Phil Groom writes:
Letter to the American Orthodox Institute, submitted 30/12/2008 via their Contact Us page:
I represent the UK Christian news blog, SPCK/SSG: News, Notes & Info – https://spckssg.wordpress.com – which exists to report upon, scrutinise and provide space for discussion about the acquisition and running of the former SPCK bookshops by the St Stephen the Great Charitable Trust (SSGCT).
Having posted their promotional video on your blog in March this year (http://www.aoiusa.org/blog/2008/03/test/), you know that SSGCT purports to be an Orthodox missionary society. It has, however, been disowned by the wider UK Orthodox community, members of which regard its USA based owners, J Mark and Philip W Brewer, as an embarrassment to their church:
The organisation is now operating under several different guises: ENC Management Company, Durham Cathederal [sic] Shop Management Co, Chichester Shop Management Co and Third Space Books; there may well be others – the Brewer family seem to be particularly adept at changing company identities and shuffling assets between their various companies when they come under scrutiny or when bills become due.
Earlier this year, J Mark Brewer attempted to file “St Stephen the Great LLC” for bankruptcy in the USA. This was thrown out by the Court as having been submitted in bad faith and was described by the Trustee of the Court both as an attempt to commit fraud on the court and as an attempt to evade responsibility for debts here in the UK, where many former employees and suppliers to the bookshops remain unpaid.
Mr Brewer also set out to silence reporting on his activities by issuing ‘Cease and Desist’ letters to a number of people, myself included. This appears to have been another part of his strategy to evade his UK creditors by ensuring that evidence needed by the Courts would be inaccessible.
Since then, despite a solemn and legally binding undertaking by covenant to maintain the SPCK shops as Christian bookshops for a period of seven years, he has gone on to sell the Exeter shop (which is now trading as a jewellery store) for the sum of £507,000. We have not yet ascertained what he has done with that money but his former employees and suppliers to the bookshops still remain unpaid whilst the few shops left are inadequately stocked, understaffed and poorly run.
All of these innovative business practices are being carried out in the name of Orthodox mission, in a so-called bid to “Rescue Britain’s Christian Heritage” as per that promotional video. Instead of rescuing Britain’s Christian heritage, however, the Brewer family are trampling it underfoot and treating Christians and non-Christians alike in the UK with contempt.
In his essay “Conflicted Hearts: Orthodox Christian ‘Social Justice’ in an Age of Globalization” John Couretas, your Executive Director, observes that “The Orthodox tradition of social witness is ripe for renewal and revival.”
In his end of year message, Fr. Hans Jacobse comments that “Now more than ever, Orthodox Christians need to make their voices heard on the most important social issues of the day.”
For us here in the UK, one such important social issue is the injustice meted out by the Brewers to their former employees and their suppliers in the name of Orthodox mission. I therefore make bold to suggest that a good starting point for your longed for renewal and revival would be to call the Brewer family and their St Stephen the Great Charitable Trust to order – and if they fail to respond in proper repentance and restitution towards those they have wronged in the UK, then to publicly dissociate AOI from SSGCT and their so-called ‘Orthodoxy’.
Finally, in the interests of transparency, please note that I will be publishing this message as “An Open Letter to the American Orthodox Institute” on our blog. A new year is almost upon us: it would be an immense relief to my colleagues and myself to bring this disgraceful episode to a close before another year passes. I urge, you, please: do all that is in your power to help us achieve this end.
If you need any further information, please feel free to contact me.
Thank you for your attention: I look forward to receiving your response soon.
SPCK/SSG: News, Notes & Info