Bright Hope minister steps down The Rev. Cean James' resume listed undergraduate and advanced degrees that he had not obtained.

Posted: June 03, 2005

The Rev. Cean James, the Bright Hope Baptist Church minister who falsely claimed to have college and graduate degrees, has resigned as head of the North Philadelphia institution, church leaders announced yesterday.

At a special meeting Wednesday, about 500 members overwhelmingly voted to accept James' resignation letter "with regret and affection," the Rev. William H. Gray 3d said in an interview yesterday. Gray, the former congressman and past leader of the United Negro College Fund, has led the church for more than 30 years.

Two congregants dissented, he said.

"Both of them said, 'We love him so much, we've got to stick together as a family,' " he said. "But a majority of the people knew this was what Rev. James wanted."

Gray agreed to remain at the helm at the request of the membership.

James, 31, could not be reached for comment last night. A church source said he had not appeared at Bright Hope, at 12th Street and Cecil B. Moore Avenue, since questions about his academic background were raised a week ago.

Known as a charismatic minister who emphasized helping youth, James was named head pastor of the 2,500-member church May 22. Almost 99 percent of the congregants voted for him, Gray said. James was to have given his first sermon as pastor June 12.

"The people of the church had great love, respect and affection for Rev. James," Gray said.

"This is somebody who had been part of the family. This is somebody who had been at the bedside, praying for you in the hospital. This is somebody who spoke at Mama's funeral. This is somebody who gave advice for families going through challenges. This is somebody who is a part of the church."

James' resume stated that he had received an undergraduate degree from Florida A&M University and advanced degrees from Princeton University and Princeton Theological Seminary. Officials from each school said that was untrue.

The revelations were devastating, Gray said.

"People were very sad, very despondent, about the whole thing," Gray said, adding that he was "very hurt, disappointed, broken-hearted."

While the leadership of the church was in question, members closed ranks, treating reporters outside their church brusquely on Sunday. Members remained tight-lipped yesterday: Two of them, Deacon Chester Chatman and former City Councilwoman Augusta Clark, declined requests for comment.

"This is painful for me," Clark did say of the situation. "We have decided the pastor is the person who comments, and so I respectfully decline."

In his resignation letter, James said he was stepping down because the church's constitution requires a senior minister to have a master's degree from an accredited seminary. That advanced degree would also require a bachelor's degree.

It was not clear if James would also resign his positions as chairman of a school district committee that helps churches adopt schools and as a board member of Big Brothers Big Sisters Southeastern Pennsylvania.

Joe Meade, head of the school district's faith-based program, said yesterday that James had not contacted him about his plans.

The church's search for a new senior pastor will not begin immediately, Gray said.

"Bright Hope is going to need a time of healing and prayer, and being a church family, and leaning on each other," Gray said. "How long that will be, I don't know."

Gray, the third generation of his family to minister at the church, said he did not care if Bright Hope's reputation was damaged by the scandal. He said he had "great love and affection" for James and would continue to help him in any way he could.

"We are a place of imperfect folk," Gray said. "If you are perfect, don't come to Bright Hope. Go to a church where everyone is perfect.

"And if you find one, call me, because I have never found one in my 64 years of life."

Contact staff writer Natalie Pompilio at 215-854-2813 or npompilio@phillynews.com.

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