Joel Barnaby, 54, pastor of Greater Church of Philadelphia, is facing a financial crisis so great that it threatens to shut down the building and displace the congregation.
The century-old building, located on the 2000 block of East Allegheny Avenue, was in need of critical renovations on the roof and a collapsed wall. Barnaby took out a loan to pay for the necessary repairs.
After misguided financial advice and a series of bad investments, the church’s cash flow evaporated and the church fell behind in monthly payments. With the addition of late fees, penalties and interest, the original mortgage of $150,000 ballooned to a half million dollars.
The church’s inability to pay back the loan has resulted in financial insolvency.
In order to pay back the loan, Barnaby put the church up for sale at an asking price of $500,000. After several walk-throughs with no interest, the price was lowered to $300,000 but still does not have any interested buyers. Barnaby then halved the asking price to $150,000.
“I finally entertained an offer for $75,000. I’m devastated,” Barnaby said.
Upon hearing this, the bank decided to cut its losses and accept only $56,000 instead of the agreed $500,000.
“They’re willing to settle and write off 90 percent of that bill,” Barnaby said. “That’s a miracle!”
However, Barnaby and the interested buyer had disagreements over the inclusion of the church’s furniture in the sale, which Barnaby estimated at over $12,000. The sale fell through.
After the potential sale disintegrated, Barnaby decided to take down the “for sale” sign, thinking it sent a message of abandonment to the community.
“I can’t further hurt those people anymore … [the church] is a lighthouse for them,” Barnaby said. “I’m going to keep hope alive as long as I can.”
In order to preserve the bank’s previous agreement to accept $56,000, Barnaby attempted to raise the money through secondhand sales and bake sales. He managed to raise $17,000, one third of the reduced loan amount.
Barnaby offered his $17,000, and the bank representative hung up the phone. The bank then suggested that Barnaby take out a personal loan or mortgage on his property.
“I don’t have money. I don’t have a house. I live in an apartment! I have no savings. The church has no savings,” Barnaby said. “We go on a week-to-week basis, financially. Our water’s cut off. ‘What more do you want?’ I said, ‘you want the building, it’s yours.’”
For Barnaby and his church, the future is uncertain.
“I’m done. I’ve exhausted all my friends. I’ve worn out my professional relationships. I have nowhere else to turn to. I’ve embarrassed myself in front of my own people, and I took their money — our money — and gave [the bank] what we have,” Barnaby said. “That’s all we have.”