A decision as to whether Judge Kennedy Peabody of the Civil Law Court’A’ judgment was in error, when he granted the ownership of the Living Bread Pentecostal Ministry, to one of the sons of the founder, pastor, and General overseer, the Late Pastor Ben Atachie is expected to be shortly decided by the Supreme Court.
The disputed ministry is situated on 6.42 lots of land, with a school building and a hospital, in the Wood Camp Community, Paynesville outside of Monrovia. The ministry was established in 1993 by Pastor Ben Atachie and a group of members including the respondents.
Pastor Ben, according to the ministry article of incorporation, dated November 18, 1993, declared himself as the founder, Pastor, and General overseer, which positions then made him the sole owner and decision-maker of the church.
The contention for ownership of the ministry was triggered after the death of Pastor Ben Atachie,on May 6, 2020.
After the burial of Pastor Ben, according to the respondents, who initially was not a member of the ministry, but, fraudulently prepared a document appointing himself as successor to his father, in complete disregard to the ministry’s constitution.
Article 1 of the Church’s Constitution states, “The pastor shall be elected by the church and shall continue as pastor until his service is terminated by his death or resignation.” And, Article IV of the Article of incorporation also says,” the pastor and other elected board members shall hold office until their successor are elected.”
“The church has a bylaw and constitution that clearly provides as to how its decisions are reached, so for Timothy K Atachie to say that his father took a decision without following the guidelines laid out in the church constitution speaks of volume,” the respondents contended during the hearing.
But, Pastor Timothy, in counterargument maintained that the church founded by Ben Atachie in 1993 has no constitution, and it is in his power that he appointed the initial board members and also in his power that he appointed other functionaries of the church.
But, in his ruling that was delivered on May 25, 2022, Judge Peabody said, he observed that the constitution does not have a date and day on it.
“This constitution is a product of ambiguity and flawless and same is declared a legal nullity, and the article of incorporation is also declared the only legal instrument substantive and verifying the creation of the church. The cost of these proceedings is hereby ruled against the respondents,” Peabody ruling declared.
Accordingly, Judge Peabody ruled that the respondents are stopped from questioning the legality of the article of incorporation, “and same now stands as the single most legal document for the petitioner church.”
Another conventional-issue raised by the respondents, but was denied by Judge Peabody, had to do with the purchasing and construction of the church’s properties.
The respondents, in their argument, said, the church with the consent of then Pastor Ben Atachie took a loan from the Ecobank Liberia, and they used the church as collateral, and payment of that loan was made by church members through dues, fundraising, and tithes.
They later presented into evidence the loan agreement between the church and Ecobank with Pastor Ben Atachie’s signature.
“We raised money by having programs, offering, and tithes used to pay for the church premises, which the amount of US$13,000 was paid against the US$53,000 and the balance of US$40,000 was the loan we took from the Ecobank, which we submitted the original copy of the church’s deed as a collateral to the bank,” the respondents claimed.
According to the church, prior to the loan agreement, they approached Mother Mai Roberts and Elizabeth Barclay Cooper to purchase the land that is now housing the church.
In that arrangement, Madam Roberts and Cooper requested the church to pay US$53,000 for the property. The church also presented a recent bank statement dated May 2, 2022, as one of their pieces of evidence to Judge Peabody.
The bank statement had an amount of LD$525,000 against the loan payment with a balance of LD$1,433,383.32, and the payment was made by the Ebenezer Christian Academy, the school run by the church.
But, Timothy K Atachie, in countering the church’s argument said, it was his father that personally entered into the purchase agreement with both Madam Roberts and Cooper.
Pastor Timothy further claimed that the initial price for the land was US$63,000, but upon negotiation US$10,000 was deducted from the money.
“My father made an initial payment of US$1,800, and the balance money was paid by Pastor Merv Westbrook of the Dawin Ministry, in Australia”, Timothy claimed. ” It was Pastor Westbrook that sent the money to purchase the land. And, the money for the construction of the hospital and the church was sent by Westbrook. Pastor Ben Atachie even submitted his stewardship report.”
Judge Peabody, while addressing the contention said, he wondered why during the case, the respondents did not subpoena, Ecobank Liberia to substantial the loan claimed and to produce the deed that was used to be offered as collateral for the payment of the loan, “and no single document for the repayment of the loan as a return check (if any), or receipts evidencing payment except the single loan document that was signed by Pastor Ben Atachie.”
“The court takes note of the contention of the respondents that payment of the loan was made by church members through dues, funding raising, and tithes. But, no tithes book was in evidence, no due books, no fundraising rally report, no members listing of the church,” Judge Peabody ruled, adding, “In the absence of all of these relevant and material documents, single loan document is insufficient on its faces.”
Despite this evidence, Judge Peabody ruled against the church, which decision will now be reviewed by the Supreme Court.
Reported by: Taisah K.Merfee
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