Friday, September 27, 2013

An Open Letter to "Celebration of Praise" Church (Clermont, Florida)

To: Pastor Chris Dutruch, Celebration of Praise Church, Clermont, Florida

From: James Patrick Holding, President, Tekton Apologetics Ministries, Orlando, Florida

Dear Pastor Dutruch,

While watching local news recently, I was surprised to hear of the upcoming difficulties your fellowship will have in making a mortgage payment, and of the plan to sell the property.

I remember very well the opening of the Celebration of Praise church when it was at a more northerly location on Highway 27, in Minneola. I remember it well because we frequently use the gas station next door. I picture it now, in fact: Not much more than three times larger than the gas station itself, as I recall. And I admit I was a bit puzzled when the location became the City Hall for Minneola. I had no idea what had happened to CoP and wondered about it.

It wasn’t until later that I found out that CoP had moved to its new location. And it was not until this past week that I was aware of the following, which was reported in a news article:

Buying a church may not be the typical way for a city to expand its services, but for Clermont, it could be the answer to a prayer.

The growing city in south Lake County, whose residents have been demanding more recreational opportunities, has offered to pay $6.3 million for Celebrtation of Praise Church of God, which can't afford an upcoming $7 million "balloon" payment on its mortgage.

The 47-acre megachurch on a hilltop overlooking U.S. Highway 27 includes an Olympic-size swimming pool, the largest auditorium in Lake County, a gymnasium and 30 undeveloped acres that could be home to a new police station, a conference center or a recreation complex….

Although the church property went on the market about a year ago, city leaders took a sudden interest in the site after a series of public "visioning sessions" in which residents clamored for more recreation. Some suggested a splash park for kids; others proposed a zip line and a zoo.

The unusual deal, which is contingent on property appraisals and inspections, may be the church's salvation, too.

Celebration of Praise, which moved to the site about a decade ago, had never missed a payment on its mortgage, which has a $7 million payment due soon, said Pastor Chris Dutruch. The 1,200-member church had hoped to refinance its loan, but couldn't do so because of tumbling property values.

Although it doesn't pay property taxes, the church has an assessed value of about $5.1 million in Lake County property records.

Celebration of Praise has invested more than $9 million in the site, county records show. It bought the land in 2002 for $4 million, borrowing $3.25 million. Then it sank more than $5.2 million into the house of worship in 2003 and added a $200,000 pool and spa in 2004. Like many megachurches of the past decade, Celebration of Praise added amenities in an effort to attract new members.

Well now! I can’t help but be impressed. 4 million for land, $200,000 for a pool and spa. And now you can’t make the balloon payment? Really?

I have to say, this does make me wonder. You see, Pastor, as the President of a small apologetics ministry, I would think I’d never be able to spend $200,000 on anything like a pool and a spa. In fact, $200,000 would just about cover 10 years of my ministry’s operation.  I also have a junior ministry partner, Nick Peters, who is an up and coming apologist; he is not as far along as I am, though, and presently he and his wife are struggling just to make ends meet. 

So I have a question for you.

Since you have experience in these matters, and are obviously far better versed in the stewardship of resources than either of us could ever be, Nick and I have decided to follow your lead. Do you recommend that we build an Olympic sized pool for our apologetics ministry? Or should we opt for something larger?

Please advise soon, as we already have plans for a down payment on a spa, just as soon as we get my poodle an air-conditioned doghouse.

Thank you, and God bless,


(There was no direct email address for Pastor Dutruch, so I sent this to their media person, named Marco Diaz. I'll let everyone know if I get an answer.)