Church in disarray

Published 10:20 pm Tuesday, August 17, 2010

A division among the congregation of Macedonia Baptist Church has led to at least three members being charged with criminal behavior and caused police to be summoned to the church on four Sundays since June 13 for disturbance calls.

The fiasco has pitted longtime church members against each other and caused the Circuit Court to preside over church elections of the deacons and trustees.

“It hurts,” said James Townsell, a trustee of the church who has not attended in several weeks. “It’s embarrassing. We haven’t even been to church the last few Sundays. We said we’re not going to go back to church until we get something resolved.”

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The church, located at 8300 Crittenden Road, had about 78 members in December 2009. The division began on March 7, when a deacon and several trustees informed Pastor Melvin A. Lyttle prior to the Sunday service that he had been terminated as pastor of the church.

Lyttle left the church that day, but disorder prevailed when other members became aware of what had happened, according to court documents filed by Lyttle. Police were called to the church and ordered all attendees to leave. No worship service was held that day.

The next Sunday, Lyttle proposed that a meeting be held on March 20 to determine his tenure. At that meeting, James Townsell and his wife Margaret Townsell assaulted fellow member Mary Hill, drawing criminal charges against themselves. The two were sentenced April 26, when they were told the charges would be dismissed if there was no further trouble for six months.

At some point after the March 14 meeting, the trustees changed the locks on the church building, posted a “no trespassing” sign in the window, and directed the pastor and his family not to enter the property.

On March 20, church members voted to retain Lyttle as pastor, and Lyttle petitioned the court to hold a court-supervised meeting to ratify the vote. That meeting was held May 16, where the pastor was retained by majority vote and James Townsell, Alexander Denson and Henry A. White were elected trustees. Others were elected deacons and treasurer.

On July 25, however, Lyttle held a meeting with a handful of his supporters and voted to terminate Townsell, Denson and White as trustees, according to a court filing by the defendants. Police were called to the church that day in reference to a disturbance. Police records from that visit show reports of “people in the church out of control” and “screaming.”

Calls for police because of disturbances also happened on June 13, July 11, and twice on Aug. 1. Each of those dates fell on a Sunday.

On June 13, police records show a reference to someone threatening to burn the church. That week, police arrested Tracy Townsend Anderson on one count of threatening to bomb or burn.

On June 15, police records show an officer made a late-night “community policing” check on the church as a follow-up to the arson threat. On July 16 and July 30, both Fridays, calls to police were made regarding someone tampering with the church’s books and the pastor changing the locks.

A number of financial irregularities have been discovered in the church’s books, court filings from both sides say.

Furthermore, a planned event this weekend may not take place because of the shakeup. The Hobson Reunion, planned by Mary Hill and advertised as taking place at Macedonia, may not happen because some church members say Lyttle did not have the authority to allow Hill’s use of the grounds.

Lyttle also has dismissed several church members, according to court filings and individual statements by those members.

“There are so many horror stories,” Townsell said by phone Tuesday. “Families, kids are even against their parents. They’re separated.”

Townsell said he hoped the issues would be resolved soon.

“It hurts the community,” he said, adding that once Judge Rodham T. Delk returns from vacation, the church will ask for a trial.

“We’ll try to call for a full trial and get this thing resolved,” he said.

Lyttle did not return calls for comment on Tuesday.