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Historic Latino church closing its doors

Historic Latino church closing its doors

2014-09-23-event-church-homeless-24th-capp-Santiago Mejia-016
Griselia Flores delivers a meal to Scott at Casa de Oración al Dios Viviente church, Sept. 23. Photo Santiago Mejia

The homeless and hungry bodies lined the sidewalk outside the modest, light-green, paint-chipped church during the early morning hours in the Mission; they knew a hot and free meal awaited them inside the building at 856 Capp St.

The Casa de Oración al Dios Viviente has offered breakfast to the homeless scattered along 24th Street every other Tuesday from 7 a.m. to 9 a.m., but the breakfast served by the church on the morning of Sept. 23 was the last that would be dished out.

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The Casa de Oración, a congregation of the Pentecostal and Evangelical variety that has occupied the building at 24th and Capp streets for the last two-and-a-half years, is being forced to vacate the premises by Sept. 30, as the owners—the Pacific Southwest Conference, a regional branch of the Evangelical Covenant Church—plan to sell the property.

“This is what’s happening right now with this congregation, they are devoting themselves more towards economic matters than spiritual ones,” said Henry Flores, who serves as co-pastor of the Casa de Oración along with his sister Griselia. “That is the great failure.”

The Casa de Oración, which is not being evicted in the legal sense because of its month-to-month rental arrangement, received a letter from the Pacific Southwest Conference in mid August informing them of the Sept. 30 move-out date.

“It was decided, as far as I can tell, a few months ago that the property would be put on the market and notification was given to the current occupants,” said Ed Gilbreath, the executive director of strategic communication with the Evangelical Covenant Church in Chicago. “My understanding is it hasn’t been sold yet. It’s being put up for sale.”

Gilbreath made this statement on Sept. 17, but a letter from the Pacific Southwest Conference to the House of Prayer dated Sept. 14, 2014  seemingly contradicted it.

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“We have entered into an agreement to sell the property which should be finalized before the end of the month. The buyers have informed us that they are not interested in continuing to rent the property,” said the letter, which was signed by Paul Wilson, superintendent of the Pacific Southwest Conference.

Wilson declined to comment on record.

“Look how this is. Those in Chicago are saying one thing, and those of the [Southwest Conference] are telling us to get out on the 30th,” Flores said. “So really, who knows what to do? I don’t want the sheriff to come, kick us out and embarrass us.”

But as Flores and his sister have started moving their church’s belongings into storage and are currently looking for another venue to conduct their sermons, they fear for the future of the church.

Flores has lived in the Mission District for the last 30 years and fears that building at 856 Capp St, which was built in 1880 according to public record, will be turned over to a developer and eventually demolished.

“This is Latino heritage,” Flores said. “They’re going to demolish it and build apartment buildings.”

The Pacific Southwest Conference and the Evangelical Covenant Church declined to comment on who the potential buyers of the property were.

A historic congregation

Before being occupied by the Casa de Oración, the building in question was home to the Iglesia Del Pacto Evangelico, which joined the Evangelical Covenant Church as its first Hispanic congregation in 1973. The Iglesia Del Pacto however voted to shut its doors in 2013.

Flores claims Iglesia Del Pacto closed under shady circumstances.

“It’s not that [the members] wanted it to close,” Flores said. “They left crying. It was a trap.”

One of those who left crying in 2013 was Gladys Gonzales, a 65-year-old who had been a member of the church for 25 years.

She claims that the church met its demise last year when a fire damaged the back portion of the building and a pastor from San Jose named Mario Romani stepped in.

“When the church acquired Romani, there were about 50 members. The church more or less sustained itself with those people,” said Gonzales. “But when he got there, many people fled, because they weren’t happy with him. So only a few of us remained. He didn’t look after the church. It was a dead church.”

The Pacific Southwest Conference declined to comment on the alleged feud that led to the closure of its original Hispanic church.

“It’s not typical that we would just take a property,” Gilbreath said. “There were a lot of debts and stuff connected to it. And that was absorbed by the Evangelical Covenant Church in the titles transferred to us. We paid off all of that and then assumed ownership.”

Story by: Alexis Terrazas

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