Friday, February 29, 2008


Usually its some big corporation or some city planner that wants to tear down a nice old house and build a parking lot. Not this time. In Davenport, Iowa the villain is St. Paul Lutheran Church.

In fact such a situation is not so unusual. Churches, some of them anyway, have lots of money and lots of power and their hard to fight against. Especially those monstrosities known as "megachurches.

The church in Davenport led by Rev Peter Marty (pictured here) has grand plans for a "grand campus."

After fighting the church for years the family that occupied the house (which has been designated as historical) finally moved out. Jeanne Truesdell and her husband had seen the church buying up houses all around them...and then tearing the suckers down. They resisted until Jeanne died and her husband grew ill.

Rev. Marty accuses those who want the historic house preserved of worshiping idolatry.

This is the same Rev. Marty who could barely wait for Jeanne to be laid at rest who showed up within hours of her funeral pressuring the family again to sell.

Did I mention that Rev. Marty was concerned that if someone else got hold of the house they'd turn it into apartments and he didn't really want apartment dwellers as neighbors for his church?
I forget the part where Jesus wailed against apartment dwellers.

Rev. Marty is not my idea of a good Christian.

A Davenport resident who identified herself as "d\'port moma" took on the reverend in the local newspaper, "We've watched the ridiculous, gaudy -- and I'm sure hugely expensive -- expansion of your church, and then you turn around and claim you can't afford to rehab this house," she wrote in anger.

Another reader wrote, "I drove by St. Paul's for the first time yesterday since the renovation and I literally gasped at the gaudiness of it, especially what I figured out were supposed to be three enormous towering crosses. My first thought was, 'that's obscene in it's pretentiousness'. I felt embarrassed as a Christian to be even remotely associated with something so far removed from what I feel are Christ's teachings of humility and use of our resources to help others, not to glorify ourselves."

American neighborhood all over the country are threatened by these giant churches whose only aim seems to just get bigger...and make more money.

Some local governments, feeling they have sound reasons to do so, have been attempting to limit the size and location of megachurches through application of zoning laws. Fat chance as the churches in question say their freedom to worship is being violated.

Robert Longley, a long time consultant for local municipalities says that unlike traditional churches, the impacts of megachurches on a city's infrastructure more closely resemble those of a business with 2,000 employees or a modest-sized retail center. Traffic, noise, and sheer building massing in otherwise residential settings are just a few of the most often mentioned negative impacts of megachurches, which pay no taxes toward maintaining the city services they impact.

Jim McAllister of Scottsdale ,AZ and a community columnist for the Arizona Republic writes these monster churches,
" no income tax so they usually have plenty of money to add schools, gymnasiums, amphitheaters, and playgrounds. As these places grow, so does the accompanying activity in the form of seven days per week traffic, more noise, more lighting, and lower property values in the area. This is not the church of your daddy that just operated on Sunday; this is a large corporation with the pastor acting as chief executive or 'PastorPreneur.' A lot of these churches have other revenue streams such as publishing and recording income and TV and radio programming. Many have orchestras play at services; gone are the days of mom helping out the pastor by playing the organ on Sunday. This is big business in the name of God."

...and as such anyone and anything standing in their way shalt face his wrath, I reckon'.

"It's unfortunate that churches can't abide by the same rules that anybody else has to abide by," said Susan Kennedy, president of the Jupiter Farms (Florida) Environmental Council, as quoted in a Palm Beach Post article. "You wouldn't want a Super Wal-Mart or a giant-sized church placed in a small residential community."

No, I sure as hell wouldn't.

The following story is from the Quad City Times.

Council says historic home can be torn down

Davenport aldermen, overriding a unanimous recommendation by the city’s Historic Preservation Commission, cleared the path for St. Paul Lutheran Church to tear down a registered historic home on Main Street. The council refused to grant the home local landmark status.

Although the council passed an amendment delaying the demolition for 60 days — to give time for preservationists to find a way to save the home — the church has no legal obligation to do so without the local designation.

The family that lived in the Henry Deutsch House at 2101 Main St., listed on the National Register of Historic Places, resisted requests by the church to buy the property for years.

“My mom did not want to move out of that house, because she knew the church was going to get it,” said Dana Young, the daughter of Jeanne and Kenneth Truesdell who lived in the home until 2006. “You should have seen all the beautiful homes that were on that street and then torn down by the church.

“Each time they told people they were going to use them, then they tore them down. My feeling is they’ve never intended to keep any of these homes up. The first one they said was going to be used for the pastor’s house, but that never happened. They tore it down.”

Young said it was the death of Jeanne Truesdell and the failing health of her father that led to the eventual sale in April 2006. Kenneth Truesdell needed the proceeds of the sale to pay for his placement in an assisted living center, she said.

Young, and her sister Renee Truesdell, said they were “miffed” at St. Paul’s Pastor Peter Marty’s aggressive pursuit of the home after their mother’s death.

“Not even an hour after my mother’s funeral, Pastor Marty came over to our house and brought up that he was still interested in buying the house and wanted to go through it again,” she said. “We’d never met him before. We hadn’t even been home for an hour or changed, and he was over there.”

