Judge orders meeting at Rock Hill church split over firing pastor

09/17/2013 10:22 PM

09/18/2013 3:37 PM

After a six-month public battle marked by a locked sanctuary, no trespassing signs and eventually a lawsuit, members of the historic Flint Hill Baptist Church should be able to vote by next month whether to keep their pastor or send him packing, a judge has decided.

Flint Hill – a historically black church that has survived segregation, racism and arson – has been a fixture in Rock Hill for almost 90 years. Its is known for to work its members do for the elderly and the poor.

The dispute over who should run the church has threatened the church’s future and divided members who have worshipped together for decades.

Judge Jack Kimball, York County’s master-in-equity, ordered that the church hold a “special meeting” to resolve the status of the Rev. Cedric Maddox and three dissident deacons who were suspended after they led the charge to have Maddox removed.

In that meeting, which lawyers say could come within a month, church members will have the chance to vote, per Baptist rules, on whether to keep Maddox.

“Hopefully, we can have resolution in the very near future,” said Willie McClurkin, a longtime church member who was sued by Maddox and deacons trying to keep Maddox in the pulpit. “This is a path to a vote.”

After the church’s locks were changed and “No Trespassing” signs went up in an attempt to keep Maddox out, the pastor and some church elders sued, claiming he had been improperly voted out in February and April.

Kimball nullified the results of those votes, but ordered the church to hold a meeting for which proper notice is given and members have the chance to decide for themselves about the future.

“Our main purpose was to bring this matter to a vote of the congregation,” said Herb Hamilton, the Rock Hill lawyer representing members who tried to oust Maddox. “The judge said what we wanted him to say. It sets up a vote.”

Although the meeting date has not been set, the hope is to schedule it by mid-October, said Chuck Ormond, the Columbia lawyer hired by Maddox and others.

The rancor was so deep this summer that services were held outside the locked church for several weeks on hot summer Sundays, police were called by frustrated members, then the courts were forced to step in after lawyers were hired and the impasse grew.

Kimball issued a temporary restraining order, then an injunction, to get the church’s locks changed back and to make sure representatives from both sides paid church bills and conducted church business.

In July, more than 75 church members squeezed into Kimball’s tiny master-in-equity courtroom in York for two days of heated testimony over control of the church. Church members argued over who was a proper member in good standing, who was a proper deacon, and more.

Kimball ordered that church membership rolls in place prior to the February dispute be used for the upcoming vote.

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