WORCESTER, Mass. (AP) _ An official of The Bible Speaks says the appointment of a bankruptcy trustee to run the fundamentalist church is in effect a means to close down the denomination.
″I am very offended at the thought of the government being the ultimate authority over the church,″ the Rev. John Leonard, superintendent of schools for The Bible Speaks church of Lenox, testified Friday in federal bankruptcy court.
″Many of the pastors are convinced inwardly that the ultimate intention here is to dissolve the church,″ he said.
U.S. Bankruptcy Court Judge James F. Queenan Jr. ordered Friday that a trustee be appointed for the church.
Queenan ruled last month in favor of former parishioner Elizabeth Dovydenas, a department store fortune heiress who sued for the return of $6.5 million in donations she gave the church from 1983 to 1986.
The daughter of a founder of Dayton-Hudson Corp., headquartered in Minneapolis, claimed she was hoodwinked into giving the money by church leader Carl H. Stevens and others.
Stevens was among pastors subpoenaed to appear at the hearing, but he resigned as president of the church Tuesday and left for Baltimore before the subpoena could be served.
Stevens’ son, Carl H. Stevens Jr., testified Friday that he took over as acting head of the church when his father resigned.
Several church executives testified that they also had resigned, and attorney Charles Morse warned that an exodus of parishioners could follow.
″They will vote with their feet,″ he said.
He warned in a motion filed Thursday that the exodus would spell the end of the church in Massachusetts and of any hopes of recovering the money Mrs. Dovydenas donated.
″This will cause debtor’s revenues to cease, as there will be no religious services, and no college classes or day school classes, nor any prospect for such classes to resume in September,″ Morse said in the motion.
The church, which has about 1,200 members, was founded in the early 1970s.
Eric Dannenmaier, an attorney for Mrs. Dovydenas, said church leaders ″seem to be holding a gun to their heads and saying ‘If you want to know what’s going on, we’re going to shoot ourselves.’ ″
Dannenmaier said the exodus of followers could cause the church to forfeit its Lenox headquarters, appraised recently at $6 million.
The church has said it could sell the property to raise the money but did not want to do so.
The suit was filed in Berkshire Superior Court in Pittsfield but was switched to bankruptcy court at the church’s request. The judge granted the request for protection from creditors until the case was resolved.