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Jesse helps congregation fight to keep church

Members of a small Everett church are in a legal battle to keep their building.  Silver Lake Church has fewer than 50 members and since they have limited resources for a lawyer, the congregation contacted me to see if I could help.

Silver Lake Baptist Church in Everett is a small congregation full of faith.  The Rev. Chuck Orr is the pastor, Phyllis Reiplinger is the piano player and Nancy Cromer is the church lawyer.  Cromer’s not a lawyer by trade but she is suing to keep her church alive.

“This is our property. This is where we do things,” said Cromer. “We can’t lose because of the laws that are in place.  We cannot lose.”

According to Cromer, the church’s parent body, Puget Sound Baptist Association, has made some questionable moves to take Silver Lake Church from its members.

Silver Lake Church purchased the property and paid its taxes.  In 2011a representative of the PSBA met with the church and told members that in 1979 the church failed to maintain its corporate status. This meant Silver Lake was owned by the Association.  According to several witness statements, the man asked members to sign a document or lose the church for good.

“They would lock the building, they being the Association.  They would evict us and we wouldn’t be able to be here anymore,” recalled member Cynthia Stevens.

In court declarations members recall being told that they should sign the paper to stop a court action and say there was no documentation attached to the list.  But what the members were actually signing was a document that would give the church to PSBA.  Stevens said the representative promised if the church did what the association asked for three years it would give the church back.

“During the three-year agreement period, we were not allowed to seek a lawsuit against them, we were not allowed to speak to anyone outside the congregation about what had happened that evening and the situation in general and we were not to seek any media,” said Stevens.

Now the PSBA is telling the court the church is theirs. The association’s lawyers say it’s too late, that the time to challenge the judgment has passed.  Cromer has taken the fight to court to try, something that’s hard to do without a real lawyer.  So I introduced her to noted real estate attorney Larry Glosser from Ahlers and Cressman.

“The most egregious thing that happened was the way they manipulated the members of that church to sign a stipulation, to keep them away from attorneys, to put a gag rule on them for three years in order to keep this thing under the table,” said Glosser.

In a rare circumstance Glosser has decided to take on the case pro-bono.  For now it’s a fair fight legally.

“My father told me when he was dying that Jesus would take care of me.  And I believe my dad.  And I have a strong faith in God,” said Cromer.  “We’re not going to lose.”

A representative from the PSBA declined comment.  In court documents PSBA claims that
Silver Lake Baptist Church agreed in its own bylaws to let the association take over its property if it dissolved.  The association says Silver Lake dissolved as an official incorporated entity way back in 1979 and as a result, PSBA says it’s now the owner of the property.  Both sides will be heard, along with the church’s new lawyer in a June 23 hearing.

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I’ll be part of KIRO 7 Eyewitness News each weekday this month at 5:15 p.m. You can also check out my Facebook page and click here to follow me on Twitter.

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