Church files for Chapter 11, seeks help

George Johnson had never heard of a church having to file for bankruptcy, until his.

Johnson is the pastor of Greater Mount Zion Baptist, at Market and Lincoln, and earlier this month filed for Chapter 11 protection on behalf of his church, following the on the advice of his lawyer. Johnson said he filed for bankruptcy after a foreclosure on the church building.

But Johnson is hoping the community will help him keep his church doors open and continue ministries, which include helping feed and clothe the poor in the neighborhoods surrounding Greater Mount Zion.

"We need a lot of help," Johnson said. "This economy has hurt us, just like everyone else."

The biggest sting, Johnson said, came when parishioners started losing their jobs.

"They had to move away to find work," said Mayella Pless, who works in the church office.

Johnson said he doesn't want to shut down the clothes closet and a soup kitchen that serves people lunch each Wednesday, because people in the neighborhood depend on them.

"We feed a lot of people," Johnson said. "We clothe a lot of people. Now we're reaching out for help, so we can continue this work God has given us. We know there are people out there who can help."

Mount Zion lost about $4,000 in member contributions from 2008 to 2009, court records show.

The church owes $292,768 of its $1.1 million value for its building. It reported owing $27,160 for vehicles, including two buses and a van.

The church listed a bank balance of $1,672 cash on hand in its bankruptcy records.

The church received donations and tithes from members of about $19,000 in the first four months of this year.

"Between the water and gas bills, it's gotten hard for us," Johnson said. "But because of what we're doing, we're trying to hang in there."

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