A federal judge has decided that a Lee church with about a dozen members belongs to the Christian & Missionary Alliance and not the congregation that cut ties with the national group last year.
U.S. District Judge Jon Levy issued the judgment Wednesday after the congregation and the organization agreed to settle the dispute, according to attorneys for both sides.
The Colorado Springs, Colorado-based Christian and Missionary Alliance in December sued the New Beginnings Church in U.S. District Court in Bangor. The church’s affiliation with the alliance dated back to 1983, when the national organization accepted an application from the Lee church to join its fold.
Over the years, the alliance funneled more than $100,000 in support to the congregation, according to Bernard Kubetz, the alliance’s Bangor attorney who also represents the Bangor Daily News. Congregants were aware that if they severed their ties to the alliance, the ownership of the property, the church and the rectory at 249 Winn Road would be transferred to the group, he said.
Brett Baber, the Bangor attorney representing the members of New Beginnings Church, said Friday that after the recent deaths of two prominent church members, the congregation voted to stop fighting the lawsuit.
“The remaining members simply could not afford to fund the operating costs for the building, much less the costs of litigation in federal court,” Baber said. “Sadly, this case represents what is occurring elsewhere in Maine as small non-denominational churches see their membership dwindle for a variety of reasons.
“Fortunately, the members’ faith in God is undeterred as they will continue to worship at another location in Lee while they rebuild their congregation,” he said.
The church is located on land that Lee resident Lester Delano donated to the original members in 1981, before the Christian and Missionary Alliance became involved. Delano, now 100, said in December when the legal dispute was made public that he never intended for the land to become the property of the national organization.
“We gave it to the people in the church,” Delano said last year at a press conference.
The judge ordered that the property be transferred to the alliance at the Penobscot County Register of Deeds. Kubetz said he was unsure of the alliance’s plans for the property or how much it might be sold for.