Representatives of a debt-ridden Glendale church said the congregation may have lost the chance to save church assets when they voted this week not to sell the sanctuary.
Attorney Harry F. Scolinos of Pasadena said a morass of legal entanglements "could wipe out everything the church has."
The pastor, legal advisers and several church deacons had urged the congregation of the Church in Glendale to approve a proposal to sell the church--estimated to be worth $8 million--in order to pay debts and settle suits filed against a former minister, the Rev. William Steuart McBirnie.
Scolinos said debts are estimated at $3.7 million, mostly in loans owed to elderly parishioners and McBirnie followers. Scolinos said, however, that if the debts are not paid soon, the courts could levy punitive damages against the church for as much as $10 million.
Despite the warnings, the Church in Glendale congregation on Sunday voted 111 to 44 not to sell. The financial crisis has divided members of the church, where the pastor, about half of the deacons and all of the church staff have announced their resignations.
The Rev. John Myrick, who took over leadership of the church from McBirnie two years ago, moved out of his office Monday. Myrick, 40, his wife and five children will take a four-week vacation to Florida prior to his resignation July 5. Myrick said he plans to start a new congregation when he returns, and expects about 40 followers to move with him.
Richard Robbins, chairman of the board of deacons and church treasurer, said he also will resign when the fiscal year ends June 30. Robbins called a special meeting of deacons, which was to be held late Wednesday, to discuss reorganization of the remaining congregation.
Robbins said he expects about half of the deacons to quit their posts by the end of the month. He said the board will continue to meet to provide "for some order and control" in the transition to new church leadership. "We don't want to just throw these people to the wolves," he said.
Robbins said that since the four-hour congregational meeting Sunday he has met with several members opposed to selling the church. He said other members are now concerned about the plight of the church and are seeking more information on the extent of legal and financial troubles.
Membership Down to 60
"They will be given an opportunity to have a full understanding of the complexities of the legal challenge surrounding the church so that intelligent decisions can be made," Robbins said.
Church officials said the split will leave about 60 active members at the McBirnie-founded church that once had a congregation of about 1,100.
Christ T. Troupis, an attorney representing creditors, had agreed last year to first seek payments from other McBirnie-founded organizations, including a Glendale-based seminary and a senior housing project in Pasadena. But those organizations, which are in bankruptcy, are not expected to have enough funds to satisfy claims, attorneys said.
Scolinos said claimants "are coming against the church for the balance. . . . The congregation stands a chance of losing the entire church. That's a very real possibility."