The future of the home — built by Davenport architect Dietreich Harfst in 1906 utilizing Craftsman and Frank Lloyd Wright concepts — was hotly debated at Wednesday’s council meeting.

Third Ward Alderman Bill Boom, who cast the lone no vote, attempted to get the landmark designation resolution tabled for 60 days, stating he had been in contact with a member of the St. Paul parish who was interested in funding renovation.

But the tabling move was avoided when Alderman Shawn Hamerlinck, 2nd Ward, instead proposed an amendment to grant the demolition, but only after the 60-day delay.

Members of the Historic Preservation Commission said they felt betrayed by the nine aldermen who voted against landmark designation.

“To be belittled at times is heartbreaking,” said John Frueh, the commission’s chairman. “I don’t like seeing the politics involved here. The ordinance sets out how this is supposed to work. This house is worth preservation.”

Frueh, and commission member Fritz Miller, pointed out that the house is structurally sound and is currently livable.

However, Marty said renovating the house is economically infeasible. The church, he said, looked at renovation but deemed it too expensive.

Marty said estimates to renovate the house — obtained from local contractors who do that type of work — show it could cost more than $500,000 to make it livable. Even after that level of investment, the most the house would be worth is likely around $250,000.

Those facts were disputed by commissioners and the remaining members of the Truesdell family.

Miller said the $500,000 estimate would be for “museum quality” restoration and noted that area real estate agents have sold similar sized houses in the Vander Veer Historic Neighborhood for between $200,000 and $400,000.

Also, Miller said, the church knew before buying the home that it was a historic property.

“There is a plaque by the front door that says it’s on the register,” Miller said. “The church knew full-well it was historic property. That’s not debatable. In our commission meetings, Pastor Marty said it was to be used for parking. They didn’t want this building to renovate, that’s plain.”

Young also disputed Marty’s previous claim that the house was in “deplorable” condition. She and her sister frequently stayed there up until her mother died in 2006, and the home was in sound shape, she said.

“It was not deplorable,” she said.

Church leaders knew what they were buying and should not have been surprised at the home’s condition, she added.

“They went through the house several times, they had it inspected, they knew what condition it was in,” she said.

When the council appeared ready to table the landmark designation legislation earlier in the meeting, Marty expressed frustration.

“I fear the idolization of a structure in this instance,” he said. “It’s idolatry of an old structure.”

Further, Marty said, he was unaware of any parishioners willing to fund renovation efforts.

“If in fact there are gifts forthcoming, we were not aware of it,” he said.

He also denied the church is interested in the property solely to create more parking spaces.

“This has nothing to do with consolidating our campus,” he said. “Everything we’ve done has had to do with the financial unreasonableness of this.”


Anonymous said...

You appear to have no idea what you're writing about in this column.

St Paul is not a megachurch. It is a neighborhood church that, led by Pastor Peter Marty, has committed as it has grown to staying in the downtown of Davenport, Iowa (rather than, say, moving to some well heeled neighborhood as so many city congregations have done).

Pastor Marty's commitment to Davenport has been a major part of the revitalization of the city. His leadership of a partnership between the church and a local elementary school exemplifies his commitment to community.

St Paul has renovated several houses that it now owns. The house in question that we purchased after being invited to talk with the owners has structural challenges that mean we cannot afford to renovate.

Pastor Peter Marty is a champion of community who has helped our city and our neighborhood to thrive, and it is deeply regretable that you have chosen to publish these absurd characterizations. Any one who knows him or who has heard him speak--at funerals, weddings, in conversation or on his weekly radio program for the ELCA--recognizes his deep humanity and his compassion. And all of us recognize as well that the reporter who published the story was seeking 'controversy' that will tear down the very community that Pastor Marty has devoted himself to building up.

Oread Daily said...

I will defer to the writer of the comment who says the church does not meet the definition of a megachurch. Maybe they're correct, but that was not the feeling I got from reading comments and articles about the church some of which I quoted. I can't find any information on membership and any clear photos of the church, so maybe I'm wrong. Perhaps, someone could send us membership numbers or something. In any event, the rest of the article I stand by unless, of course, the Quad City Times is lying about everything. I am personally familiar with the newspaper, however, and of some of its journalists, so that seems highly unlikely to me. By the way, I've written the author of the article and a friend at the paper for any more information they might have that would clarify the issue of the size of this church (although that is not really all that important to the gist of the Davenport side of the story).

I would like to post this article from the February 29th Quad City Times. I would suggest going to the QC Times story at and reading the comments section as it demonstrates well the controversy.

Davenport alderman: Anonymous donor could save historic house

Davenport 3rd Ward Alderman Bill Boom hopes a happy ending can be found in the tug-of-war surrounding the future of a historic home on the St. Paul Lutheran Church campus.

A debate between church leaders and the city’s Historic Preservation Commission erupted in recent weeks regarding whether the house at 2101 Main St. — which sits on the southwest corner of the church’s sprawling central-city campus — should be torn down.

