Church’s last rites will end an era

Sunday’s services in Beaverton will be the last for the Living Enrichment Center, which is the focus of a criminal inquiry

Sunday will mark the final day of services for the Living Enrichment Center, the former megachurch that is being probed by federal criminal investigators and which plans to file for bankruptcy soon.

About 700 people, a fraction of a congregation once numbering 3,000, are expected to attend two morning services in the Valley Theater in Beaverton. The center left its 94,500-square-foot building in Wilsonville at the end of June and relocated to the theater, where it has been allowed to operate rent-free.

After a goodbye picnic, church officials — who have dwindled to two staff members and about a dozen volunteers — will continue assessing the group’s assets and liabilities, a process that began three weeks ago when the church’s charismatic founder, Mary Manin Morrissey, resigned.

“I’m doing amazingly well,” said Marty McCall, the church’s vice president of operations. “It’s a sense of relief. I think people are feeling a sense of completion.”

Although the church will cease to exist upon its bankruptcy filing, expected in early September, its teachings are likely to continue with the formation of a successor church, New Thought Ministries of Oregon. The group, consisting mostly of ex-Living Enrichment Center members, filed incorporation papers last week with the Oregon secretary of state’s office.

The LEC and the new church are aligned with the New Thought movement, a set of ideas stemming from mid-19th-century American philosophers who emphasized the power of thought. The church uses the teachings of Jesus Christ as a central tenet, but it incorporates Eastern religious philosophies.

Ray Jubitz, a former member of the church who left months ago and is president of the new church’s board of directors, said none of LEC’s current board members will be on the New Thought Ministries of Oregon board. He said he expects 400 people to attend the church’s inaugural service Sept. 5. Board members are negotiating with the Valley Theater’s operators to use the facility for regular worship.

Other than keeping the same location and adhering to the same basic tenets, the new church will be run differently from LEC, Jubitz said. Officials don’t plan to take on any debt and will be open about church matters, he said.

“Transparency and the total involvement of the congregation is what’s being called for,” Jubitz said. “We want to be on the right side of things.”

The Living Enrichment Center’s troubles stem from the money it borrowed from parishioners to keep the church afloat. State and federal agencies are trying to determine what happened to more than $5 million the church and Morrissey personally borrowed. An additional $1 million to $2 million, much of it directly from congregants, went to New Thought Broadcasting, an unsuccessful media and Internet startup formed by Ed Morrissey, Mary Manin Morrissey’s husband.

Church officials had announced a restructuring plan in March that included paying off most of its loans to members within five years. But lawsuits from congregants who had lent the church money began trickling in. One disabled woman, who said Morrissey called her four times pressuring her to make a loan, said she lent her life savings of $246,650 to the church. She said Morrissey assured her it was a safe investment.

The church’s debts are expected to exceed $6 million, far in excess of remaining assets such as office equipment, and inspirational books and tapes. Church officials are slashing the prices of books and bronze sculptures of Jesus to rid the congregation of inventory.

Morrissey has pledged to repay the congregant debt by accepting speaking engagements. But she’s unlikely to receive an invitation to talk at New Thought Ministries of Oregon, Jubitz said.

“Right now, I don’t see it,” he said. “We’re not even thinking that way at all. But you don’t know what the future will be.”

Source:
The Oregonian, USA
Aug. 28, 2004
Lisa Grace Lednicer
www.oregonlive.com
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Keyword(s): Topic(s): Living Enrichment Center

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