Church Feud Has Deep Roots

By: Anthony Sabella Email
By: Anthony Sabella Email

The lot is empty. The doors are still locked at Friendship Baptist Church. Drill holes the only reminder of Sunday morning chaos, when those headed to a 10 a.m. service couldn't get in. after an earlier service locked the doors. Barricaded windows and emergency exits forced Lansing fire marshals to close down the building.

At Friendship Baptist, members are divided into two groups. The 7:30, 8:30 a.m. and 4 p.m. services on one side and the 10 a.m. service on the other, but it hasn't always been that way. The division started in 2007 when the church adopted a new constitution, Rita Bunton says it was a small 'breakaway' group from the earlier and 4 p.m. services who made the change.

"A whole new constitution that they wanted the whole congregation to go by and this constitution was developed with no input from the pastor," said Bunton, who attended the 10 a.m. service up until two years ago, before leaving because of the fighting.

She says the other group tried to get rid of church pastor Lester Stone, who passed away in 2010. The congregation officially split months later and ever since, accusations of bullying and taking money have taken focus.

"They took away all the finances. I've never in all my years seen any human being treated like Pastor Stone was," said Bunton.

Those in the early and late services say it's the other way around. That the 10 a.m. service broke away, opened new accounts and bullied.

"We have eyewitness accounts of all the bullying they have done to members of our congregation," said Donald Suttles, Chairman of the church board of trustees.

They say the constitution was fairly voted on by the whole church and the 10 a.m. service has no legal authority over the building. A vote to eliminate the service took effect over the weekend.

"We have the deed, we have the mortgage," said Rev. Clyde Carnegie, church pastor. "We have the operational responsibility of the building."

It's unclear what will happen when the fire marshal will open building again.

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