As a member of the Senate Finance Committee, state Sen. C. Anthony Muse has had to grapple with Maryland’s billion-dollar budget deficits.
Now, as founder and senior pastor of Ark of Safety Christian Church, Muse (D-Dist. 26) of Fort Washington is dealing with the Upper Marlboro church’s own financial woes.
Citing debts of between $1 million and $10 million, the church filed for Chapter 11 bankruptcy protection last week, with representatives saying its membership has found it difficult to support its growing costs.
“As our church has grown, our operational and administrative expenses have increased, including the cost of utilities, gasoline for transportation, insurance and more, at a time when our members are already digging deep,” according to a statement from the church’s board of directors.
Muse, whose church title is “bishop,” did not respond to a request for comment on Monday.
The church’s fiscal straits are a reflection of its members’ personal money problems, the board said. Many members, who are the church’s chief financial source, are struggling to maintain mortgages secured in “better economic times.”
The church has had trouble finding an alternative bank with “more favorable terms,” according to the statement. Ark of Safety owes Severn Savings Bank of Annapolis $437,492, according to its filing in federal bankruptcy court in Maryland, which also listed assets of between $1 million and $10 million.
According to the filing, the church also owes $610,000 to Muse and his wife, Patricia Lawson Muse, a news anchor with WRC-TV in Washington, who is listed on the church’s website as its “first lady.” Other creditors include American Star Financial of Rockville and the Greenbelt law firm of Joseph Greenwald & Laake, each of which is owed $250,000.
The church board and membership voted June 5 to file for Chapter 11, according to the statement. The filing was made the following day.
“The filing will permit the church to realign mortgage debt on our worship facility so that we can continue to provide a place of worship, fellowship, respite, support and service to our families, members, and our Prince George’s County community,” according to the statement.
Ark of Safety has more than 2,000 members, according to the board’s statement.
This is not the first time that a Muse congregation has had mortgage problems.
When Muse resigned from Resurrection Prayer Worship Center and the United Methodist Church in 1999, taking many congregants with him, he and his followers left behind an unfinished building in Brandywine that Methodist church leaders said was about $6 million in debt and behind on bond payments.
Muse told the United Methodist News Service then that his main reason for leaving was that the denomination had failed to help with the building as it had for other congregations.
The bishop of the local Methodist conference told the news service that the conference and denomination had made $1 million in loans and security deposits available.
Resurrection’s trustees sued Muse and former trustees to obtain information about assets and liabilities. In 2002 Muse and his congregation were reported to be close to buying back the building at a greatly reduced price but no further information was available at deadline Monday about the suit and whether that deal stalled.
In April 2004, Muse’s Ark of Safety Christian Church opened Victory House, a domestic violence shelter for women and children in Fort Washington, and in July 2004 announced that the church itself would move from Oxon Hill to a larger sanctuary in Upper Marlboro and a smaller one in Fort Washington aimed at serving as a community center for seniors and a place for young people to go, especially on weekdays after school.
There has been no indication that these services will be cut, said Larry Holzman, the church’s attorney.
Muse ran in the Democratic primary in April for the U.S. Senate nomination. He lost to the incumbent, Benjamin L. Cardin of Pikesville, winning 15.7 percent of the vote to Cardin’s 74.2 percent.