One of Miami’s oldest Black churches has until Sept. 11 to pay back a $1.6 million mortgage taken out in the church’s name by its former pastor, or three of its main buildings, including a fellowship hall where service is held, will be auctioned off, a Miami-Dade judge has ordered. The historic church is not part of the foreclosure.
St. John Institutional Missionary Baptist Church in Overtown, 1328 NW Third Ave., which has roots dating to 1906, is still working to pay off the loan before the auction date, Marva Wiley, an attorney for St John, said Tuesday. Wiley told the Herald the church knew nothing of the mortgage at the time it was taken out in 2018.
The mortgage lender, Taylor Made Lending, filed a foreclosure lawsuit in early 2022 after the initial loan, which has ballooned to over $2.7 million from accrued unpaid interest and fees, went into default in late 2021.
On July 30, Miami-Dade Circuit Court Judge Vivianne Del Rio extended the auction date from Aug. 14 to 9 a..m. Sept. 11 , giving St. John more time. Meanwhile, the monthly interest payment of $16,000 continues to stack up. A foreclosure sale date was originally scheduled for March 28, 2023, but has been rescheduled multiple times.
Congregants, many of whom have longtime ties to St. John, stand to lose their fellowship hall, which houses the Sunday School classrooms and where services are held while the church, listed on the National Register of Historic Places, undergoes renovations. Two other church buildings and their parking lots also are also affected.
The church has been calling on the community for financial help through a Gofundme page, and a Givelify website. “The members are still hanging on and trusting that God will bring us out of this,” said St. John board president Darryl Spence. “We’re gonna make it through this.”
During a time when St. John’s was losing members due to leadership changes and ongoing church renovations, the former pastor, Bishop James D. Adams, signed his name to two mortgages totaling nearly $2.5 million, pledging three church properties as collateral against the loans. Adams, 62, was elected senior pastor in 2010, and was fired by the church in 2021, after the church found out about the mortgages.
Much of the borrowed money went to buying a swanky downtown riverfront condo that Adams’ lawyer says was meant to be his parsonage, or church house. Adams moved in shortly after he signed for an $845,000 mortgage in the church’s name in 2017.
Church leaders say they knew nothing about the mortgage at the time. The church sold the condo and paid off that mortgage, but is still on the hook for the $1.6 million Adams took out in the church’s name in 2018.
“The church and everybody I have interviewed who’s a member and affiliated with the church says, ‘We never had a congregation meeting on that,’” Wiley told the Herald in a previous interview.
Adams’ attorney, Robert Harris, contends the congregation knew about the mortgages and that the church needed a new roof, new windows as well as funds to pay new staff and musicians for Sunday services.
“They didn’t have any money. The only thing that they had were assets,” Harris said in a previous interview with the Herald. “We took out a loan on the assets to pay the bill. Everyone agreed to it.”
The cathedral, marked by an Art Deco facade and two-story stained glass windows, was built in 1940 and added to the National Register of Historic Places in 1992. The church was designed by the first major Black architecture firm in the United States, McKissack & McKissack and has hosted the National Baptist Convention four times.
Many of the church’s outreach services, including the clothing drive, a food pantry that distributes food to the Overtown community and daycare, operate out of the buildings affected by the foreclosure suit.
This report was created with philanthropic support from Christian, Muslim and Jewish funders in partnership with Journalism Funding Partners. The Miami Herald retains editorial control of all work.