When two opposing groups within a church each declare they constitute the actual church, who pays the bills?
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In the case of Mount Olive Church of God in Christ, a 60-year-old congregation divided since last year between the family of the founding pastor and his successor, the answer is apparently no one.
The result has been an ongoing conflict now further complicated by mortgage foreclosure proceedings on church property, damage to a day care facility owned by the church, the apparent departure of the new pastor and an uncertain future for the longtime southside congregation.
After the death of Mount Olive's founder, Pastor Jesse Branson, in July 2011, Victor Champion, a pastor from out of state, was named to succeed him at the request of some church members but against the wishes of the Branson family.
The struggle between the family and Champion for control of the church property and records eventually ended up in Delaware Circuit Court 1, with the red brick church closed to everyone for 30 days, then reopened for separate services by the two groups each Sunday.
After an August 2012 court ruling that both sides interpreted in their own favor, Champion had police stop Branson family members and their supporters from entering the church the Sunday of Labor Day 2012 weekend, warning them they would be trespassing if they did so.
Since then, the Branson side of the dispute has tried without success to regain access to the church property, including calling for a vote by church members in September 2012 to withdraw from the denomination entirely. That vote and supporting signatures were duly submitted to the denomination's bishops, but the local group has never received a response, according to B. Joseph Davis, attorney for the Branson family. The Bransons' supporters have taken a "wait and see" approach on that matter, since pursuing that in federal court would be so costly, he added.
Champion and Bishop Nathaniel Wells Jr., who oversees the Muncie church from Michigan and who appointed Champion as pastor, both said before the September vote that it would not be considered valid since the pastor had not called the meeting at which it was taken.
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SOURCE: The Star Press