The Rev. Jimmy McCants was delivering a sermon titled “Can We Mend a Broken Heart?” on Sunday morning when Chicago Police arrested the 54-year-old pastor on a misdemeanor trespassing charge, outraging some members of his congregation.
McCants, pastor of Zion Evangelical Lutheran Church at 356 E. 109th, was freed in lieu of $1,000 bail at about 4:30 p.m., after spending about five hours in the Calumet District police station being processed for his arrest, which was captured by a church member’s video camera.
“My church is the house of the Lord, and I had not committed a criminal act,” McCants said. “We were in service. . . . We’re going to see what the lawyers say. I intend to go back next Sunday.”
The arrest stems from an internal dispute among members of the church, said Monique Bond, spokeswoman for the Chicago Police Department.
The church’s board of directors told police that McCants was fired Dec. 24, Bond said. On Jan. 6, a woman affiliated with the church signed a police complaint saying McCants had been trespassing on church grounds, Bond said.
“There were other witnesses [Sunday] who said he should not be there,” Bond said.
The woman who filed the complaint against McCants could not be reached for comment.
“It happened because he was not supposed to be on the premises,” said a board member, Willie Miller, who refused further comment.
The arrest was questioned by the head of a governing authority for Lutheran churches in the Chicago area.
Police apparently took the board’s word that McCants was fired, said the Rev. William H. Ameiss, president of the Northern Illinois District of the Lutheran Church Missouri Synod based in west suburban Hillside.
But Ameiss said he thinks the board removed McCants in violation of the Zion Evangelical Lutheran Church’s constitution, which requires the board to go to the synod to resolve a dispute over a pastor.
“They have removed a pastor inappropriately,” Ameiss said. “The real tragedy is the ministry gets put on hold for a power struggle.”
Ameiss said he was scheduled to meet with both factions next Saturday.
About a dozen supporters of McCants gathered at the police station to await his release. He returned to his home on church property.
“Personally, I am exhausted by these wars. That is one issue. The other issue is whether the police were overstepping their authority,” said Ernest Robinson, a 30-year church member and McCants supporter who estimates that the congregation has about 60 members.
A videotape taken during the sermon shows officers walked to the front of the church, spoke to McCants, then moved to the back to make a cell phone call.
Detractor fired last year
After the call, one of the officers returned to the pulpit and faced McCants, whose sermon was touching on the television series, “The Little House on the Prairie.”
“I request that you cease and desist with your services,” the officer said. “If you refuse to stop, we will have to take you into custody.”
McCants asked why he was being arrested, and the officer replied, “Criminal trespassing.” McCants, wearing a white robe, was led out of the church and into a squad car with his hands crossed in front of him.
The two factions in the church have been trading accusations of financial mismanagement, according to McCants’ supporters.
One of McCants’ detractors was fired last year from a teaching position at the church’s school, Robinson said. The former teacher is married to the woman who filed the police complaint against McCants, according to Robinson.
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