Church members sue pastor

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Members of a Nashville church that was the scene of a melee last weekend turned to the courts last week, claiming their pastor has mortgaged the church without permission, has taken money and refuses to step down.

The lawsuit, filed against the Rev. N. Curtis Bryant by members of Jackson Street Missionary Baptist Church near Jefferson Street, paints a picture of a congregation deeply divided and in utter turmoil.

“Without the assistance of this court, (church meetings) and the worship service will not be able to be held without the fear and real threat of physical intimidation and confrontation,” the suit states.

Several attempts to reach Bryant on Friday and Saturday were unsuccessful.

The lawsuit accuses Bryant of mortgaging the church and its property to secure a land purchase valued at more than $350,000, without a majority vote from the congregation.

On July 28, angry church members confronted the pastor about the deal and other financial transactions and asked him to step aside so they could have a full independent accounting of church funds.

“I felt like we had been robbed,” said longtime church member Evelyn Means. “I felt like we had been hoodwinked. Who gave him the right to put our church up for collateral?”

Confrontation turns ugly

The church, at 1209 Jackson St., had planned to acquire land on Ashland City Highway so it could expand, but Bryant mortgaged the church for a far bigger plot of land than many church members wanted, Means said.

The confrontation turned ugly, leading Metro police to send dozens of officers to quell what radio calls described as a “near-riot” involving as many as 300 people.

“In the church I saw stuff that I’m used to seeing in the street — in a brawl,” Means said.

The lawsuit makes a similar allegation. “Several members of the congregation were assaulted, and one member was injured by a member of (Bryant’s) immediate family,” court papers say.

Since the episode, according to the filings, Bryant has refused to leave and has incited members against one another.

The suit asks that Bryant be barred from being on or near church property. It also calls for Bryant to “refrain from any malicious, harmful or disruptive conduct, either by action or words, which may affect” the church, deacons, members or potential members of the congregation.

Bryant, they say, has refused to turn over bank and other financial records and the church keys and credit cards.

On Friday a judge issued a restraining order barring Bryant from being on church property or destroying records until the case can be heard in court, said Rayburn McGowan, the Nashville attorney representing five church members.

Some people have stopped going to the church, Means said, and she worries about paying back the bank.

“All we can do is pray that the church will survive because we don’t have anything.”

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Fairview Observer, TN, USA;br />Aug. 5, 2007 ;br />Sheila Burke;br />

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This post was last updated: Tuesday, August 7, 2007 at 11:00 AM, Central European Time (CET)