A dispute over who owns St. Luke African Methodist Episcopal Church on St. Simons Island is a reminder that religion is too often tainted by the almighty dollar.
A Glynn County judge may ultimately decide whether the small congregation can continue to worship where it has for four decades or whether the property becomes yet another dense development on the island. Judge Bert Guy signed a consent order this week dictating that no action affecting the property be allowed until who exactly owns the property can be determined.
The congregation of about 40 people learned the national organization of their denomination was trying to sell the 2-acre lot when it was listed for $1.5 million on the internet by the sixth district of the national AME organization.
The congregation’s trustees say they own the land and that because the church has never been officially incorporated in the national organization, the decision to sell is theirs alone.
The national organization says it owns the land because it owns all its churches, even though that rule did not apply when St. Luke was founded in the early 1970s.
The property listing was taken down, but a local developer, acting as an agent for the national organization, has already applied for a demolition permit. He has a plan to build seven houses on the two acres should the church be razed.
All of this is transpiring as it appears a hole in the roof of the church caused by a tree during Tropical Storm Hermine this past September will be repaired, allowing the congregation to meet at its church again for the first time in months.
It would be a shame to see a place that means so much to the people who worship there torn down.
The property was home to an old African American schoolhouse and the church and the monument to the school that sit on it are some of the last vestiges of the black neighborhood that once thrived on the south end of the island.
The national AME organization should take note of the important contributions African Americans in that area had on the history of the island and shift its focus from making a few bucks to preserving a place that matters.
We hope the courts see it that way too.