Several members of the 131-year-old Mount Sinai Missionary Baptist Church in Newnan, Georgia, are now asking for help with mediation after they allege that a number of their deacons snapped and "cussed" at them, then had local police oust them from their church. The dispute occurred on Sunday when members withheld their offering during an attempt to find out why their pastor was removed without explanation.
Up until two weeks ago, Pastor Stafford Dudley Sr. led the mid-size congregation that one member estimates has approximately 500 members.
Two Sundays ago, however, according to church member and Newnan resident Pamela Hunter, Dudley was axed by the church's Board of Deacons and the members were not informed.
"From Monday, Tuesday, Wednesday, Thursday, Friday, Saturday, the deacons that fired our pastor never got in touch with none of the members to let us know what's going on. And they think that they was gonna have church [as usual] on Sunday," Hunter said.
A document reviewed by CP shows the church's board consists of: Willie Walton, chairman; Clifford Durrah, assistant chairman; Walter Carter, treasurer; and Vernon Strickland, assistant clerk.
Hunter explained that on Sunday, before service, they met with Dudley who told them he had a heated dispute with the deacon board and he walked out of the meeting, advising them that he would rather continue the conversation with them in a calmer atmosphere. One unidentified member said, however, that Dudley told them he quit and walked out.
In an incident report from the Newnan Police Department shared with The Christian Post Friday, the church's current pastor, who was not named, also stated that Dudley "had quit his position some time ago."
"The current Pastor stated the Church had asked Dudley not to come back, via certified letter. The Church stated they had not heard anything from Dudley and was not able to reach him via phone to confirm receipt of letter. He stated Dudley had not made any threatening statements in regards to coming back and doing harm, they were just worried that Dudley and his family might cause some trouble and make a scene," the report said.
Dudley declined a request for comment and the church's phone rang without answer over two days.
Hunter said during the meeting with Dudley he urged them to be peaceful.
"So we had a prayer vigil with our pastor in a parking lot up the street from the church so he wouldn't go to jail. Before we left the prayer service, the pastor asked us to go in there and be decent and in order and be peaceful and go praise the Lord," she said.
Hunter explained that the members who met with Dudley prior to the 11 a.m. service elected one member of the group to ask the deacons about Dudley's removal from the pulpit and they went to worship.
During the offering portion of the service, however, the deacons allegedly noticed no one was giving any money and mayhem ensued.
"It wasn't tithe time because the church pick up money twice. It was offering time so that's when everything got crazy ... wasn't nobody putting nothing in the offering bucket because we don't have any answers and we already don't know where our money been going," Hunter recalled.
"So that's when they noticed that there wasn't anything being put in the bucket and I don't know what was on their minds. The bucket didn't make it all the way through the church ... before everything blew up," she said. "The one that we appointed to speak went up to the microphone and that's when they cut his mic and tried to sing over him and that's when the people got upset."
Church member Rosa Slaughter told CP the unholy fracas which broke out in the church was "wrong."
"It was wrong, it was real wrong, so I'm gonna let God handle it," she said.
"The police shouldn't have been there," Slaughter lamented. "It's them three deacons. They need to get up out that church, they need to get a closer walk with God. They need to turn from their evil wicked ways and go on about their business."
The dispute, which was broadcast live on Facebook and went viral, got so intense police had to be called three times.
"On the first trip, there were a couple of members across the street having a prayer ceremony because of a dissention in the church over the leadership," Deputy Chief Mark Cooper of the Newnan Police Department told The Newnan Times-Herald.
"The second time he was speaking to people at their cars. I think he just wanted them to know his side of things. The third time there was an argument between two female members."
Cooper said the deacons asked the police to remove members from the church so they could have a calm meeting.
"This is just like if we go to your house and you ask us to have everybody leave, we will assist you in helping you get them out," Cooper said. "It was not our decision to ask them to leave."
The police said the members were eventually allowed to return to the church. Cooper also noted that this is not the first time the police had been called to church because of a dispute.
"We try to stay neutral and let them handle their business," he said. "We are just there to keep the peace."
Members, however, are still furious. Evangelist Louise Parks, who said she tried to calm the members during the fracas on Sunday, showed CP a letter from the deacon board banning her from the church effective Monday. She said Dudley was banished with a similar letter along with several other members.
"It is with great sadness that we are writing you today, to clearly inform you that your privilege to attend the Mt. Sinai Missionary Baptist Church, 6 Lovelace Street, Newnan, Ga. 30263 has been revoked," the deacons wrote, rebuking her for "unacceptable" behavior which "posed a potential threat to the safety of church members."
Parks said she attempted to use the mic at the church to share some calming words to the congregation but one of the deacons snatched it from her hand before she could speak.
Despite banning Parks from the church, the deacons said they would continue to pray for her.
"This action does not remove you from our prayers and concerns so, we will continue to pray for God's strength to lead you to a place where you can worship," the letter ended.
Hunter said she is working to get the church to resolve the dispute but argued that if it isn't solved, Mount Sinai Missionary Baptist Church could be empty on Sunday.
"Right now what I am doing, I'm trying to figure out how we can have a meeting as the body of the church because deacons don't have the right to do us like that," she said. "We need somebody to help us, not hurt us."
She explained that while some people have criticized the members for challenging the church leaders, she said they felt like they had no other choice.
"A lot of people are saying y'all should be ashamed of y'all selves acting like that in the church but where else are we gonna get it right if it's the church that's doing us wrong?" she said.
"They threw us out of church because we demanded answers about what happened to our pastor. We don't know anything about it," Hunter said.
"They (church leaders) do a lot of shady stuff in there. I've been talking to the police department about misrepresented funds. It's a lot going on and we just been sitting there and hoping that God would work it out but it blew up," she continued.
"We had the proper people in place to do it calmly but once the deacons started acting a fool that made everybody else act a fool."