Foreclosure Auction on Anti-Gay Church Stayed for Now

One side of the marquee on the Blood of Jesus Atlah World Missionary Church.| MICHAEL SHIREY

One side of the marquee on the Blood of Jesus Atlah World Missionary Church.| MICHAEL SHIREY

BY PAUL SCHINDLER | The Blood of Jesus Atlah World Missionary Church on 123rd Street and Lenox Avenue in Harlem –– which for the past several years has posted viciously homophobic messages on its outdoor marque sign –– has blocked, temporarily at least, plans for a public auction of the property, which had been set for February 24.

In a February 18 order, New York County Supreme Court Justice Barbara Jaffee issued a stay barring the auction, giving the church and its pastor, James David Manning, the opportunity to make their argument that the foreclosure, based on a city lien of more than $1 million for unpaid water and sewer charges, is not justified, given the church’s tax-exempt status.

Manning last week was unable to provide Gay City News with information about when the church applied for such an exemption, and, on numerous occasions, he has talked about the other services provided in the building separate from worship activity.

Jaffe ordered the matter put over for a hearing on April 21. Manning is facing off against a city tax lien trust and the Mellon Bank.

The delay and possibility that Atlah could avoid an auction altogether temporarily blocks efforts by at least two LGBT organizations to step in to purchase the property. When the February 24 auction came to light, the Ali Forney Center, which provides housing and social services to homeless LGBT youth across the city, undertook an online fundraising campaign with a $200,000 goal, in the hopes of leveraging that amount against support from major donors to put up a bid for the building at auction. It took AFC barely a week to hit its target, and its executive director, Carl Siciliano, told Gay City News that several donors have signaled interest in participating in the purchase effort.

AFC already runs a drop-in center just blocks away, at the corner of 125th Street and Frederick Douglass Boulevard.

In the wake of Jaffee’s stay, Siciliano issued a written statement, saying, “This development gives us more time to research the conditions of the Atlah building and assemble the most advantageous financial package possible prior to making a bid for the building at auction.”

Siciliano had earlier stated that should AFC not succeed in acquiring the Atlah site, it would funnel the funds raised into purchase of another property to expand its inventory of youth housing units.

A second LGBT group has also shown interest in the Atlah property. The Rivers of Living Water Ministries, an LGBT congregation led by African-American Reverend Vanessa Brown and Bishop Joseph Tolton, is currently without a home and launched a fundraising drive to mount a bid at auction.

The lien that brought Atlah into court does not include a $13,000 liability owed to the city’s Landmarks Preservation Commission, which has fined the church for its inflammatory marquee, which was mounted on the building in defiance of historic preservation guidelines imposed on the building.