Is Nothing Sacred?

Pastor Ivory W. Holden and his congregation in Bridgeport, Conn., can relate to Moses, who led the Israelites—having been forced from their homeland—through the desert for 40 years.  That’s because Holden and the 300 members of his Church of God in Christ were recently forced out of their 50-year home by the local government’s abuse of eminent domain.[1]

Beginning in 2000, the City of Bridgeport decided that it needed to bulldoze more than 100 properties in order to make way for the Steel Point Redevelopment Project, which would house a monstrous development of 11 residential towers, a luxury hotel and high-end retail shops, and—as if the luxury project weren’t grandiose enough—a helipad.[2]

Unfortunately, in the world of eminent domain abuse, even churches and synagogues are not protected from the government’s wrecking ball.  A person’s freedom to worship in the United States suddenly becomes jeopardized when it comes to governments and developers greedy desire for tax revenue and land, underscoring the fact that property rights are the foundation for all our rights.

The City used eminent domain to acquire the Church in 2001, forcing Holden and his congregants out of their small white, steepled church, which enjoyed a picturesque view of the waterfront.  All the while, the City never publicly admitted that it was using eminent domain for the redevelopment project.  Instead, they seemed to disguise actions by playing up what would replace the church and surrounding properties:  “The City may use state funding to help purchase required properties for the development,” adding, “this City has not received the attention it deserves in terms of economic development from the state, but that is all changing.”[3]  This high sounding language is a common tactic used by local governments to mask what’s actually happening—homes, churches and small businesses are being taken for someone else’s private profit.

That greediness is what forces out little churches like Pastor Holden’s and sends them on a search for a new home, all while enduring years of displacement.

“It was a struggle for land,” said Holden. “We were looking for two acres to build a church.”[4]

Even though the City had promised the Church help in finding a new location, the reality was that the Church was alone in its search as it moved its congregation from one location to another.  At first, services were held at nearby Central High School, then later at the Hall Neighborhood House.  Pastor Holden and his congregation made due with their temporary locations.[5]

And there was no surprise among those who follow eminent domain abuse that, as the congregation moved around, the luxury Steel Point Redevelopment Project still had not even broken ground.  It’s often the case that cities make promises about bringing wonderful things to the community, use eminent domain, displace countless people, and then fail to deliver on their promises.

But the little displaced Church persevered, and they finally found a place to call home.  In 2005, Pastor Holden found a building that had housed a church previously, and was ready for some new congregants.

As of August 2006, the Steel Point Redevelopment Project still has not been started.  What sits now is a large open space of what once was a thriving small community of Bridgeport, Conn., and the echoes of the people that have now been displaced.

But however infuriating the City’s actions may be, Pastor Holden still holds his head up high and does not hold a grudge. 

“It was a faith-testing experience,” he said. “Israel was in the wilderness for 40 years.”[6]

This story of broken promises and a Church that had to endure several moves throughout the community is not uncommon to abuses of eminent domain.  That is why the Castle Coalition strongly supports churches that are being threatened with eminent domain to make way for private development. 

Download: “Hand Off My Church,” poster.

[1] Aaron Leo, “Pastor moves congregation to promised land,” Connecticut Post Online, August 21, 2006.

[2] “Getting real on urban development,” Reason Magazine, August 29, 2006.

[3] Press Release, Office of Governor Rell, “Governor Rell announces state funding to purchase property for Bridgeport Steel Point Development Project,” March 27, 2006.

[4] Aaron Leo, “Pastor moves congregation to promised land,” Connecticut Post Online, August 21, 2006.

[5] Ibid.

[6] Ibid.