Church Plans To Sell Headquarters To Raise Money
WORCESTER, Mass. (AP) _ The controversial Bible Speaks church, ordered to return $6.5 million to a former member, has decided to sell its headquarters in Lenox to raise the money, according to court documents.
The church is asking $8.5 million for the 65-acre property, according to documents filed last week in U.S. Bankruptcy Court in Worcester by attorney Charles W. Morse Jr. of Boston.
The sale would require the approval of Bankruptcy Judge James F. Queenan Jr.
Queenan ruled last month that department store heiress Elizabeth Dayton Dovydenas, 34, a former church member, had been duped out of $6,581,356 by the Rev. Carl H. Stevens Jr., founder of the fundamentalist church.
The case was tried in bankruptcy court at the request of The Bible Speaks, which said it would be ruined financially if ordered to pay back the $6.5 million.
A private foundation called ″The Friends of The Bible Speaks Foundation″ has been formed to help the church move if the Lenox property is sold, and it is seeking donations, court documents said. Seven residents of the Lenox area were listed as trustees of the foundation.
Last Friday, Gorton T. Walker, Ms. Dovydenas’ attorney, asked Queenan to appoint a trustee to oversee the financial affairs of The Bible Speaks until the $6.5 million is repaid.
Walker said the formation of the foundation may be a veiled attempt by supporters of The Bible Speaks to intervene in church financial matters without the control of the bankruptcy court.
Walker told The Boston Globe that the church headquarters may be worth more than $8.5 million. Lenox town records show that Stevens paid $815,000 in 1978 for the property, which included 14 buildings.
The value of the property cannot be determined by Lenox assessment records because it is owned by the tax-exempt church, Christina Roberts, the clerk in the assessing office, said Monday.
However, the 60-acre site of the former Berkshire Christian College across the street sold for $2 million last January to a developer.
Stevens, 56, founded The Bible Speaks in Maine in 1971. He moved it to Massachusetts after purchasing the former Lenox School for Boys, an exclusive private school for nearly 75 years.
The Bible Speaks property includes a chapel, a Bible school with housing facilities for 250 adults and a day school for 300 children from kindergarten through the 12th grade.
The church has about 1,200 local members, employs about 200 people and has about 15,000 members of affiliated congregations in 12 states and 28 foreign countries, according to trial testimony.