The Rev. Peter Marty says a renovation of the home is economically irresponsible. But commissioners say the sturdy house listed on the National Register of Historic Places is livable and should be renovated or moved rather than face the wrecking ball.

According to Historic Preservation Commission reports, the house was constructed in 1906. But Davenport City Assessor Parcel Records list the same home built in 1917.

A day after a contentious City Council meeting that saw aldermen overturn the commission’s recommendation and instead pave the way for demolition in two months — Boom said Thursday he may have a “win-win” situation for both sides.

Boom said a commission member he has worked with for years has spoken to a wealthy member of the congregation who indicated a willingness to underwrite an effort to move the home or restore it.

“I have been told not to divulge the name, but I have every reason to believe the commitment is genuine,” Boom said. “I hope the church will deal with us in good faith and deliver the building to us if we come up with suitable money to move the structure and find a new home for it in Davenport.”

Marty said he knows nothing about such gifts and is suspicious of the historic preservation commission’s motive.

“What a comment like that does is makes it sound like a congregation with a pastor who doesn’t know his people,” he said. “It’s a backdoor way of stabbing us in the back.”

Marty said church leaders would consider handing over the home if there is a guarantee that someone is willing to pay to move the structure or give an unrestricted gift of $500,000 for the exclusive renovation of the house under the church’s direction and ownership. The $500,000 amount is non-negotiable, Marty said.

“One could spend $50,000 and live in it, but we’re not interested in a facility that doesn’t fit the campus in terms of quality,” he said. “We’re not interested in partial renovation or renovation that doesn’t match the quality of the larger campus.”

On Thursday, Marty said he was hurt by an allegation from the daughters of Kenneth and Jeanne Truesdell, who sold the four-bedroom home to the church for $160,000 in April 2007 after Jeanne died in 2006. Renee Truesdell and her sister, Dana Johnson, said the pastor came to their home shortly after their mother’s funeral, uninvited, to urge them to sell the property.

Marty disputes that account.

“Any pastor who would do that, shouldn’t be in the business,” he said. “It’s essentially a sullying of my character. People in grief deserve nothing but presence and company. Our board has a clear record from well before then of the family’s invitation for us to purchase the property.”

Johnson, however, is sticking to her account.

“That is not true; we did not invite him over,” she said. “After we sat and listened to him, we were still upset because we had no idea why he was there or anything. We did not ask him to come over, and we especially would not ask him to come over after our mom’s funeral. While he was there, I did ask him if he was still interested in buying the property and he said yes.”

Marcia Robinson, who sits on the executive committee of the church’s congregation council, said she didn’t take the calls herself, but she recalls the Truesdells contacting the church about selling. The Truesdells’ version of the story doesn’t fit with what she remembers.

“All I can say is having worked with Pastor Marty over the 11 years he’s been here, that’s not the way he’d operate at all,” she said. “That’s not how he does ministry. He’s very, very gracious.”

But Sue Welty, who has been in the St. Paul congregation for more than 30 years, said there has been dissension among churchgoers about the way leaders have gone about acquiring property.

When two other homes on Main Street were torn down, congregation members were upset, she said. One of the houses was supposed to serve as a youth ministry and preparation site for Salvation Army meals, but that never happened, Welty said.

“It was bulldozed and turned into a parking lot,” she said. “We felt like we’d been lied to and that that was their intention in the first place and they were trying to placate the congregation by saying it was for youth use.”

Welty said she and other church members knew the Truesdells were worried about their home being bought and demolished.

“They didn’t want to see their home for many years turned into a parking lot, and that knowledge has been out there among the congregation for years,” she said. “The bottom line is, I don’t think when the church comes to the congregation with the proposal to acquire more property, I don’t think they do it truthfully. I think they’ve had their eye on it for a parking lot property for a long time and this is just a way of getting possession of it.”

The church at Brady and Lombard streets, just south of Vander Veer Botanical Park, has continued to expand through the years. It opened a new 12,000-square-foot sanctuary in October during its 125th anniversary.

Marty said he’s not surprised that Welty, and perhaps other members of the congregation, have been critical. However, he believes they are in the minority among the congregation.

“In every issue the congregation faces, you have some dissenting voices,” he said. “When we built our new sanctuary, we did not have 100 percent support for it. But in general, people would not be coming out and supporting the church if it were not for a basic belief in the direction of the church.”

Alderman Boom just hopes the “ugliness” of the debate can be put to rest.

“I guess time will tell how willing (the church) is to be a good neighbor when we go to try to work out the compromise,” he said. “But we have no leverage now to try and deal with them. It bothers me when institutions can muscle over ordinances in the city. But it appears they can. I was somewhat taken aback by other members of the council blindly following the church’s lead on this.”

Tory Brecht can be contacted at (563) 383-2329 or

Oread Daily said...

A source in the Quad Cities tells me, "I wouldn't necessarily characterize St. Paul as a megachurch - although it certainly is very large. It is a very old, very established congregation. The congregation also includes a virtual "who's who" of important Davenporters - including several major corporate CEOs, members of the Palmer family and other scions of society."