Timeline: SEPA vs Redeemer East Falls

January 28, 1998

  • Bishop Almquist sends three representatives to Redeemer’s annual meeting. Mid-way through the meeting they declare the meeting to be over, declaring Redeemer to be under synodical administration. They leave with the church financial books to attend Synod Council meeting which votes Synodical Administration after the fact.
  • Former interim pastor who was known in the community visits Redeemer’s bank and conveys $90,000 to the synod. Congregation had received a large endowment a few years before.
  • Congregation protests. Bishop Almquist releases Synodical Administration a year later. They do not return our money for an additional year.


  • After an additional year and numerous requests from Redeemer, Bishop Almquist returns app. $82,000. Synod subtracts its legal fees from Redeemer. Appeal letter is issued to all churches to make up a Synod shortfall in its Mission Fund of almost exactly the amount returned to us. Redeemer, in effect, had given SEPA a two-year, interest-free loan.


  • Redeemer refuses to “regularize” a call to a Pastor who wants to work only 10 hours a week. Congregation is agreeable to a term call (entirely constitutional), thereby not locking into a long-term relationship for minimal service. Bishop Almquist says, “Regularize this call or there won’t be any pastor for a very long time.” For the next 8 years, Redeemer finds its own pastoral help. Synod has little contact with us.


  • Synod Treasurer reports that SEPA is within $75,000 of depleting every available resource.

May 2006

  • Claire Burkat elected bishop.
  • Redeemer is in 2nd year of hosting Epiphany with covenant to work toward unification, sharing Pastor Timothy Muse. As far as we know things are going fine.

October 2006

  • Only a week after a meeting with Pastor Muse to plan for Advent and Christmas, we receive email from Pastor Muse that Epiphany will break their covenant and close.
  • Muse gives ten days notice (constitution calls for 30 days)
  • We learn that Muse and the president of Epiphany have met privately with Bishop Burkat. Redeemer is not part of discussion.
  • REACTION: We had combined our council with Epiphany’s but with their closing, Redeemer immediately sets out to fill council seats independently. We achieve this within two months. We know we must shift mission strategy. Swahili members want to reach out to their greater community. This had been something we had been talking with Pastor Muse about for some time but had tabled as we worked to unite with Epiphany. We put all effort into this even if initial leadership comes from English. We expect low attendance at English services in the start-up phase. This is discussed within the congregation at length. Outreach is immediate success. 49 join under Prs. Ipyana and Mutashobya’s leadership. Mutashobya meets with all new members and reads constitution. Redeemer works to incorporate new members into active participation as soon as possible. We report this to Synod. No response to letters and phone calls. We are told off the record by a member of Synod staff, “It doesn’t matter what you do, the bishop intends to close your congregation.”

December 2006

  • Bishop says she wants to meet with congregation. Leaders want to meet with her alone to discuss sensitive concerns without stirring up congregation. None of us had ever met Bishop. Dean Saraka is at meeting but says nothing. We never see him again. He does not return calls.
  • Bishop opens meeting by telling us the place looks junky. (Epiphany had moved their things into our fellowship hall.)
  • Bishop says “A small church like this with no parking lot has no chance.”
  • We shared our successful Swahili outreach. Bishop’s response — “You’re not allowed to do that.”
  • We talk about money and the value of the property. Bishop says “You are not allowed to mortgage your property.” (Constitution says otherwise.)
  • Meeting is cut short by the death of Bishop’s father. Bishop promises to get back to us in 3 to 5 months. We hear nothing for 11 months.

Easter 2007 (April 10)

  • Rev. Karl Schneider, pulpit supply, creates a scene at Easter breakfast and ruins worship. This would be an insignificant item except . . .

May 2007

  • We are using four supply pastors (two Swahili and two English). Council wants more continuity. We inform Pastors Schneider and Ipyana that we will be using the services of Pastors Jenkins and Mutashobya. Schneider sees this as punishment for the Easter incident and writes vindictive letter to bishop.

June 6, 2007

  • Without checking the back story, bishop takes Schneider’s letter to Synod Council and asks them to place Redeemer under Synodical Administration. Synod Council does not inform Redeemer of its actions for nearly five months.

Mid-July 2007

  • Rev. Lee Miller calls Stanley Meena (president) and insists on meeting with council with three days notice. Stanley informs him that many council members are vacationing, but Miller is insistent, although he never shares with us how he has any right to insist on meeting with us. Nevertheless, Redeemer cooperates. Four members of Synod Council come and tell us they are “fact finders” who “want to help.” Three Redeemer council members are present and are candid about our problems and successes. They thank us but never reveal that we are under Synodical Administration and they are the appointed trustees. They tell us months later that they decided to not tell us they were trustees because they didn’t want any trouble. Their deceit creates a foundation of distrust.

