Banking Group Looks to Expand Organization's Scope

By Hamil R. Harris
Washington Post Staff Writer
Thursday, January 17, 2008

When the Rev. Jonathan Weaver's Upper Marlboro congregation was denied a bank loan to renovate a warehouse into a sanctuary, Weaver responded by forming an alliance of pastors that challenged banks to increase lending and improve the services offered to their growing congregations.

Fifteen years later, at a time when the county is filled with megachurches that worship in multi-million-dollar sanctuaries, Weaver is stepping down as the head of the Collective Banking Group. He said last week it was time to move on and take the concept he developed to a national and even global audience.

Weaver, pastor of Greater Mount Nebo AME in Bowie, said the group has helped churches and their members "connect with financial institutions in way like they have never been before."

The Rev. Kerry Hill, a former member of the Maryland House of Delegates and pastor of the New Chapel Baptist Church in Camp Springs, has been elected the new head of the banking group. During his first meeting last week, Hill presented a 12-point plan for the organization that goes beyond forming partnerships with banks and educating church members on how to secure more money from banks and financial institutions.

"I want us to purchase a landscaping company and to employee ex-offenders," Hill said. "We want to create a new paradigm for our banking partners, and we want to hold their feet to the fire of really providing services to our members."

Since the Collective Banking Group was established in 1993, the organization has grown from 47 churches to more than 150 with a combined membership of more than 275,000 parishioners, group leaders said. During this period, many of the organization's pastors have built massive sanctuaries, established community development corporations and started a variety of businesses.

The presidents of Bank of America of Greater Washington, Industrial Bank of Washington, the Bank of Georgetown and Columbia Bank last week signed a new covenant to work with the group. Although the bank presidents have maintained that membership with the banking group doesn't insure that a loan will be approved, it is clear that the group has made a difference.

During the meeting, several of the bank presidents talked about the need for a renewed effort by the pastors to educate their church members about making good financial decisions when it comes to purchasing a home.

"Nobody wins in a foreclosure," said William J. Couper, president of Bank of America.

B. Doyle Mitchell, president of Industrial Bank and the organization's longtime partner, blamed the subprime mortgage crisis on companies that didn't consider consumers' best interests.

"Banks are going to be banks," he said. "These loans shouldn't have been made in the first place."

Hill also invited Maryland Secretary of Housing Raymond A. Skinner and Tommie Thompson, director of the county's department housing and community development, to the meeting last week. The men talked about the dramatic increase of mortgage foreclosures and the fact that the county has had the most in the state.

"It is unbelievable, because the numbers show that the worst is yet to come, and the people who will be affected are right in our churches," Hill said. "We are trying to rebuild communities. We have an awesome foundation established by Reverend Weaver. Now, it is time to build some walls on this house."

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