Pastor Trusts in God to Prevent Church and School From Landing on Auction Block

The Progressive Baptist Church on Brinkley Road in Temple Hills, Md.
The Progressive Baptist Church on Brinkley Road in Temple Hills, Md. (Michael Birnbaum - The Washington Post)
By Michael Birnbaum and James Hohmann
Washington Post Staff Writers
Friday, September 11, 2009

The pastor says heaven will help him keep his school open. But the auctioneer says more earthly laws might prevail, and that the Progressive Baptist Church and Christian Academy in Temple Hills will be sold to the highest bidder later this month.

That came as a surprise to parents dropping off their children at the 150-student school Thursday morning, most of whom had not heard that the institution was in financial trouble. Many had just paid their bill for tuition, which starts at $5,895 a year.

"This is crazy," said Kim Kirksey, whose son goes to high school there and who had heard nothing from the school about money problems. "I've paid for the first quarter. I don't believe this. And they're going on, business as usual."

The school is in foreclosure, and negotiations with its mortgage lender can continue until the auction, scheduled for Sept. 22. But if the school, which was founded in 1999, according to its Web site, is sold to another owner, it could become the latest to shut down in what has been a difficult economic climate for private schools. At least two local schools, the Newport School and Thornton Friends School, both in Silver Spring, closed over the summer.

Pastor Don deJuan Massey, the founder and operator of the school and church, said Wednesday that the school's fate is a matter of "God's intervention" and that it would not go on the auction block.

"We're going to continue to operate. We reserve the right to continue," he said. The school is negotiating with the bank, he said, and might refinance its loans. Massey would not divulge how much money is owed, saying "that's not germane at this time," and that "some" parents knew of the school's financial troubles.

Massey would not say what would happen to the congregation if the property is auctioned. "Lower enrollment and lower giving" were responsible for the problems, Massey said. He declined to say how much enrollment had dropped.

The foreclosure notice was filed in April, according to court records. Two federal tax liens totaling $619,761 were levied against Massey on Aug. 27, records show.

The campus, in a quiet residential neighborhood filled with modest houses, contains a 250-seat church, a 31,600-square-foot school building, a 10,000-square-foot gymnasium and a four-bedroom house. The school, which is set far back on the property, is a tidy structure with murals of nature scenes on the ceilings and a photo of Massey and his wife in the office. It enrolls students from pre-kindergarten through 12th grade.

A partner in the auction firm, A. J. Billig & Co., said he was not aware of any negotiations and that there had been significant interest in the 11.7-acre, Y-shaped site on Brinkley Road.

"There are no plans for the bank's reconciliation that I know of," said Daniel Billig. "I think it's a very viable property." He said the auction house last month sent a sign to be posted on the property but Massey did not allow it to be put up and prohibited Billig from showing the property to prospective bidders.

The mortgage was held by Bradford Federal Savings Bank until the bank was taken over by the Federal Deposit Insurance Corp. at the end of August, Billig said. Bradford's assets have been taken over by M&T Bank.

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