October 12, 2007

  • Bishop calls a meeting of congregation (not constitutional-only the Congregation President, its pastor, or a petition of congregation members can call a congregational meeting). We are mindful of the coups of 1998 when Almquist sent synod council members to our annual meeting and walked off with our bank records. We agree to meet off site but want a meeting first with our leadership. This was our FIRST notice that we have been under Synodical Administration since June.

November 1, 2007

  • Meeting with eight of ten council members, two members, church organist and Rev. Mutashobya and Redeemer’s counsel. Bishop, synod attorney and three trustees are at this meeting. Bishop says Dean Saraka is on his way, but he never comes. Good meeting. We present our mission plan and the congregation’s resolution to call Mutashobya.
  • Ministry plan lays out budget and plan to borrow money and repay. Ministry plan also includes the call of Mutashobya who has agreed to payment terms and committed to five years.
  • Ministry plan includes complete membership list. Bishop looks at list and says “A lot of these names look African to me.” She adds “White Redeemer must be allowed to die. Black Redeemer . . . we can put them anywhere.” READ THE PLAN
  • Bishop promises we can work with Davenport and that she will review our plan and resolution. This never happens.
  • Congregation leaves meeting in song! We are confident progress has been made.

November 2, 2007 to mid February 2008

  • Synod fails to follow through with promises made at this meeting. We hear nothing despite calling the Synod office regularly. Mutashobya tries to contact synod and fails.
  • At last, Bishop suggests to Mutashobya that he visit another church with the intent of removing Redeemer’s black membership. Mutashobya follows through but reports that he was received coldly. African members are hurt that their membership is not respected by Synod. All of Redeemer is hurt that their successful outreach ministry is not recognized.
  • About February 9, Davenport returns Meena’s call (the only returned call in three years). She leaves message that she has nothing to report.

February 10, 2008

  • Davenport visits congregation and tells us bishop wants to come on Feb 24 (pm) and we inform her that congregational annual meeting has already been properly noticed for that morning and we do not want to meet in the afternoon. (Party planned for Pastor Mutashobya’s birthday in the afternoon.)

February 12, 2008

  • Mutashobya and Davenport are to meet.
  • Prayer vigil is held that the meeting will be productive. On her way out the door to meet Mutashobya, Davenport is handed a letter from the bishop announcing she is closing the church.
  • Letter announcing a congregational meeting on Feb 24 to “plan a closing service” is sent to all parishioners with no consultation with the parish. Parish has not voted to close. Council informs bishop in writing that the congregation will not meet this day. (2nd notice.)

February 24, 2008

  • Annual congregational meeting is held in the morning. Congregation votes to continue its ministry. The meeting is well attended and quorum requirements are met.
  • Pastor Mutashobya encourages us to stand firm.
  • Congregation asks Meena and Gotwald to be at church in the afternoon as neither are involved in the planned family party. Bishop arrives with 10 people. Meena and Gotwald refuse to open the church since the congregation is not present. After bishop’s party leaves, Meena and Gotwald discover a locksmith van waiting behind the church with synod lawyer in front seat. Lawyers talk and confrontation ends when two police cars happen by. Trustees falsely report that we tried to have the bishop arrested. Read Eyewitness Account.

February 26, 2008

  • Mutashobya is called in to talk with Davenport. Fasting and prayer vigil is held. Pastor Mutashobya never returns to Redeemer.

February 28, 2008

  • Redeemer files suit to protect property.

Same week

  • We inform bishop of congregational intent to appeal. They tell us a synod rep must be present for the vote. Larry House comes to worship. The vote is taken again and is unanimous. Verification of the quorum is provided.
  • Despite vote, SEPA informs us we cannot appeal. Redeemer asks for procedures or rules for making an appeal. Synod provides nothing insisting we cannot appeal.
  • We contact presiding Bishop Hanson. He advises us to negotiate with Burkat. We write Burkat monthly for 10 months. No response. READ THE LETTERS

Sometime prior to April 2008

  • SEPA offers all of Redeemer’s property for sale to Ken Crest (Redeemer’s 25-year tenant) without consulting the congregation. We learn about this from a letter Ken Crest wrote dated April 12, 2008 in which they inform us that having completed a thorough site evaluation, they are declining the offer of sale. This is a direct violation of Synod’s Articles of Incorporation.

