Parishioners prevail in battle over Grover Beach church

September 6, 2020


An expensive legal battle over ownership of the Bethel Baptist Church in Grover Beach concluded with the parishioners saving their church through a private settlement agreement.

After learning in late 2018 that the 57-year-old church was being sold to build a homeless facility, many congregants were dumbfounded. After all, the parish owned the property free and clear.

Then on May 5, 2019, representatives of the Christian & Missionary Alliance (C&MA) asked parishioners to attend a meeting where they explained that the parish and all its assets now belonged to them. C&MA is a group known for closing churches and selling off assets with none of the proceeds going to the parishioners who funded the churches.

C&MA representatives said they were shutting down the church because parish membership had fallen. However, the independent Baptist church’s bylaws required a vote of the Board of Trustees to dispose of the property, a vote parishioners said was not properly conducted.

At the end of the May 5 meeting, C&MA representatives told the more than 100 attendees that they were no longer permitted to hold services in the Grover Beach church. C&MA then changed the locks.

Parishioners soon discovered that in 2018, then-pastor Ronald Kennedy, a long-time employee of C&MA, had filed a grant deed transferring the property from Bethel Baptist Church to the C&MA, according to the deed. At that time, Kennedy was in negotiations to sell the the church and the 3.1-acre lot valued at between $2.4 million to $2.9 million to the 5 Cities Homeless Coalition.

In May 2019, then-pastor John Fleming filed a grant deed transferring the property back into the ownership of Bethel Baptist Church.

C&MA responded with a lawsuit against Fleming and the Bethel Baptist Church congregation seeking quiet title. The suit, filed in May 2019, alleged wrongful possession of property, trespass and intentional interference with a contract.

The court case dragged on for more than a year, partially because of C&MA’s failure to provide court-ordered records. Following depositions, the parties entered mediation which resulted in the parishioners prevailing and C&MA relinquishing their claim on the Bethel Baptist Church property through a private settlement agreement.

Sign up for breaking news, alerts and updates with Cal Coast News Top Stories.

Inline Feedbacks
View all comments

I still want to see all the tax evaders and outright thieves prosecuted that they worked so hard to uncover. That would be the icing on the cake!

There has always been the concern over the relevance of church ownership among certain Christian groups, now I know why.

Oh how convenient. Arroyo Grande’s council member Kristen Barneich hasn’t reposted her photo on the 5CHC website either. Both she and GB mayor Lee were in on this takeover at the ground level but never divulged any information to the nearby residents they were elected to represent.

Who would never trust Mike Byrd as a real estate agent for any deal? He’s the 5CHC President who refused to speak against this hostile takeover. When parishioners and neighbors first became aware of this secretive deal, he and Janna Nichols not only refused to admit they were wrong in pursuing the property, but defended C&MA so the dirty deal would go through.

It’s unfortunate when residents have to rise up to protect their neighborhoods from shady deals that would have long lasting negative impacts yet are wholeheartedly supported by leaders willing to turn a blind eye and be an accomplice to blatant thievery.

Shame on Mike Byrd, Janna Nichols, Kristen Barneich, Jeff Lee, the board of the 5CHC, AG and GB city councils. Neighbors will not forgive you for your underhanded and unethical actions to steal a church.

Good article Karen. I am happy to see good win over evil. Bethel is truly a David vs Goliath story proving that a hand full of people with community support can fight a 900 Million dollar company and win! Obviously Gods hand was involved in this fight! Thank you Cal Coast News for following this story!

Not just against a Goliath company, a Goliath that included a couple of city mayors, Lee and Ray, a Police Chief, a county supervisor, several other public officials, and a couple of so called nonprofit agencies.

Wasn’t Jeff Lee in on this at the onset of selling this property to the 5 Cities Homeless coalition?

Wasn’t he on the side of C&MA. Correct me if I am wrong.

My recollection also. Wonder why he isn’t mentioned in the article?

Christian and Missionary Alliance (CMA) has to be investigated. They have completely destroyed other churches and are the “owners” of Life Community Church in Templeton where Claire Eastin embezzled hundreds of thousands of dollars over the course of 6 years and before that stole unknown amounts from Templeton Community Church (TCC) for which she was never prosecuted. She aided and abetted CMA into stealing TCC from its Pastor and congregants. CMA then rewarded her by not providing financial records of her embezzlement from TCC. She has or is currently serving a prison sentence for her theft from (LCC) but it is so sad to see greed do so much damage to the Christian Community. CMA and Claire will eventually have to answer to God but it would be nice if they were also be held accountable in an earthly court of law for all the unethical, immoral and illegal acts they have committed. Congratulations to Bethel Baptist Church for fighting the good fight and prevailing!!!!!!

GOOD for Bethel Baptist Church! Now they or someone else needs to go after the Christian & Missionary Alliance.

Maybe take a close look at their non-profit status?