Redemption Christian Church will hold its last service tomorrow in the place it has called home for seven years.
The Pentecostal church lost its bid to block the sale of the building it has been renting in Old Town Manassas and must move out by Monday, in accordance with a ruling by a Fairfax County Circuit judge yesterday.
Redemption's home has been the red stone-and-brick building at Main and Church streets, owned by Grace United Methodist Church. But relations between Redemption Christian and Grace United have soured since Grace United sold the property to Bull Run Unitarian Universalist Church in March.
Tensions peaked last week when Redemption Christian said that Grace United's decision to sell to Bull Run was racially biased. Most members of Grace United and Bull Run are white; most members of Redemption Christian are black.
Yesterday, however, members of both congregations were somber. "It is a sad situation that Redemption was not able to get their finances together," said Lindsey Altman, chairman of Grace United's board of trustees.
In March, Redemption Christian signed a release agreement with Grace United after two unsuccessful attempts by Redemption to buy the property. Just days later, Bull Run purchased the building for $580,000, paying one quarter of the price up front in cash using its savings.
Bull Run had been renting a small chapel in the Primitive Baptist Church in Manassas. In recent years, Bull Run has been forced to hold two Sunday services to accommodate its 135-member congregation and for a decade had been looking for a permanent place of worship.
Grace United officials say the decision to sell to Bull Run was made from purely a financial perspective -- Bull Run could pay, and Redemption couldn't. "There are reasons banks don't give loans," said the Rev. John T. Martin Jr. of Grace United. "I know Redemption Christian's leaders are disappointed and I understand they're upset, but sometimes you can't afford something. Sometimes `no' is not a bad answer."
But leaders at Redemption Christian, which has 86 members, have said that subtle racism played a role in the sale.
"Racism comes in many forms," Thomas Felder, attorney for Redemption Christian, said yesterday. "I believe that if Redemption were a predominantly Caucasian congregation, this deal would have gone through. There is nothing to suggest that Bull Run would be better tenants than my client."
Leaders at Grace United have responded with outrage to Redemption Christian's accusation that the sale was racially biased.
"To say that we are racist is unacceptable," Martin said earlier this week. "We have been involved in overcoming racism in the community. We have followed the law and our consciences. Redemption Christian said they have given us grace. What they have given us isn't grace, but some unmerited abuse."
Of Grace United's more than 1,400 members, six are black, Martin said, though other black families regularly attend Sunday services.
Steven Smith, attorney for Grace United, said the stark racial breakdown of Grace United's congregation is not unusual in the county -- or the country as a whole.
"Black people and white people tend to worship apart," Smith said. "That self-segregation is something we all do to ourselves, something this country needs to come to grips with."
Redemption Christian first tried to buy the property in 1995 but negotiations broke down when a fire damaged three stories of the building and parts of the church had to be rebuilt.
In September, Redemption Christian tried to buy the church again, even signing a contract with Grace United, but the church's lender withdrew its financing.
In January, Grace United sued Redemption Christian for a $25,000 deposit that had been pledged in the contract. Grace won, and as part of the settlement agreement in March, Redemption Christian was given three months rent-free to find a new place of worship.
That agreement, according to Redemption Christian attorney Felder, was legally binding but "unfair." Fighting it legally, he said, has been "an uphill battle."
Although the original eviction was scheduled to take place yesterday at noon, representatives from the two churches and the sheriff's office, which is responsible for serving an eviction notice, decided that Redemption Christian could hold its final service tomorrow before vacating the church by Monday afternoon.
Redemption Christian will move the contents of its current facility into storage and hold future services in Buckhall Fire Station outside Manassas until the congregation can find a permanent home, a minister at Redemption Church said yesterday.
Despite the move, members of Redemption Christian maintain hope that this will be a blessing in disguise.
"For every situation that occurs, there is something good that comes out of it," said Marion Melvin, the senior deacon at Redemption Christian.
"I have a feeling deep down within me that the good Lord is going to bless us soon with a chapel that's going to have Redemption Christian's name on it."