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Episcopal Diocese Seeks to Expel Parishioners from Church Deeded to It as a Result of Law Preventing African-American and Native American Ownership

Diocese Stonewalls Discovery in Its Lawsuit against Congregation

Larry McCord, Founder, Larry McCord and Associates LLC, says the Episcopalian Diocese is attempting to evict the longtime parishioners from a historic church so it can sell the land and pocket all the sales proceeds without any of the money going towards the church.

Over 100 years ago, the land was given to the congregants of St. Matthias Church, comprised of Native Americans and African Americans and also known as the "People of the Brush." This 1.19-acre parcel is currently located at 2856 North Jerusalem Avenue in Wantagh. A trust was set up for the parishioners since outright landownership by African-Americans and Native Americans was forbidden at that time.

The Congregation of St. Matthias has been loyal, steady, and faithful for more than a century and is constantly growing. "Whether large in number or small in number, their faithfulness and dedication has never waned," says Pastor Lawton Bryant of St. Matthias Church. "We are very active in the local community. We hold community festivals, food pantries, youth events, bible studies, fellowships, musicals and events focused on women's issues."

One of the oldest members and leaders, Mother Shirley Hardy, has attended St. Matthias for almost 70 years. Mother Shirley’s family home, over 100 years old, is less than one block away from the church. "My entire family, including my mother and grandmother, were all members of St. Matthias Church," she says. "I remember attending services with my grandmother as a child, and I've remained active in the congregation to this present day."

Pastor Bryant says the church has always been self-sufficient. "Over the last 15 years, the church has made major repairs to the building and the property, all funded by the Congregation," he says, adding none of the money came from the diocese.

The Diocese filed an action in the Supreme Court of Nassau County at the end of 2012 to eject the parishioners, Pastor Lawton and the congregation from the land given to them for a place of worship in 1904. Mr. McCord filed a counterclaim against the Diocese to have the deed placed in the name of St. Matthias Ministries, Inc., citing adverse possession — the congregation openly and hostilely occupied the land for at least 10 years — and the assertion that the deed lists the Diocese as a Trustee of the land, not the owner.

"The Diocese tried to evict St. Matthias from its house of worship, calling them trespassers," Mr. McCord says. "I've read churches are supposed to spread the word of God and Pastor Bryant and St. Matthias are doing just that. However, it seems that the Episcopal Diocese has forgotten the intent for which the land was given to the local congregants, the People of the Brush. Instead, the Diocese is trying to enrich itself by selling off this parcel of land worth millions of dollars. We believe their motive is solely financial. We are trying to get this matter settled for once and for all."

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