Bat­tling Bap­tists

Church fam­ily feuds over “dis­mem­ber­ment” and $$

Walker County Messenger - - Front Page - By Josh O’Bryant

Since its found­ing in 1942, Fel­low­ship Bap­tist Church and its con­gre­ga­tion was an ac­tive part of the Chicka­mauga com­mu­nity.

But that re­cently changed. The church’s sign has been taken down and its doors locked, af­ter 15 mem­bers were ousted af­ter ques­tion­ing fi­nan­cial de­ci­sions made by its for­mer min­is­ter.

Trou­bles be­gan in 2016 af­ter a $42,000 be­quest from the late Mary Den­gler, a long­time mem­ber of Fel­low­ship, was re­ceived.

Ac­cord­ing to the dis­missed mem­bers, preacher Tim Owens, of Jour­ney On Min­istries, told the con­gre­ga­tion dur­ing a May 10 ser­vice that God had come to him in a “vi­sion” on how to spend Den­gler’s money and that the “Lord was lead­ing him” on what to do with it.

Owens had been min­is­ter for the three years.

Owens’ an­nounce­ment alarmed some of the con­gre­ga­tion — many of whom had at­tended Fel­low­ship since child­hood — to ques­tion their min­is­ter’s re­cent fi­nan­cial trans­ac­tions.

Don’t ask ques­tions?

Fel­low­ship Bap­tist had about 60 mem­bers when the re­cent ruckus be­gan.

Ac­cord­ing to the (at that time) church fi­nan­cial direc­tor and for­mer school teacher Leann Mize, Owens re­ceived a salary of about $3,000 per month, which in­cluded his fam­ily’s hous­ing.

The church had three sep­a­rate bank ac­counts: a gen­eral ac­count, a des­ig­nated ac­count and a re­serve ac­count. Den­gler’s money was placed in the re­serve ac­count.

The des­ig­nated ac­count was de­signed to pay for mis­sion trips, Va­ca­tion Bi­ble School and other church pro­grams.

The re­serve ac­count was es­tab­lished to fund any un­fore­seen prob­lems with church fa­cil­i­ties such as wear-and-tear on the build­ing, air-con­di­tion­ing re­pairs and so on.

Mize said the church op­er­ated with a line-item bud­get that de­tailed how the money was spent. But, she said, Owens told her that the util­i­ties did not need to be item­ized any more and to just leave a to­tal sum of the util­ity ex­penses.

On April 30, Owens turned in his res­ig­na­tion, ef­fec­tive May 14 (Mother’s Day), and preached only once dur­ing May. He had a guest speaker for the next Wed­nes­day ser­vice and can­celed the Mother’s Day ser­vice, in­stead ad­vis­ing the con­gre­ga­tion to stay home with their moth­ers.

Owens’ rea­son­ing for re­sign­ing, ac­cord­ing to those 15 dis­missed mem­bers, was that he did not want to cause an­other church split, sim­i­lar to what had oc­curred in the

1990s and, more re­cently, a few years ago as well. In­stead, he said he was go­ing back into his mu­sic min­istry, Old Time Preach­ers Quar­tet.

Once ques­tions arose re­gard­ing church fi­nances, the ma­jor­ity of mem­bers voted to “de-church” about a dozen mem­bers on May 10, say­ing (in a pe­ti­tion) they were bring­ing an “un­healthy, di­vi­sive and de­struc­tive at­mos­phere” to the church. At the same time, they pe­ti­tioned Owens to re­main as pas­tor.

Those ousted say this was a way to keep Owens as min­is­ter. The rea­son­ing and the list of names were pre­sented dur­ing a church meet­ing.

The church did not have el­ders and dea­cons over­see­ing the min­is­ter and church.

Since that time, the re­main­ing mem­bers of the church have changed the locks on the doors, taken down the sign, and closed ser­vices. Owens’ sup­port­ers con­tinue to meet in the church gym­na­sium.

“What have we done to de­serve this?” Mize said.

