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Deacons lock out church members over dispute

AUBURN (AP) — Members of Mount Moriah Baptist Church were locked out of the building as seven deacons canceled Sunday school and worship services because of an investigation into their pastor’s alleged involvement in $7,500 in missing church funds.

The Rev. Tyrone D. Edwards, who has served the congregation for the past 12 years, viewed the lockout as the deacons’ latest attempt to get rid of him.

“It is a coup, a takeover,” he told the Opelika-Auburn News.

Deacon Kenneth Black said the congregation of some 200 was told of the cancellation, but about a dozen showed up for Sunday school and 40 came for the worship service anyway.

Edwards said he didn’t know he’d be locked out. But Black said Edwards had known since Wednesday that Sunday school was canceled, and he was asked to leave the premises.

Black said the deacons tried to put some distance between Edwards and the church while Auburn police conduct an investigation. He said the locks were changed because too many people have keys and some disturbances have been discovered recently.

“We are trying to get this thing resolved so we can get our church back together,” he said. “We don’t hate him, but it’s time for him to move on.”

Edwards said the deacons, who are appointed by him and ordained by the church, don’t have the authority to change the locks or cancel services. Black said the church’s 11 deacons, under the church’s bylaws, can terminate the pastor.

John Zellars, an Edwards supporter, said the group of deacons has been trying to oust Edwards since January, but the majority of the congregation has ruled in Edwards’ favor each time.

“We’ve got a good pastor,” Zellars said. “He has done nothing to make us think otherwise.”

Black said the Auburn police have been by the church a couple times this week, as a precaution to keep the peace.

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Information from: Opelika-Auburn News

Copyright 2005 Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

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