By MichelLee and KatieKohler
Various properties belonging to the once-prominent White Rock Christian Church in Chester and its pastor, Edward Lilly, are scheduled to be sold on May 4 in a Judicial Sale held annually by the Delaware County Tax Claim Bureau.
In a public notice published in The Spirit on March 29 and other local newspapers, eight listings were under “White Rock Christian Church,” one listing “Edward C Lilly,” and the other under “Edward J. Lilly.”
The fate of the venerable institution is unclear.
Attempts to reach White Rock officials were unsuccessful, but sources familiar with the ministry, who spoke on the condition of anonymity, said the church is aware of the pending sale.
“(Pastor Lilly) knows,” the source said with a shrug. “It happens, but he plans on eventually paying everything before it’s too late.”
The source also revealed that Lilly is set to retire from ministry in the near future. Other sources familiar with the congregation describe Lilly as a “real estate guy” who currently owns multiple properties throughout the city.
A drive-by look at these properties, mostly residential row homes, shows that many are vacant. The two properties directly owned by Lilly, on the 400 block of East 10th St., were boarded up and a resident living a few doors down, who simply identified himself as “Jeff,” said they have been uninhabited for “about three years.”
The area surrounding the twin row homes is in disarray, littered with rubbish and unkempt grounds.
Coinciding with Chester residents’ complaints about illegal dumping in many city neighborhoods, religious sanctuaries are also not impervious to becoming dumpsites because the grounds surrounding White Rock’s old stone building is covered in rubble and litter is strewn behind it, with graffiti on the back doors, giving it the appearance of being totally abandoned.
“When people are evicted from their homes for unpaid rent, their belongings are somehow placed outside the church,” the source said. “The church hosts an annual clean up that is coming up, so the grounds are usually maintained then, especially after the winter months.”
According to OldChesterPa.com, in a history provided by Lilly, White Rock Christian Church was founded January 9, 1949 as White Rock Baptist Church by James Robert Yarbough. The membership installed its third pastor, Lilly, on March 7, 1993.
At the time of Lilly’s installation, White Rock had an active adult membership of just six congregants. In April 1996, it moved to its current location at 308 West Third St., formerly the Saint Anthony Catholic Church, prior to being purchased from the Archdiocese.
Membership has grown in excess of 700 with weekly attendance often in excess of 400, but in recent years, the church has dissolved and merged with First Baptist Christian Church, a small church just outside the city in Woodlyn, to form The Christian Church of Chester (CCC), taking sanctuary in the repurposed elementary school’s gymnasium behind White Rock’s original structure.
White Rock’s vacant appearance doesn’t lend itself to the true reality of the condition of the church, the source said, the furniture has been removed, but there are “piles of clothes” for clothing drives hosted by the church.
When asked why the church acquired multiple properties that not only include the listed residential homes, but also surrounding lots, knowledgeable sources from the ministry said, “To prevent being landlocked, in case the church would want to expand. Also, some of those homes are also purchased to house congregants in need.”
The church once housed a bevy of local activities for residents including an over-35 basketball league and its pastor once attempted a run for mayor.
Kathy Wike, Delaware County Tax Claim Bureau manager, explained the church building is tax-exempt but parking lots, residences and other properties churches own are taxable.
“The only thing that is not taxable is the actually sanctuary itself,” commented Wike. “Mr. Lilly is aware of these properties. He’s letting them go.”
The Judicial Sale will be held Thursday, May 4 at 9 a.m. in the County Council Meeting Room, first floor of the Government Center Building, 201 West Front St., Media.
Pre-registration takes place at the Tax Claim Bureau on April 25 and April 26. There is no registration on the day of sale.
The purpose of the sale is to offer the properties to the highest bidder free and clear of all tax and municipal claims, mortgages, judgments, charges and estates of whatsoever (due at the time of sale) except ground rents separately taxed.
A registration fee of $600 is required for admittance into the sale. The initial bid shall start at $600 plus state and local transfer tax and all recording costs.