Bright Hope's embattled pastor will leave Oct. 31

Posted: July 22, 2014

THE REV. KEVIN R. Johnson, embattled pastor of Bright Hope Baptist Church, will leave the 103-year-old North Philadelphia church on Oct. 31.

Several congregants said Johnson announced from the pulpit yesterday that it was "crystal clear" after a contentious meeting of church leadership Thursday that the time had come for him to depart.

"I have enjoyed Philadelphia," Johnson reportedly told the congregation. "But the Lord has told me it is time to move on."

He said that because his wife is "gainfully employed" as a lawyer, he will take his time seeking another pulpit, congregants said.

Johnson's announcement came just before the scheduled semi-annual church conference, which followed Sunday-morning services.

Johnson could not be reached by the Daily News yesterday.

Johnson, 40, became the church's fifth pastor in 2007. He was introduced by the Rev. William H. Gray III, the late former congressman who was the third generation of his family to lead Bright Hope, on 12th Street at Cecil B. Moore Avenue.

Johnson came to Bright Hope from Abyssinian Baptist Church, in New York's Harlem section, where he had been an assistant pastor to the Rev. Calvin O. Butts.

Bright Hope congregants said they were repeatedly rebuffed by Johnson over the years when they tried to get answers about the church's financial affairs, including his salary.

Several congregants were upset earlier this year when Johnson announced plans to run for mayor next year - plans that he later scrapped.

Sources in the congregation said that when they reminded him of his 2007 pledge to avoid politics, he responded arrogantly: "I changed my mind."

At Thursday's joint meeting of the deacon board, trustee board and president's council, several sources said, Johnson was asked pointed questions about where money had been spent.

Several members who said they were attending other churches said they have been requesting an audit of the church's financial affairs for the past few years.

Last month, when Johnson called a church meeting after deacons said he was avoiding their certified letters, a church spokeswoman said Johnson had agreed to a church audit.

Among the concerns was that a new scholarship-fund donation form asked members to sign a waiver that money could be spent for other purposes if the church needed it. A spokeswoman told the Daily News that Johnson was putting the waiver form "on hold, because the members were confused about it."

The unrest at Bright Hope coincides with a period of turmoil at another historic Baptist church in North Philly.

On July 12, members of Zion Baptist Church, once led by the late Rev. Leon H. Sullivan, voted to remove their pastor of 2 1/2 years, the Rev. A. Carl Prince.

But some of Prince's supporters filed a lawsuit seeking to have the vote overturned, saying that church members were not given sufficient notice.

At Zion yesterday, the Rev. W. Wilson Goode, the former mayor, preached about the need for the church to live up to Sullivan's legacy and to "stop taking pleasure in fighting one another."

"Because of Rev. Sullivan's legacy, people around the city, the state and the whole world are paying attention to what is happening at Zion," Goode told the congregation.

On Twitter: @ValerieRussDN

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