The Holy Lawsuit: Congregation fights for new church after fire

The Holy Lawsuit: Congregation fights for new church after fire

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by BILL MCGINTY / NBC Charlotte

Bio | Email | Follow: @billwcnc

WCNC.com

Posted on May 15, 2013 at 11:40 PM

Updated Thursday, May 16 at 5:39 AM

CHARLOTTE, N.C. -- When you pay for insurance, you expect the insurance company to cover your loss if the time comes right? But the Harbor Baptist Church says they’re just praying they get their new building after a fire and what has become a long legal battle over “repair vs. replace”. 

Church Outreach director Dave Goodson says, "When we got here, flames were just pouring out of the walls and windows, fire trucks everywhere.”
That was May 24, 2008. It has been five long years, and the building still looks like it did the day after the fire. Five years spent hoping, five years spent praying, and five years spent working hard to give 100 percent with only 50 percent of the space. It’s emotionally tough on Goodson.  
“So we’re not able to have the time we used to have, we can’t build the relationships with the kids who depend on us," Goodson expressed as he got emotional, "A lot of them look to us like parents and we show them the love of the Lord to them, and it’s frustrating that we have to cut our time so short.”
Goodson says Harbor Baptist buses in 300 to 600 people every week for services; he says it’s Charlotte’s largest bus ministry. Inside, what was once a gym is now the church. Every room, every nook and cranny is used and reused for preaching, and outreach. The gym has been a sanctuary, with hoops above; it has served its purpose in the good time and the not so good times.
Pastor J.R. Farrington leads the flock saying, “We feed the hungry, we help the homeless, we reach out to at risk youth, we help adults, we run a food bank, we have many ministries, and obviously, things that are put into fighting a lawsuit are not being used to reach people.”
Almost $200,000 and five long years have been spent fighting their insurance company, Brotherhood Mutual, which says it’ll only pay to repair the church, not replace it.
To that, Goodson says, “If these [concrete supports] were safe, and we could come back in and reuse it, we would, we’d love to, but the reality is, it’s not.”
An attorney for Brotherhood Mutual, an insurance company that insures churches, says they’ve already paid over $750,000 to make repairs, and their engineering report says the “concrete ceiling is safe.”
But engineering experts hired by the church say repairs to the concrete supports above, just won’t cut it. Their report says not replacing those supports could “lead to a collapse”. Harbor Baptist says it’ll take a total of $3.2 million to rebuild.  
“The concrete is sagging and what they are telling us is that there is a really good chance these beams could collapse,” says Goodson.
On any Sunday, this room would be filled, so Pastor Farrington says, “We didn’t feel it would be responsible for us to put people in a building that we didn’t feel was safe.”
City of Charlotte Code Enforcement condemned the building in 2012, and issued an “order to demolish”. Brotherhood Mutual appealed the city’s order saying the city didn’t test anything to reach that conclusion, but lost their appeal. The City says another appeal is now pending for the first week of June in Superior Court.
Goodson adds, “It’s not safe, it’s not safe for us, it’s not safe for our neighbors, it’s not safe for anyone.”
And while Harbor Baptist fights and waits for judgment in court, they’ve been paying a lot. Over the last five years, Pastor Farrington says they have paid $95,535 in insurance premiums to Brotherhood Mutual. 
“We still pay to insure the building that burned; we’re paying for five years on a building we cannot use,” stated Farrington.
So with the patience of Jobe, and the faith of a child, the congregation pushes on, learning how to do more with less, teaching everyone understanding and compassion.
When asked, “do you forgive?” Goodson replied, “Absolutely. I pray for them every day.”
Paul Klein, the attorney for Brotherhood Mutual Insurance, says their experts “can’t confirm the church building is unsafe” and says the insurance company made “an extraordinarily reasonable offer”, but wouldn’t tell NBC Charlotte what is contained in the offer. So for the moment, the two sides are headed to court on June 6.

As for the money the insurance company has already paid? Pastor Farrington says it’s sitting in the church bank account waiting to move forward.  

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