St. John Missionary Baptist Church in Missouri City has been damaged by fire, decades of disrepair, and a dwindling congregation, but faith remains strong here.
“I know God’s on our side,” said Pastor Gerald Rivers.
The church is embroiled in a legal battle over use of the property on which it stands. It’s a once-rural site now surrounded by subdivisions and hundreds of newer homes.
According to Rivers, the church was built after a property swap in the 1930s. An old agreement gives St. John perpetual use of the land along Oilfield Road as long as it remains home to the church. But, recently, St. John sued an heir of the original owner to try and gain permanent control.
“Just to give us a clean and free title deed to the land,” said Rivers.
The church’s plans for the land include a replacement church building. But it’s now facing a counter-suit by the original owner’s heir who basically claims the church forfeited rights to the land when it changed its name by removing the word “colored.” The church was St. John Colored Baptist Church when it was founded by former slaves in 1969.
“It’s always been St. John,” said Rivers. “But the lawsuit that’s filed against us states that because we abandoned the name St. John Colored Baptist Church, that we abandoned the property.”
So, this case could come down to the word “colored.” Although Rivers believes the primary motivation may be the green someone might get if the land is ever developed.
“The lawsuit is not a hurdle, it’s just a dark cloud hanging over the church,” said Rivers.
This case is set to be heard in Fort Bend County Civil Court on Friday. KHOU 11 News reached out to an attorney who represents the heir to the original property owner. She said they had no comment on pending litigation.