TAMPA — In a service notable for its unusual content, the Rev. Randy White, pastor of Without Walls International Church, laid bare the church's financial situation Sunday and its bid to stave off foreclosure of its two campuses.
White told his congregation, once one of the fastest-growing churches in the country, that church leaders would continue trying to negotiate with its lender this week. If those talks fail, they will consider several options, including filing for Chapter 11 bankruptcy, refinancing or selling the church.
The preacher pledged not to run and asked members to stand with him as he fights.
"I'll be damned if I'm leaving," White said. "I promise you this: I will handcuff myself to that column right there because right is right and wrong is wrong. We are a great church, and the devil has tried to take us out every single way that he can."
Last week, the St. Petersburg Times reported that the California-based Evangelical Christian Credit Union filed foreclosure proceedings against Without Walls, which owes $13-million for its Tampa property and $12.5-million on its Lakeland branch.
The two parties had been negotiating on the terms of the Tampa mortgage for months. But talks broke off recently when White's lawyers urged him not to sign a loan modification agreement that included stipulations requiring the church to relinquish ownership of its assets, including intellectual property.
In court documents, the credit union said Without Walls was in default on a $1-million line of credit that was due in August. White disputes that claim, and said the church had made arrangements to repay the line of credit from the sale of a $1.4-million piece of property at its Lakeland site.
Like an attorney building a case, White provided documentation Sunday that detailed talks with the credit union. He placed copies of those documents, along with his credit card and personal giving statements, on a table beneath the altar. He invited the congregation and the media to peruse them.
In his 90-minute sermon, White devoted 30 minutes to talk of the foreclosure proceedings. He spent an hour rebutting a series of articles written by the Tampa Tribune about the church over an 18-month period. White said the coverage had cost the church and its affiliates, which include Paula White Ministries, millions of dollars.
Jeff Scullin, Sunday editor at the Tribune, said the newspaper had no comment on White's remarks.
As White spoke, church members brought pink offering envelopes and laid them at the altar. The gesture, common in some Pentecostal and Charismatic churches, signals that the givers are sowing a financial seed into what they believe is fertile ground.
Longtime member Ethel Puleo said the talk of foreclosure did not worry her at all.
"I'm going to stay true to pastor, and I believe God," said Puleo, 86. "We have an impossible God that can perform miracles."
Sherri Day can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or (813) 226-3405.