May 2008

  • Five days before the May 8, Synod Assembly, we are informed that our appeal — which Synod has repeatedly told us is not within our rights — is scheduled! We still are not provided with guidelines.
  • Synod Assembly. Synod Council reads a report they had never shared with us. It is filled with inaccuracies and outright falsehoods.
  • Meena reads statement that we cannot appeal because of the law suit.
  • After Synod Assembly we respond in detail to the trustees inaccurate report. We are ignored. READ THE LETTER
  • Redeemer member approaches Synod Council member and asks for help. In a rant he is told “Synod has no intention of negotiating.” He is warned to get out while the gettting is good. (Synod Council members are supposed to represent congregations. Refusing to talk with us is a failure to fulfill their function.)

June 2008

  • SEPA sends court server to Redeemer Council meeting suing congregation and two members personally (Gotwald and Meena — the two who had met the bishop when she brought the locksmith with her — Gotwald had gone off council in February).

July 2008

  • Judge New dismisses Redeemer’s case citing no jurisdiction in church matters. Redeemer decides not to appeal because the issues are contained in Synod’s suit against us and we are trying to deescalate the litigation. (Synod later uses failure to appeal against us in court.)

August 2008

  • Ken Crest renews lease with Redeemer but then whites out their names, stating they don’t want to be in the middle of a landlord dispute. This lease is Redeemer’s main source of income, so congregation looks for ways to fund budget until we can rerent the space.
  • We insist again on our right to appeal. Synod insists we have no such right.

Christmas 2008

  • Redeemer had lined up a pastor for Christmas Eve well in advance. On December 23, he notifies us by email that he cannot “go against the bishop” and cancels. We never use a supply pastor again. We develop lay leadership and use the excellent sermons of a pastor in Australia.

January 2009

  • At the height of the recession we are able to secure a loan for $275,000 to prepare the parish building for rerenting, renovate the kitchen and bathrooms, and prepare for calling a minister. It is a ONE YEAR BRIDGE LOAN at a high rate of interest because we are a small church with no recent credit history. Plan is to repay a third and refinance at more competitive rate at the end of the year. We are on target to achieve this when Synod interferes again.

Late April, early May 2009

  • Redeemer holds congregational meeting and votes to withdraw from the ELCA. Resolution is sent to SEPA. SEPA lawyer responds that we cannot withdraw because we are “officially terminated.” We are told we may not send representatives to SEPA Synod Assembly except to make an appeal. (Synod had already accepted our registrations and fees and even challenged one of the four registrations. They do not return our registration fees.) This is our first notice that we are terminated — AFTER we present a resolution to withdraw. Less than a week before Synod Assembly we are informed by fax that we would have 15 minutes to make a presentation. Synod Council would follow. We would not be allowed to rebut anything Synod said. There would be 10 minutes of “discussion.” SEPA is writing rules as they go.

May 9, 2009

  • The appeal is orchestrated. SEPA extends the discussion to 20 minutes at last minute and has witnesses lined up at the microphones. We learn that Synod had contacted one member of our congregation and offered transportation to the Assembly if he would testify against us. He declined. We had never been told that we were allowed “witnesses” as part of the discussion. The witnesses for the most part talk about the 1998 incident with Pastor Almquist. Very few of the witnesses are people known to current Redeemer members. Note: Only one of our 82 members was an active adult member at the time of Almquist’s seizure of our savings. 79 of our members joined since then. Two returned to active membership during this time. VIEW REDEEMER’S PRESENTATION APPEAL5
  • SEPA rewords the prepublished question to be voted on, switching a yes vote to a no vote,  and in doing so leaves out all the issues we are appealing except the property issues. Redeemer had asked to have input into the wording of the question but was refused. Synod votes overwhelmingly to allow the bishop to take our property and assets, which is forbidden by the Synod’s Articles of Incorporation and is therefore void.
  • Synod Assembly NEVER VOTES on issues of Synodical Administration or forced closure or suing Redeemer’s lay members.
  • SEPA passes a 10% deficit budget explaining that shortfall will be taken from mission fund. Mission fund is funded with assets of closed churches.

May 10, 2009, Mothers Day

  • Larry House and Tracey Beasley attend worship and try to commandeer the service. They announce that they are now in charge and Davenport will be preaching each Sunday from now on. Showing up at worship and demanding an immediate meeting is a violation of the congregation’s constitution which requires written notice to members of meetings. Our worship becomes an ugly scene witnessed by two first time visitors (one amazingly returns–several times!) We try to reach Davenport but she does not return calls or emails. Davenport comes once, preaches a sermon entitled “They’ll know we are Christians by our love” and we never see her again. For the next two weeks we planned services as if she were coming but she neither showed up or sent word that she was not coming.

