Brownsville church gets electeds support to stay open

If there ever was a modern-day story of David versus Goliath– then this is it.

A local church in Brownsville, that’s been a community staple for over 50 years, is now locked in a grueling land and tenant battle with the Westchester County-based Atlantic-District of the Lutheran Church-Missouri Synod (AD-LCMS), which is looking to evict parishioners. The case has moved on from civil court to Supreme Court this year. 

The ongoing fight to save the Lutheran Church of the Risen Christ (LCRC) for its primarily Black and Brown members, located at 250 Blake Avenue/257 Chester Street, got a much-needed boost in support from elected officials including City Councilmember Inez Barron (D-East New York, New Lots, Remsen Village, Spring Creek) and Assemblymembers Charles Barron (D-East New York) and Latrice Walker (D-Brownsville); community leaders, like Man Up Inc. Founder Andre T. Mitchell; neighboring clergy, like Bishop Donald S. Hudson, and a pro bono legal defense team and fund pulled together by dedicated family and friends. 

City Councilmember Inez Barron, left, and her husband, Assemblymember Charles Barron, center, were at the church service Sunday to show their support. Photo by Ariama C. Long.

They held a church service, food giveaway fundraiser, and press conference this past Sunday, October 18, outside of the old establishment on Blake Avenue, which they haven’t been permitted to enter or worship in since March mid-COVID-19 lockdown.

“They have a lot of nerve,” said C. Barron. “You built housing for people and they want to take you out of your house. They got a lot of nerve and you know what happens when you get on our very last nerve.”

“We are in the midst of this pandemic and we have to be careful but this is a great opportunity for us to bring our message on the street so that people can hear it, and Charles and I are here supporting you,” said I. Barron.

On first arriving and setting up for the service, many members fretted over the lack of security. The front inner and outer doors were wide open with no locks on the heavy gates, while inside had already been completely painted over and plastered in the long central hallway to the building. 

Assemblywoman Latrice Walker, seated, also is in support of the church. Photo by Ariama C. Long.

Despite that, younger children played out front while older members put up tents and folding chairs for the senior churchgoers, now in their 70’s and 80’s, that had to sit rather than stand for hours on end. A passerby asked if the church was opening up again, and then went to sit down. Another asked about a food pantry. The service began with a short prayer from family member and attorney Harold Barnes, who’s leading the legal front for the church.

“We’re slingers, and if you remember, Goliath was a big fellow,” said H. Barnes. He explained from the documents he had that Risen Christ was meant to be the “sponsor of the property so that they could build the church and school” on the premises, and they had “already agreed to it in writing.”

“They have taken us for weakness, but they have made a grave error. And we’re not fighting against flesh and blood. We’re fighting against powers in high places who see this as a valuable piece of property and they’re looking up 10 or 15 stories, and seeing how many millions of dollars could that equal to when they sell the property and tear down the church. And then you walk away from your blood, sweat, and tears with nothing but memories,” said H. Barnes. 

President of Risen Christ Dorothy Barnes said she is grateful to the community and neighboring church that took in their congregation for service in the absence of having their own space. “I am the result of a generation that’s unknown. Our heritage is at stake today, it’s not about a building,” said D. Barnes. “The community is going through a transition, and the transition has escalated.”

Sister Luella Fitzhugh offers up prayers. Photo by Ariama C. Long.

She said that Brownsville and East New York are struggling, people are dying due to gun violence, and it is not a time to close a place of outreach. 

“We always know that if you from Brownsville,” said Walker, “You never ran and you never will. And she [Dorothy] hasn’t been running from this fight. She’s been running towards it, and she pulled some folk along in her army.”

AD-LCMS spokesperson Pastor Derek Lecakes hasn’t responded to requests for comment.

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