Just days before one of Miami’s oldest Black churches was scheduled to lose three of its buildings in a foreclosure auction, a Miami agency bought the buildings so the church can hold services and run its Sunday School while it pays back more than $2 million it owes from a loan signed off by its former pastor.
St. John Institutional Missionary Baptist Church in Overtown, which has roots dating to 1906, owed over $2.7 million to its lender, Taylor Made Lending, after its former pastor, Bishop James D. Adams, took out a $1.6 million balloon mortgage in the church’s name in 2018. Three church properties were pledged as collateral for the loan, but the historic sanctuary at 1328 NW Third Ave. was not affected.
Church leaders say they knew nothing about the mortgage at the time, which grew to $2.7 million due to unpaid real estate taxes and interest on the loan.
On Friday, Miami-Dade Circuit Court Judge Vivianne Del Rio canceled the foreclosure sale for St. John, which was set for Monday, after the Southeast Overtown/Park West Community Redevelopment Agency agreed to buy all three buildings facing foreclosure. The proceeds of the sale paid back the loan in full.
Church has five years to buy back the buildings
The Community Redevelopment Agency gave the church five years to buy back the buildings, Marva Wiley, an attorney for St John, said Monday. In the meantime, St. John will lease the buildings and parking lots for $1 a year from the CRA, allowing them to conduct church services and Sunday School as usual.
On July 27, the Community Redevelopment Agency allocated $3.9 million to purchase the three St. John buildings. The item was approved by the CRA board members, including Miami City Commission Chairwoman Christine King, who has been vocal about saving historic churches such as St. John.
“Helping to save St. John was paramount and it is my goal to assist other historic institutions in District 5 as well,” said King, who represents the district, in a statement.
The agency felt it was its responsibility to save the church, which has been a vital part of the Overtown community for decades, said James D. McQueen, executive director of the Southeast Overtown/Park West CRA.
“Our job here is to try to revitalize the community,” McQueen said Tuesday. “We wouldn’t be living up to our obligation as a community if we didn’t try to find a way to help.”
When it comes to buying back the property, the agency expects St. John to pay a minimum of $3.9 million — the price it sold for. McQueen said the goal was not to give the church more money, but to help them regain ownership of property that was once theirs.
Though the CRA, a taxpayer-funded agency, doesn’t usually buy church buildings, McQueen said the agency does what’s best for Overtown.
“We are charged with addressing slum and blight in a community that was long ignored by the very same county and city tax dollars,” McQueen said. “You have to understand this community was torn up because of government’s decisions to run I-95 north and west, cutting the community in half.”
The church was in financial peril largely due to Adams, who signed his name to two mortgages totaling nearly $2.5 million.
The mortgages put the church’s properties, including the fellowship hall, which houses the Sunday School classrooms and where services are held while the church undergoes renovations, at risk. The properties also include two buildings that the church rents out to tenants and a restaurant and the church’s parking lots.
Adams, 62, was elected senior pastor in 2010, and was fired by the church in 2021, after the church found out about the mortgages.
Much of the borrowed money went to buying a $1.3 million downtown riverfront condo that Adams’ lawyer says was meant to be his parsonage, or church house. Adams, who has answered the Herald’s questions only through his attorney, Robert Harris, moved into the condo shortly after he signed for an $845,000 mortgage in the church’s name in 2017.
The church sold the condo and paid off the $845,000 mortgage and back condo fees, but, until Friday, was still on the hook for the $1.6 million Adams took out in the church’s name in 2018, plus the accrued taxes and interest.
The cathedral, marked by an Art Deco facade and two-story stained glass windows, was built in 1940 and added to the National Register of Historic Places in 1992. The church was designed by the first major Black architecture firm in the United States, McKissack & McKissack and has hosted the National Baptist Convention four times.
Many of the church’s outreach services, including the clothing drive, a food pantry that distributes food to the Overtown community and daycare, operate out of the buildings affected by the foreclosure suit.
This report was created with philanthropic support from Christian, Muslim and Jewish funders in partnership with Journalism Funding Partners. The Miami Herald retains editorial control of all work.