An Arkansas congregation claims a historic church was stolen from them by a man who is being deemed a "squatter bishop," per the New York Post.
The allegation stems from a dispute over a 100-year-old church building in Crossett, Alabama that has been known as Allen Temple CME Church since the 1970s.
In 2019, leaders of Allen Temple CME said they closed the church while waiting for another minister. Bishop Earnest Smith, who had recently started his own ministry, asked if he could rent out the building during the waiting period, according to Allen Temple CME officials.
However, when it was time to give up the building, Smith refused, Allen Temple CME said. Despite pleas from the former congregation, the church now has a new sign out front with a new name.
“This is what you call a mortgage burning,” Claudelle Smith of Allen Temple CME Church said in a statement. “Right now, we don’t even have a key to get into it.”
The congregation is fighting for a church they believe is rightfully there's.
“It’s been going on too long. It’s time for him to go. We have had our locks changed a lot of times, and he [comes] right back in and just [takes] over. He said he will not leave. But you will go, Earnest Smith,” Rekandria Leach of Allen Temple CME said in a statement.
Representatives from Smith's new church denied the allegations against the bishop. Smith told KATV that he's been paying Faye Pam, the Allen Temple CME Church secretary, $200 a month for nearly three years to cover the building's insurance policy. He claimed Pam suggested that the building would be eventually handed over to his ministry.
“She said, ‘We are probably going to give you the building because we’re not going to use the building.’ She said, ‘Because I know you.’ I said, ‘OK.’ I said, ‘Thank you’ – really got excited. We paid. We’ve never been squatters. We’ve been paying all this money to her, and we’ve got proof that we paid the money to her,” Smith said.
“She said, ‘You all can have it but let me talk to my people in Little Rock.’ She kept telling us about people in Little Rock. I was thinking the people in Little Rock was the CME. She came to service one Sunday. She came back to service another Sunday, so I asked her, ‘Hey, Sister Pam, have you talked to your people?’ [and she said,] ‘Oh yeah, we going to, Pastor, don’t worry about it. We going to take care of you.’ That’s what she said.”