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CLIQUES : Fire, Fraud and Faith

August 07, 1994|Ethan Allen Thomas Jr.

After an electrical fire destroyed much of the Greater Good Shepherd Missionary Baptist Church in South-Central L.A. in 1989, parishioners thought they had suffered the worst blow that could be dealt a God-fearing group. That was until the contractor they had hired to repair the structure in 1991 skipped out with more than $45,000 of the insurance company money, leaving them far short of the funds needed to finish the work.

Since then, the 100 or so parishioners have been attending services in the dilapidated, graffiti-infested skeleton of the church on Florence Avenue, covering the chairs with plastic when it rains and piling on the jackets when the cold blows in. The unsecured structure has also been the target of thieves, who took the amplification system, so that the pastor now has to strain to be heard on Sundays. The one blessing? The atmosphere's far livelier than the mortuary where they held services after the fire.

"I look at this as on-the-job experience--a test of faith," says the Rev. Joseph A. Freeman, the church's pastor.

The church needs another $80,000 to finish construction, which has been helped along by volunteers from the Southern Baptist Convention, the national governing group. The volunteer tradesmen work on the church when it can afford to buy materials. But the rebuilding is far from finished, and it may be up to strapped church members to find the means to hammer in those final nails.

"They must realize that if you don't do anything, then God won't do anything," says Freeman. Yet even with these blows to his faith, of one thing Freeman is confident: This is one establishment that won't be closed on Sunday.

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