By Naeisha Rose
Pastor Kehinde Oyetunde has denied reports by the Daily News that Celestial Church of Christ in Jamaica is closing after four men from a group home assaulted a congregant in July 2017.
Seven months ago a 50-year-old mother of two was robbed at gunpoint and sexually assaulted at night as she left the church, located at 150-08 on Liberty Ave., and then taken to Elmhurst Hospital Center, where she was in stable condition, according to police.
The four men were arrested within days, charged with sexual assault and armed robbery, and could face up to 25 years in prison if convicted, according to Queens District Attorney Richard Brown.
The four men are to appear in court March 5, the DA’s office said.
Despite a sharp drop in the number of church members from from its average of 150 over the course of nearly a decade to slightly above 20 on Feb. 19, as reported by the Daily News, Oyetunde maintains that the recent low attendance has been the result of a bitter cold winter.
Oyetunde does concede that after the July assault, there was an initial decline in churchgoers, but he said they have been streaming back to the church since the attack and police have been patrolling the area more since the incident.
“The cops have been doing a great job,” Oyetunde said. “We have recovered and people have been coming back gradually.”
Oyetunde said that not only have congregants returned to the church, except for days where it snowed or was brutally cold, but the church had been making plans to relocate to a bigger space either in St. Albans or Queens Village since before the incident.
Pastor Oyetunde also said the woman who was assaulted returned to church two months ago.
“The church is moving forward,” said Oyetunde. “We are looking for a better place.”
The pastor said the church, which is surrounded by auto shops and a wholesale store, is around 2,000 to 3,000 square feet, and that he as well as many church members have been longing to have a spot that they can own with its own parking instead of renting a space monthly.
Celestial Church has been in Jamaica for eight years, the pastor said as he greeted a congregant and her toddler.
According to Oyetunde, the incident has galvanized him and his parishioners to work harder in raising more funds for a new facility, especially since 60 percent of them are women.
“We want to have our own sanctuary,” said the pastor. “We want to have our own church.”
Reach reporter Naeisha Rose by e-mail at nrose