Here comes the money

Af­ter the mem­bers were voted out, three checks made out to Owens were dis­cov­ered, in­clud­ing a sev­er­ance pack­age, even though Owens re­signed from the church.

On May 17, $2,000 was paid to Owens out of the re­serve ac­count and listed as “mis­sions” for a trip Owens and his wife made to Is­rael in Fe­bru­ary. Owens posted pic­tures of the trip on the church’s Face­book page

Mize said this was the sec­ond mis­sion trip to Is­rael for Owens, not­ing that he did not con­duct any mis­sion work in Is­rael but went “sight see­ing” with his wife and that this was not a mis­sion trip.

The church’s re­main­ing mem­bers pre­vi­ously tried to pay Owens the $2,000 for the trip, but the ousted mem­bers did not feel he was owed the money, so he was not paid. But once they were kicked out, Fel­low­ship’s re­main­ing mem­bers paid Owens the money.

On May 28, a sev­er­ance pack­age check for $11,280.99 was made to Owens — from the re­serve ac­count — and was marked for Owens’ hous­ing al­lowance. But, Mize said, Owens al­ready re­ceived hous­ing al­lowances in his monthly pay.

The church’s min­is­ter job de­scrip­tion and ap­pli­ca­tion dated Aug. 3, 2014 — when Owens was hired — reads, “If the se­nior pas­tor is dis­missed, for any rea­son other than moral fail­ure, the church agrees to pay three months sev­er­ance.”

Mize said that since the min­is­ter re­signed and was not fired — based on his own ap­pli­ca­tion — he would not be en­ti­tled to this money.

A third check — once again out of the re­serve ac­count — for more hous­ing al­lowances was is­sued June 4 in the amount of $1,526.21.

On June 30, the church wrote a check to the Jour­ney On min­istry for $20,094.33 from the mis­sions ac­count, which dropped the re­serve bal­ance to zero.

On that same day, the church wrote a $24,254.74 check to the’ Jour­ney On min­istry from the gen­eral ac­count, which de­pleted that ac­count.

These checks, when to­taled, show Owens was paid just un­der $60,000 from the church cof­fers in a mat­ter of a few months, not in­clud­ing his monthly salary.

And these checks to Owens were ear­marked for Jour­ney On Min­istries, mean­ing they were tax­ex­empt.

Den­gler’s will

Mary Den­gler died be­fore Owens be­came pas­tor at the church.

The ousted mem­bers feel this was not how Den­gler would want her be­quest treated and claim the re­main­ing mem­bers are act­ing like a “cult” that has taken over the church and has blind al­le­giance to Owens.

The for­mer mem­bers claim Owens did not like be­ing ques­tioned and they did not like the church be­ing run by “one fam­ily.”

Jo­hanna Wil­liams, who re­mained with the for­mer Fel­low­ship Bap­tist Church and who also works for the North­west Ge­or­gia Bap­tist As­so­ci­a­tion, was con­tacted but de­clined to com­ment. Wil­liams was among those who signed off on the mem­bers be­ing dis­missed.

Eddy Rush­ing, direc­tor of mis­sions for the North­west Ge­or­gia Bap­tist As­so­ci­a­tion, de­clined com­ment, but did con­firm that Fel­low­ship Bap­tist is no more and its re­main­ing mem­bers will “restart” a new church called Grace Bap­tist Church.

Mize and oth­ers said the re­main­ing mem­bers will not re­turn their calls.

“I’ve never been thrown out of my own kitchen, let alone a church,” ousted mem­ber Eu­lene Matthews said.

The goal now for the ousted mem­bers is to find a new place of wor­ship and — hope­fully — stay to­gether, Mize said.

Fel­low­ship Bap­tist Church in Chicka­mauga locked its doors and re­moved its sign sign af­ter mem­bers ques­tioned their min­is­ter’s fi­nan­cial “vi­sion from God.”(Mes­sen­ger photo/Josh O’Bryant)

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