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New York ELCA Synod Suing Church, Pastor over Ownership of Apartment

The metropolitan New York synod of the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America is suing a pastor who recently sold the church-provided apartment where he has lived for 30 years, saying that although the pastor’s name is on the title, the apartment really belongs to the church and is therefore subject to state religious property laws. 

Gregory Fryer, pastor of Immanuel Lutheran Church in New York City since 1991, sold the three-bedroom apartment on the seventh floor of a building on East 82nd St. for $2 million to a couple listed in the lawsuit as John and Jane Doe. But the synod has asked the court to stop Fryer from transferring the title to the unnamed couple, calling Immanuel Lutheran the apartment’s “real and beneficial owner.” 

Immanuel Lutheran also is listed as a defendant, along with the building’s co-op board and the real estate firm that facilitated the sale, Douglas Elliman and Brown Harris Stevens.

If the church owns the property, it means a sale would fall under the jurisdiction of New York laws that require that religious corporations that want to sell, mortgage, or lease property for a term exceeding five years must first receive approval from the New York Attorney General or the State Supreme Court.

The complaint says the long-standing agreement between Fryer and Immanuel to have the pastor’s name on the title violates “the Religious Corporations Law, the Not-for-Profit Corporation Law and the discipline, rules and usages of plaintiff, the ecclesiastical governing body.”

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It also states the terms of the sale “are not fair and reasonable” to the church and its members.

The suit also says Fryer and Immanuel “have ignored and continue to act in defiance of the Religious Corporations and Not-for-Profit Corporation Laws, their own Constitution, their covenants with the Church and the Synod and their covenant with their members.”

Anne Stych

Anne Stych is a writer in Charlotte, North Carolina.