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    Wednesday, April 17, 2024

    OPINION: Church collapse tests all our faiths

    Pastor James Levesque of the Engaging Heaven Church in New London gives his sermon at Sunday services on Nov. 9, 2014. Day file photo.

    I will admit that I had a hard time believing James. B. Levesque, head of the Engaging Heaven church, which lost its New London historic landmark building in a spectacular collapse Thursday, when he once told a Christian TV host about healing a man awaiting double amputation.

    I am sure some of the people watching the show, now on YouTube, believed Levesque when he said the disabled man began running around the church after he was healed. Maybe viewers who did believe called the phone number that flashed on the screen, to donate.

    I also struggled to believe, watching the same segment, as Levesque told the story about an electric transformer explosion under the New London church so powerful that it ignited an enormous fire that blew off manhole covers on the street and burned so fiercely all night that no one could put it out.

    I am pretty sure city firefighters would have given The Day a heads up on that one.

    My struggle believing Levesque continues on the matter of whether his fundraising-focused church had insurance coverage on the historic building, as the city has already committed in excess of $100,000 in responding to the catastrophe, according to Mayor Michael Passero.

    Levesque told a reporter for The Day Monday that the church did have insurance on the building, but he refused to answer questions about it and said he wasn’t doing interviews.

    Not long after Levesque said the church was insured, Mayor Passero looked into a bank of television cameras in City Hall said he has seen no evidence of insurance coverage on the building and that no representatives of any insurance companies have been on the scene.

    I find it almost as hard to believe that an insurance company wouldn’t show up at the scene of a collapse of a building it insured, as the disaster made national news headlines, as the claim that religious healing could head off a double leg amputation.

    But maybe I don’t have enough faith.

    I was disappointed when I took my struggle believing the claim that the church was insured to the Rev. Cathy Zall, co-pastor of the First Congregational Church, which sold the historic church building to Levesque’s organization in 2015.

    It turns out, I learned, from poking around city land records, Engaging Heaven bought the historic church building with no money down, and the Congregationalists gave them a $250,000, 30-year mortgage, with monthly payments of $1,679.61.

    That mortgage, in addition to requiring that Engaging Heaven spend at least $25,000 a year on maintenance and repairs of the building, also requires the building be insured for at least the value of the mortgage and that evidence of that insurance be given to the mortgage holder every year.

    That insurance money is supposed to, in the event of a loss, be paid directly to the Congregationalists, as mortgage holders, not Engaging Heaven. And so apparently the Congregationalists should have been paying for the cleanup with insurance proceeds, not city taxpayers.

    The Congregationalists also seem to have lost their security for the loan, the building on the property.

    Zall, when I reached her by phone Tuesday morning, refused to talk about insurance on the building. She said she is still dealing with the trauma of the event and the needs of her congregation.

    I think it would have shown some good faith toward city taxpayers, who are also struggling with a monumental and historic loss in their downtown, to talk to them about insurance or maybe, more likely, the lack of it, and be more forthcoming with the people who are left footing the bill.

    The disaster was five days ago. No one was injured. It’s time to talk about it.

    Meanwhile, Engaging Heaven is fundraising, which the church does a lot of, off the disaster.

    A slick video with soaring music on a gofundme page from Engaging Heaven suggests the church collapse was God’s work.

    “What if he wants to use this collapse to showcase the rebuilding of the church in our day like never before,” the video narrator says.

    I have a hard time believing that too.

    I guess we all fall somewhere on a spectrum of faith, and certainly with Engaging Heaven, I remain on the skeptical end.

    This is the opinion of David Collins.

    d.collins@theday.com

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