history are rich, it is one of the most sought after properties in the Seattle area by real estate developers. It is little wonder the African American Community at-large is highly concerned about the state of affairs of this historic institution.
For example, local well-known community activist Charlie James wrote the following on his Face book page, “I say that as I watch the slow destruction of one of the most venerable institutions in our community, who at 126 years old is the second oldest church and the oldest Black Baptist Church in the Pacific Northwest, Mt. Zion Baptist Church. I am not a member nor have I ever been a member but as a 50-year organizer in the Black community I fully understand the importance of this institution to everything I have done or will attempt to do. I need it and the Black community of Seattle needs it.
James’ conclusion, ” I have no bones to pick with individuals within the church but I am adamant that this institution is not allowed to fall apart because of the egos of individuals. Silence is acceptance and I will never silently watch an institution like Mount Zion crumble in front of my face and I am willing to accept whatever heat that comes from speaking my mind. If I am not silent, I am at the very least, at peace.”
According to reliable church sources, ninety-three members paid $1,000.00 each for seed money to purchase the Annex. Many, if not all, of these stakeholders were not told that the trustees were shopping the Annex around for sale along with other church properties. This was revealed as a result of a city of Seattle official’s inquiry to The Seattle Medium regarding the heretofore-unknown sale of the Annex. The Seattle Medium asked a member of the trustee ministry about the sale who seemed alarmed that the Trustee’s apparent ‘dirty little secret’ was out and to the newspaper. And even if congregational members buy the need to sell off the ‘bill of goods’ being advocated by the trustee ministry, what happens to the presumably millions of dollars left on the table after selling the properties?
Many parishioners are puzzled with the seemingly sell, sell, sell mentality of the current administration. Last year properties in Redondo Beach and Bellevue were both sold. Currently, the sale of a recently inherited Seattle property in the Mount Baker area, with an estimated value of $1.5 – $2 million, is pending. According to the information gathered by a diaconate committee, although it apparently was not a ‘demand’, the donor’s ‘desire’ was that the property be use as a church parsonage – pastoral housing. According to an email from a past Deacon Chair who questioned the transaction and real estate people ‘in the know’ that property is being offered without an official appraisal and at about half the market value according to the deacon’s email inquiry.
For his effort this Deacon, a past chair of Mount Zion’s Diaconate, received a demand letter from an attorney claiming to represent the Board of Trustees of Mount Zion Baptist Church stating: “Be further advised that you made such inquiry and obtained documentation and information about the sale under false pretenses or knowingly without a permissible purpose. This letter constitutes a demand that you, and others acting with you, immediately cease and desist from engaging in such actions…”
Many parishioners are concerned with the tone of the attorney’s letter to an officer of the Church and a fellow brother in Christ. This alarmed many who wondered if this demand letter to a member of the represented client’s church was, indeed, a possible violation of the Washington State Bar Association Rules of Professional Responsibility of Lawyers; as well as the scripture that says if you have a problem with your brother you go to them. Engaging an attorney would be the last resort, not the first.
While the above questionable transaction is still pending closure, according to gathered information from the diaconate committee, the pastor announced during a recent worship service an offer on the last piece of acquired real property that Rev. McKinney helped the church obtain before his full retirement 10 years ago — the old Speech and Hearing Center now called the Annex. The transaction involved the consolidation of an existing mortgage and other property the church owned and were merged with the Annex to create the collateral for the loan, however, the church’s main campus and Sanctuary were not collateralized and remains free and clear.
The Senior Pastor announced on last Second Sunday that he is asking the membership to approve a $3.0 million sale to a city of Seattle funded program from Peace For The Streets By Kids For The Street (PSKS). A source close to the city project mentioned some of the funds to purchase were coming from the State budget.
Former State Representative, Dawn Mason, who while in this elected position helped Mount Zion build its Senior Housing with an applied $1.7 million House Trust Fund dollars to complete the building of McKinney Manor senior housing expressed these concerns: “African Americans did not make a collaborative decision to separate from the properties they worked for years to acquire, sometimes two jobs worked by two breadwinners. No different from any population of people, Blacks took great pride in the homes they bought in the only part of Seattle that until the early 70’s they could buy property. The reality of this was turned into making the Central District the most culturally vibrant part of Seattle. The home of Jimi Hendrix and Quincy Jones, the most internationally known residents, Ray Charles found his way to the Central District and Ernestine Anderson lived and raised her children and grandchildren in Seattle’s Central District, with Garfield High School being the basis of an excellent education under the watchful eye of its own Central Area School Board comprised of all African Americans.”
A few weeks ago one of the Deacons at Mount Zion Baptist Church of Seattle wrote a highly critical detailed assessment from his perspective as a leader in an email: “it should be clear to all that this easily gamed system is broken. We have a 125-year precedent that the Diaconate and Trustees have not only the right but the responsibility to terminate any employee in rebellion and who uses insubordination to extort and overburden an already indebted church to achieve a deviant goal. That goal is to liquidate the assets of Mt. Zion Baptist Church of Seattle to further subsidize a failed ministry. It should be clear to all of you that our church is divided into two camps. One side committed to restoring our church with competent leadership and the other committed to saving a pastor who has a litany of sob story excuses for his failure.”
In a highly unusual setting, the Church Sanctuary, which many consider sacred and not a place for business meetings, the senior pastor is asking the membership to vote, again, without an official appraisal, this Sun., Feb. 28 right after 10:45 a.m. worship service and after what is believed to be a robust sermon by the senior pastor with the doors of the church open. Some see this move as highly suspect. Still others allege such a tactic reaps of pastoral control and manipulation of innocent and unsuspecting parishioners, some who do not attend business meetings and likely do not have a clue as to what is going on business wise in the church and would be inclined to do whatever the pastor says especially in a worship setting. Why would Church leaders need to go to this extreme to sell church property? If it is the right thing to do, why not follow normal business meeting practices and meet in the Fellowship Hall on a week night as usual and allow the leaders to debate and vote their conscience. Why the apparent games and tricks? Many are suspicious, particularly, with the absence of an appraisal.
As of press time the call for an all church meeting will still take place after the 10:45 AM worship service this Sun. Feb. 28 in the Mount Zion Baptist Church sanctuary. All members are urged, despite the sad tears, desperate and shameful pleas from the Senior Pastor, the Trustees and Treasurer, to come and vote the “sell off” of church properties down!
In addition, the trustees are now calling for an apparently ‘try to convince’ church membership to sell, ‘informational meeting’ this Fri., Feb. 26 at 6:00 p.m. in the Church’s Fellowship Hall. Again, members are encouraged to be there.