's 100th year might be its last in . That's the fear members of the congregation carry after hearing comments made recently by longtime Pastor Oliver K. Patterson Sr., and reading documents pulled from the St. Louis County Recorder of Deeds office.
Documents show that the church is now owned by Rengaw, a company organized by Daniel J. Wagner. Members are worried because they don't know much about who he is or why he owns their church.
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Further, members contend Patterson didn't consult them before he handed over the keys to the property.
"I feel deceived," said Georgia Foreman, 56, as she choked back tears May 14 during an interview at her kitchen table. She has attended Mt. Zion for 52 years and sang in its Sunbeams choir as a child. "I feel betrayed. And I feel like I've been played."
The church building is located on Hanley Road in the Hadley Township neighborhood. It hosts a historically black congregation that members say has touched the lives of nearly every person in the area for generations through ministries such as Thanksgiving food baskets given to people in need and monetary gifts for graduating students.
Members allege Patterson transferred ownership of the building in late June 2011 without telling congregants. They say he then waited more than eight months to discuss the status of the building with them. And when he spoke, Foreman claims, he falsely told them that a foreclosure had occurred and that members had made the decision to go forward with foreclosure proceedings.
Patterson has declined to discuss the issue with Patch, but documents tell this story: A foreclosure never occurred. On June 29, 2011, Patterson signed over ownership of the church to a company called Rengaw to avoid a foreclosure sale, according to the deed. The deed uses the words "sold, granted and conveyed" to describe the transaction.
As owner, Rengaw has control over the real property, improvements and easements, the deed states.
Emerson Sutton was baptized at Mt. Zion and has attended off and on for years. As a real estate professional for more than 30 years, the question of the building's legal status interested him greatly.
Among his questions: By what authority had Patterson transferred ownership of the building? The deed states that Patterson signed the deed "with and by the authority of its board of directors." Yet such a board has not operated at the church for years.
At a business meeting that followed the pastor's foreclosure announcement, Sutton asked the pastor: "When you sold, did you consider bankruptcy?"
Patterson responded that he had not.
Sutton wondered whether the church had outstanding debts. If it did, had the pastor considered selling the church's annex? The annex, a small cinderblock building just south of the church, is where Mt. Zion first met, said Reggie Finney, a Richmond Heights community advocate who used to attend the church.
It is unclear whether members must find another place to worship. Services were held Sunday, and Patterson has declined to be interviewed about who owns the building.
"The business of our church is the business of our church," he said. Levander Smith, a deacon at the church, referred a request for comment to Patterson, and attempts to speak with other church leaders have been unsuccessful.
A civil case filed this year and later dismissed adds to the mystery. A Jan. 13 filing by an attorney representing Rengaw—the Mt. Zion building owner—claims Mt. Zion transferred ownership of the property because it defaulted on two promissory notes. Both notes were held by Rengaw.
The court filing further claims that when Rengaw demanded payment of the remaining balance, the church "failed and refused to pay" in the amount of roughly $451,000. Rengaw asked the court to enter a judgment against the church for that amount along with pre-judgment interest, post-judgment interest, costs, attorney fees and "such further relief as this court deems just and proper."
Two months passed. Then, on March 22, Rengaw dismissed the case without prejudice. The reasons for the dismissal are not described in the document. Neither Daniel Wagner, the company's organizer, nor Jill Rembusch, the attorney who represented Rengaw, have responded to requests for comment.
Foreman, the longtime Mt. Zion member, said the pastor has made conflicting statements about the future of the church. He first told members that his company, Patterson and Patterson Investments, would give the church a building in Hazelwood, she said. He showed them a picture of it.
A search of St. Louis County property records turned up no information about sites owned by Patterson and Patterson Investments.
Since then, Foreman claims, he has suggested that he is looking for a different location. He has also told members that he does not have faith in them to make decisions about the building.
Foreman continues to attend Mt. Zion. But she has started leaving the worship when Patterson begins to preach. She fears that one day, she will arrive at the building to find a padlock and a "no trespassing" sign attached to the door.