Church trustees seek end to legal dispute, healing

| October 14, 2014

Officers tell their side of story

Special to Frost Illustrated

Courtesy of the Pilgrim Baptist Church Board of Trustees

Pilgrim Baptist Church has been involved in litigation for nearly two years. An initial lawsuit which was filed in early 2013 was the result of a lack of transparency regarding finances within Pilgrim Baptist Church. The members of the congregation funded, and continue to fund, the day-to-day operations of the church and had questions regarding the church use of funds. In the first suit the Plaintiffs sought the Court’s assistance in reviewing the financial records and accounting ledgers of the church. The Court ultimately ruled, in the 2013 lawsuit, that the church was required, pursuant to Indiana law governing not-for-profit corporations, to allow the Plaintiffs to examine the church finances.

The financial record review uncovered the need for a system of checks and balances regarding the use of funds within the church. Changes were sought within the church to include a more open system of financial review and other issues of governance. Some individuals in the church resisted any change. It is for this reason that the second lawsuit was filed. The second lawsuit about Pilgrim Baptist Church has been reported on by Rebecca S. Green for the Fort Wayne Journal Gazette.

The lawsuit that is currently pending initially asked the Court to appoint a receiver to manage the church finances, compel a church meeting for the purpose of electing a board of trustees, and an order forcing the church to adopt bylaws pursuant to state statute.

Eventually, an election occurred at Pilgrim Baptist Church. Members from both factions ran for election to the board of trustees. Wims, Moore, Stevenson, Haywood and Johnson, all members of the present lawsuit, were elected to the board of trustees and they approved Bylaws for the Pilgrim Baptist Church.

Issues of control continued and in June, 2014, the Allen County Court ordered a new election. On July 26, 2014, pursuant to the Court Order, a second election was held at Pilgrim Baptist Church. For the second time in less than six months, Wims, Moore, Stevenson, Haywood and Johnson were elected by a majority of the congregation at Pilgrim to the Board of Trustees. Immediately after being elected, the five trustees went to work on bylaws.

Pursuant to Court Order, the Trustees reached out to the election commissioners appointed by the Judge for input with regard to the proposed bylaws. Such attempts were without answer. Undeterred, the Trustees began posting notice that a meeting would take place on Aug. 16, 2014 for the purpose of approving the bylaws proposed by the twice elected Trustees. Copies of the proposed bylaws were circulated and instructions on obtaining copies for review were made available to all members of Pilgrim Baptist Church.

On Aug. 16, 2014, a meeting was held for the purpose of approving the proposed bylaws. A majority of those in attendance voted to approve the bylaws. One hundred twenty-seven members attended the meeting. One hundred seventeen members voted in favor of the proposed bylaws, one member voted against the proposed bylaws and nine members did not vote.

While all aspects of the most recent Court Order have been satisfied, the Trustees remain without access to the church and without the ability to perform their capacities as trustees. The elected Trustees have been prevented from taking any action to ensure that the Church and its assets are protected for the benefit of the Pilgrim Baptist Church Community as a whole.

Currently, as the Trustees desire to perform their functions, they remain without the ability to do so. They desire to put to an end to the legal fees being incurred by all involved parties. The books containing church financials remain secret from the Trustees and the Members of Pilgrim Baptist Church. The church remains deeply divided. The Trustees remain hopeful that the legal battles will soon be resolved, the budget and finances of Pilgrim Baptist Church can soon be restored and that the church and its community will soon be healed.

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Category: Letters, Local, Spiritual Matters

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Frost Illustrated is Fort Wayne's oldest weekly newspaper. Your Independent Voice in the Community, featuring news & views of African Americans since 1968.

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