Church members sue former pastor

Members of an Elizabethtown church want their former pastor to return thousands of dollars, which they claim the pastor was saving for them.

A lawsuit filed in Hardin County Circuit Court alleges members of Zion Pentecostal Church handed money over to Eula Mae Yates with the under-standing Yates would save the money and return it at the members’ requests. She has refused to return the money, the lawsuit claims.

Yates, who was pastor of the church since 1958, said the plaintiffs’ claims are false, and she has never collected money to be saved for church members.

The lawsuit alleges the defendant has generally refused to disperse the money as promised since March 2003. The lawsuit also stated Yates would return money in smaller amounts than requested.

Plaintiffs include Jerome and Joyce Beasley, Terri and Michael Haines, Carolyn and Ronald Yarborough and Zion Pentecostal Church Inc. The amounts plaintiffs say they have have given to Yates range from $4,500 to $84,400, the lawsuit claims.

The lawsuit said Yates told church members that banks were not safe places to keep their money.

The plaintiffs’ attorney, David Barber of Louisville, said, in some cases, members had been giving Yates money for several years.

“At some point, she had a number of them convinced that banks were untrustworthy places to keep their money,” Barber said. “My understanding is that the people of that church had put all their trust in her.”

Yates said Friday she only collected money from members as payment for loans she made to them.

“I don’t know what made them do this,” she said. “I don’t know how people could cook up lies like that. I helped them more than they could ever help me. I didn’t need to steal their money.”

Though requested by church members, Yates did not provide records of the savings accounts and said record-keeping was unnecessary. When pressed to provide such records, Yates would criticize members’ faith for questioning her, as pastor, the lawsuit states.

Yates said she did not encourage members to keep their money with her instead of in banks.

“I wouldn’t be that stupid,” Yates said. “Somebody could throw the locks off the doors.”

The lawsuit also states members have seen large sums of cash in Yates’ two homes, one of which is the parsonage provided by the church. The money has been seen in envelopes, small paper bags and on the floor, the lawsuit claims.

The plaintiffs and personnel at Zion Pentecostal Academy, a school run by the church, referred all questions to Barber, who said plaintiffs had hoped they wouldn’t need to resort to litigation.

“Their hope, I believe, is that this will be settled without lengthy courtroom dealings,” he said.

Yates said she believes the lawsuit may stem from a disagreement about funding for the school, which opened in 1993. She said she wanted the school to be financed by tuition, not church funds. Some church members did not agree, she said.

At least six months ago, church members formed an advisory board, which later voted Yates out of the pastor position, she said. She said Ronald Yarborough, a plaintiff in the case, was elected as her replacement.

She said she led her last church service about a month ago.

“They put a lock on the door,” she said. “Can you imagine people putting a lock on God’s house?”

In a separate lawsuit, Zion Pentecostal Church is requesting Yates be evicted from the parsonage near the church and school.

Yates said she purchased the land the home sits on and the materials to build it. A church member built the home, she said.

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