Greater Love Tabernacle Church in Boston Is Fighting to Keep Its Doors Open; Community and City Leaders Rally Support

YOON S. BYUN/GLOBE STAFF The Rev. William Dickerson preached at an interfaith unity service at the Greater Love Tabernacle Church.
The Rev. William Dickerson preached at an interfaith unity service at the Greater Love Tabernacle Church.

The Rev. William Dickerson has buried many sons of this city through the years.

Wakes, funerals, grief are a refrain in his work. He ministers to families in crisis and offers his church as a haven.

Now Dickerson and his Greater Love Tabernacle Church are fighting to stay open. Residents from across Boston turned out in force Sunday for an interfaith service to help the church raise funds to pay off its debt.

“We’ve got your back,’’ said the Rev. Liz Walker of Roxbury Presbyterian Church.

Along the church’s burgundy pews, clergy members sat near police top brass and lawmakers near families of homicide victims. In rousing speeches and songs, some said Greater Love is a bedrock in the community.

“This is a fabulous church,’’ thundered Mayor Martin J. Walsh, as worshipers rose and applauded. “The spirit they have inside this church is the same spirit they have outside.”

Belynda Skinner, whose son was killed in 2004, recalled how she turned to alcohol after the slaying to help her cope. Dickerson and his church pulled her through, she said. “He would hug me. . . . I could tell he could smell liquor . . . but he never judged me,” she told the packed church.

Greater Love Tabernacle Church, with a congregation of roughly 600, filed for Chapter 11 bankruptcy protection on Dec. 10 to stave off foreclosure.

The filing marks the second time recently that a prominent and once-prosperous African-American church has faced financial crisis. Just two years ago, Charles Street AME Church found itself swimming in debt and leaning on faith to survive.

The church is still finding a way to stabilize finances.

In times of prosperity, both churches had ambitions to be more than a place of worship to the struggling communities they serve. They wanted large centers for gathering, jobs creation, healing, and learning.

But both visions came to a halt after the economy stagnated and money stopped coming in.

“This is one of the last black institutions in the country. They are all under threat,’’ said Lester Sabb, a member of Charles Street AME Church who attended the interfaith service.

Dickerson vows to keep the church doors open.

“It’s unfortunate, but it is something we have to deal with,’’ Dickerson said. “We are working with a lawyer, and we have a specialist trying to help us restructure and reorganize.”

Church members said they are confident in their pastor and his ability to lead them through the crisis.

“God is in control,’’ said Tashawn King, the church’s praise and worship leader. “We’re already conquering this.”

“I’m praying for our pastor,’’ added church member Heather Foster of Mattapan.

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Source: Boston Globe | Meghan E. Irons