Largo church goes up for auction

The Spiritual Center Church now holds services at a Montessori school.

JIM DAMASKE | Times

The Spiritual Center Church now holds services at a Montessori school.

LARGO — The charming, beige, stucco church in downtown Largo was a haven for the small close-knit congregation for seven years.

"We built the energy there like a home," said the Rev. Deborah Dienstbier, pastor of the Spiritual Center Church, which had about 30 to 40 regular worshipers.

The congregation settled into the 95-year-old church with financial backing from former pastor Barbara Walter.

But, after her death in January 2006, things started to unravel. Now the congregation is churchless.

At 11 a.m. today, the church, at 160 Sixth St. SW, will be auctioned.

For two weeks, the congregation has been holding its metaphysical services in a multipurpose room at Belleair Montessori Academy.

It's not the same, said member Sylvia Der Garabedian, 77. "It doesn't have the same feeling that was in that place."

The roots of the church go back to the 1950s, former Spiritual Center pastor and member Madeline Diemer said.

The church and a nearby home formerly owned by the congregation are now valued at about $860,000. Walter held two mortgages on the properties totalling about $590,000 After her death, her son, Randall Walter, became executor of her estate.

Dienstbier, 49, said the congregation made timely payments on the first mortgage up until a foreclosure suit was filed by Randall Walter on behalf of the estate in August 2007. She also claimed the second mortgage was not valid.

Randall Walter's former attorney, John F. Jewell of St. Petersburg, disputed both of those claims.

The mortgages were both valid, he said, and payments "were tragically overdue." His client, who made various offers to Dienstbier and the church, just ran out of options, he said.

Dienstbier said the congregation first tried to sell the church, then decided to keep it when investors stepped forward. But that didn't work out, either, she said.

Jewell's office drafted several documents that would have allowed the congregation to stay in the church, but not as legal owner, Jewell said.

Dienstbier thought it was a bad deal because the congregation would be responsible for repairs.

Largo church goes up for auction 08/01/09 [Last modified: Saturday, August 1, 2009 12:05am]

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