At Zion Baptist, a pastor is dismissed

Posted: July 15, 2014

SOME MEMBERS of Zion Baptist Church cheered Saturday as they voted to fire the Rev. A. Carl Prince as pastor of the historic North Philadelphia church that was once led by the Rev. Leon H. Sullivan, the late civil-rights fighter.

But others walked out angry and determined to keep Prince on the job through legal action in Common Pleas Court.

The members voted 221 to 166 to remove Prince immediately, church member Jessie Frisby Hyden said.

Two days before the vote, 48 church members who support Prince had launched a pre-emptive strike suit against 11 deacons at Zion seeking to declare any vote on Saturday as "invalid and in violation" of Zion's bylaws.

"Our bylaws say we are supposed to get three-months' notice [of a vote to remove a pastor] and they gave us a three-week notice," church member Cynthia Fullenwellen said.

Prince, 55, had been pastor of the church at Broad and Venango streets for more than two years, since January 2012.

But a deacons' report last month recommended dismissing Prince for being "ineffective" and having "a domineering spirit." It said that both church attendance and financial support declined under Prince.

As of May, it said, the church operated with a $97,905 deficit. It also noted that Prince changed a fee for conducting some funerals to $300.

This change in fees "was never disclosed at a church conference," nor were church officials consulted, the report said. "In light of this lack of discussion, these higher fees (which benefits exclusively Rev. Prince) give the appearance of profiteering more than sacrificial service," the deacons said.

Prince has declined numerous telephone and email requests for interviews. Last month, he said he would have no comment.

It had been on June 21, at an early Saturday-morning meeting, that Prince brought two guards, armed with guns, into the church sanctuary, church members said.

"To bring armed guards to a meeting says you are going to take over, intimidating the people, with no regard to the sanctity of the church," said Robert Adams, 69, a Zion member for 20 years.

James Walker, a plaintiff in the lawsuit, said some church leaders wanted Prince ousted after he asked questions about an audit report in late 2013.

The "defendants seek to undermine and terminate Plaintiff Pastor Prince because he initiated the financial audit which exposed financial and administrative improprieties by the defendants and the Board of Trustees," the lawsuit alleges.

But Cheryl Harper said these allegations are not true and that many members believed the church made a mistake in hiring Prince months after he arrived in 2012.

Yesterday morning, church members heard a message that "God can heal a divided church and make it united again."

"Through all of the hurt and pain and difficult decisions you've had to make . . . you have to move forward in the Lord," said the Rev. R. Dandridge Collins, a minister and a psychologist who specializes in helping ministers counsel their congregations.

Prince is not the only pastor of a prominent North Philadelphia church dealing with turmoil.

On June 22, one day after Prince brought armed guards into Zion, members of Bright Hope Baptist, at 12th and Cecil B. Moore, met after Sunday service for a contentious meeting about the pastor of that iconic church, the Rev. Kevin R. Johnson.

One woman said at that meeting that she knew how much President Obama earned but didn't know how much the church pays Johnson or any other employees.

Financial statements at Bright Hope lump all salaries into one sum, several former officials said.

Although Johnson was silent, a leader of the trustee board said that maybe those who didn't like Johnson should just leave the church.


On Twitter: @ValerieRussDN

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