There has been a complicated set of church swapping going on in Manchester these days. Or should I call that human ATM location swapping?
I have always felt a strong sense of unease at the sheer number of churches which seem to crop up in the poverty stricken neighborhoods of Richmond. And Southside is absolutely loaded with them.
I must admit that I haven’t put into words what I have been feeling until someone else had the courage to say it first. It happened on Instagram with a #manchesterrva hashtag no less. Upon seeing the post by the legendary African-American vocalist for the Thievery Corporation, Christopher “Puma” Smith, I shouted out “YES-exactly!” Someone finally said it.
Manchester, in Richmond, VA is the first predominantly black community I’ve seen that has 4 churches right next to each other on the same block. Go up Hull St and there is a church on almost Every block for quite a stretch. Are they providing resources for actual progress and sustainability? Or do they just see the people as their ATM? #streetphotography #filmphotography #blackandwhitephotography #church #business #manchesterrva #rva #richmondva #christianity #religion #blackneighborhood #ishootfilm #35mm #explore #create #eyeneyevisions
Just last week, I drove by the new United Nations Church which recently bought the old Richmond Christian Center’s 44,000-square-foot building at 214 Cowardin Ave. for $2.9 million out of bankruptcy. United Nations sold its former church location at 5200 Midlothian Turnpike for $1.2 Million to another young, up and coming Pastor-Jay Patrick and his wife’s Liberation Church-as part of the move.
As we rolled by the United Nations Church, we paused slightly as a shiny new Rolls Royce rolled into the parking lot for Sunday service. I quietly wondered to myself if that Rolls Royce was owned by the pastor, one of his acolytes, or family members. It bears mentioning that the church parking lot is otherwise filled with modest cars as families gathered for Sunday service.
But this trend is not new for the former Martin Chevrolet building at 214 Cowardin Ave. Once Martin Chevrolet left, the art deco building became the Richmond Christian Center. And that ended in alleged embezzlement and bankruptcy. As reported by Richmond BizSense, Richmond Christian Center’s bankruptcy trustee and its lawyers have said the former Pastor, Stephen Parson Sr. “caused a rift in the church, due in part to the discovery that hundreds of thousands of dollars of church money was used by Parson and his family for personal use while RCC was headed toward foreclosure and bankruptcy.”
Another dispute related to Richmond Christian Center that was settled out of court named the pastor and his sons (Steven & Mark, among others) as defendants (again as reported by Richmond BizSense). The case sought to recover up to $3 million for the bankruptcy estate and alleged that the defendants may have used the church’s assets to acquire cars, real estate, and offshore accounts.
On a personal note, we just recently acquired the old Siegel’s grocery store from a local church, Strong Tower Pentecostal Ministries. The church had ambitions to convert the massive, and once beautiful mid-century modern building into a church. But those dreams never came to fruition as they held sermons behind bullet proof glass in the adjoining but abandoned ABC store located on the same parcel. A makeshift kiddie pool turned baptismal pool still sits in the corner of the old ABC store.
And no story on this matter would be complete without making at least a cursory mention of former Mayor of Richmond pastor Dwight Jones and the controversy related to the alleged construction of his new First Baptist Church of South Richmond location on public time, with public resources. Similar to Richmond Christian Center, First Baptist Church of South Richmond is run by a father and son team.
Ironically, I toured the former Mayor’s failed low income housing tax credit developments in Manchester just last week. On the tour I ran into someone who casually mentioned “You know this building was originally done by former Dwight Jones as part of his First Baptist Church of South Richmond? I hear Pastor Jones is taking funds from the church and people aren’t happy about it.” While I have no idea if what he said was true, my immediate, knee-jerk response was: “Really-that surprises me (with a heavy dose of sarcasm I might add)?”
Are these pastors and their family members who audaciously ask their patrons of modest means for $1,000 minimum donations in an effort to buy bigger buildings so they can save more souls, genuinely doing good work? Or could it possibly be that these ministers are really just entrepreneurs who see their flocks as human ATMs to be mined like freshly minted bitcoin?
Like all things in life, the truth probably lies somewhere in between. But I wonder if those precious donations wouldn’t be better used toward saving for retirement, housing, health care, education, or anything else that would truly help these families rise up.
And so depending upon your point of view, either the saving of southside souls…or fleecing of the southside flock…continues.