Summer 2009

  • Redeemer signs lease with two members to run day school. (Redeemer had run its own day school prior to Ken Crest.) Lease is for one floor only and for about twice what Ken Crest paid for both floors. They plan to rent both floors for five times what Ken Crest had been paying within a year. This would easily cover the interest payments on the loan and provide for the congregation. The school is scheduled to open October 19, 2009.

September 2009

  • We use congregational members’ expertise to create a ministry helping immigrants purchase first homes. We planned to purchase, renovate, and resell one home a quarter which, with the parish building leased, would fund our ministry.
  • Redeemer signs agreement to purchase a house and identifies a buyer. Closing is scheduled for the week of September 28. This transaction would have helped pay the loan and provided the seed money for the next home purchase.

September 25, 2009

  • SEPA tells judge that Redeemer is first of six congregations they wish to close this way. It suggests that Redeemer is in favored position to receive vast special funding.
  • Judge tells us that bishop has reported to him in private that Redeemer has very few members, still not recognizing the now 52 members we received in new outreach.
  • Court rules against Redeemer without hearing the case. Again “no jurisdiction” in church matters is cited.
  • Court ruling makes it impossible for us to close on the house.
  • Lawyer instructs us to stay away from the property which we do.

September 27, 2009, Sunday morning

  • Locks are changed. Congregation has no access to records so cannot determine what was needed to comply with court order. Limited material in our possession is provided but we thought it all to be duplicates of what was in the church records under synod lock and key.
  • Congregation and all tenants are evicted (day school, four AA groups)
  • Redeemer files appeal as soon as possible.

November 2009

  • SEPA Synod files Contempt of Court case for failure to supply things we had every reason to believe were in the locked church and had no ability to prove or disprove as being in the locked church. We know for a fact that some of things they presented to court as missing ARE in the locked church. Several other things they claimed to the court as missing, they know very well never existed at all (for example, tax records for staff. We had no staff!).


  • Court orders deed transferred to synod.
  • SEPA Synod refuses to pay interest on the mortgage and loan goes into default.
  • May: Bishop reports at Synod Assembly that Attorney Gordon has made a presentation about our case to all synod counsel in Chicago. Bishop uses term “hijack.” Assembly applauds. Redeemer requests from national church a list of attendees of this unpublicized meeting, feeling both sides of a church issue should be heard. After multiple requests, national church responds, via a lawyer, that they feel no obligation to share names of synods’ counsels or pass on information to this group.

En banc hearing held 2/9/11.  

  • En banc panels are called only in cases where issues are complex, will have a great effect on the general public or are seen as likely to create new law. Seven judges heard Redeemer’s appeal (four more than usual).
  • En banc panel rules in favor of Synod in a split decision. Five judges favor Synod. Two judges give a strongly worded dissenting opinion that follows Redeemer’s arguments very closely. If nothing else, this split decision reveals that Redeemer congregation was making valid arguments and deserved more of a hearing within our denomination.
  • Redeemer is appealing the decision to the Pa Supreme Court. If this decision is not challenged, the long tradition of Lutheran congregations owning their own property will end and our governance will be the similar to the Roman Catholic Church and the Episcopal Church. The dissenting judges took note of the difference between Lutherans and other church bodies. All Lutherans, and other denominations, should want this decision to be challenged. If not, all lay governments will be forced to look over their shoulders with every innovative mission decision they try to implement. Lay leaders will not know whether to follow the decision of the congregations who elect them or the whims of distant bishops. What happens to Redeemer matters little as compared to what happens to other churches because of this court decision.

July 2011

  • We discover by googling our name that Synod Council voted to officially close Redeemer on June 10, 2010. Redeemer was never informed of this action. That means we were not closed in 2008, 2009, or for the Synod Assembly in 2010. We were forbidden representation in both 2009 and 2010. Excluding a member church from representation at a Synod Assembly invalidates the entire Assembly, according to the accepted Rules of Order.
    Apparently even Synod is unaware of any proper procedure for “closing” a church. Perhaps it is so unclear because its constitution was never intended to be used in this way. When is a church closed — when the bishop declares it, when Synod Assembly votes on it, when Synod Council votes on it? Who can bring such a motion to these bodies — the bishop, the congregation, or if it is against the congregation’s wishes, trustees appointed to do the bishop’s bidding. SEPA’s Articles of Incorporation clearly state that a bishop may not convey a church’s property without the consent of the congregation. Synod Assembly cannot vote to endorse an action that goes against this primary governing document.