Home > Uncategorized > Remembering a church war

Remembering a church war

conflict-managementI rarely, if ever get personal on this blog. Mainly because my job is to inconspicuously document injustices, abuses and hopefully provide a place where some people know that someone cares about the hurt they are experiencing.  After hearing about the situation at Forest Hill COGIC in Texas, things hit very close to home and caused me to remember the church of my youth. A church that went to war and I think that everybody lost.  So I decided to write about it. Im sure many of you many have witnessed the same things but never said anything, so I will speak for you too.

Church conflicts are nothing new. A major conflict arose in the early church between the Christian Jews and the newly engrafted Gentile believers. It took a full apostolic council in Jerusalem to settle it. Reference Acts 15. However, lest we become comfortable with conflicts as a growing norm, let us remember the warning of scripture.

 For you were called to freedom, brothers. Only do not use your freedom as an opportunity for the flesh, but through love serve one another. For the whole law is fulfilled in one word: “You shall love your neighbor as yourself.” But if you bite and devour one another, watch out that you are not consumed by one another. Galatians 5:13-15 ESV

My mother was a proud member of Power House COGIC in Marlin, Texas. The church was named Power House after a series of revivals in the mid 40s brought people from miles around to witness the power of God moving as the saints shouted, preached, prayed and sang like nothing folks had seen before. The name was very appropriate.

I started attending the church when I was about 6 years old with my brothers and sisters. Sometimes my mother couldnt go to church because she was tired from working two jobs to support us, but she made sure we all got up, got dressed and got to church in time for Sunday School. I loved going to Power House. Even after 30 years, it still was a place that lived up to its name. As my siblings got older they went to other churches or moved away from home, but us younger ones kept going.

The church sat on a small parcel of land off Commerce Street. I dont know why they never bought the two houses adjacent to the church so that it could expand but they didnt. So if there was a crowd, everyone had to park on the street.

Power House was in Texas Northeast Jurisdiction (before all the splits) and our bishop was Bishop FL Haynes. What a man of God! I dont remember how young I was but I remember going to the convocation in Dallas and on “Official Day” when the Spirit was moving through Saintsville, Bishop jumped out of his chair and danced across the pulpit like he was losing his mind. When he did that, it was like a 1000 saints just went wild praising God!

Our pastor Supt CE Bennett, was a tall, well groomed and educated man. He always came to pick us up to go to the Corsicana District meeting. He was an excellent preacher and the church was very blessed under him. Our choir, led by Sis Earline Johnson was one of the best in the district. PH always sang those “shouting songs” and people loved it. My mother was a powerful singer too. She would always sing “Im a soldier, in the army of the Lord” and she hated if the song “drug”.

As far as I knew everything at Power House was good and well. Then, Supt Bennett died and we got a new Pastor, Elder Isreal Echols who had a large family. Elder Echols was a very meek man, until he got up to preach. Then, it was all over. His family was very active in the church. They were preachers, preaching missionaries, musicians and teachers. Under Pastor Echols and his family our church rose to even higher levels of “power”.  They were anointed, skilled and eager to serve in the church. They brought Mother Elsie Mason to speak at our church for women’s day and that was the first time I saw a demon cast out. Mother Mason did it and never even flinched.

I grew into my teens and started having other issues develop in my life. But I (as well as my peers in the church) started noticing subtle changes around the church. Mainly, it was a growing coldness between the pastor’s family and a sizeable group of the members.  They started not coming to bible study or would come late and not say anything when they came. It was strange, but noticeable. The testimony service, which used to be free and anointed, became tense and manufactured sounding.  My mother, although she didnt discuss the business of the church with us, continued as normal. She didnt act differently towards the pastor’s family and always supported. marlin

Then one Sunday morning, the ugly truth spilled out. In Sunday School review, the head deacon openly confronted one of the pastor’s daughters about some of her teachings or maybe more accurately, her attitude as he saw it. It was one of those moments as a teen who loved church, that caused you to just freeze.

Eventually more things happened and the rift between the two groups grew wider and wider. Accusations about money being withheld surfaced. Some of the members had circulated a petition calling for the removal of the pastor whom they felt would not or could not “control” his family. I found out about this because my mother got a visit from the “leaders” of the members coalition and they wanted her to sign the letter. She refused. Maybe it was because as a pastor’s daughter herself, she knew that the church could be unkind to the pastor’s family. Thats just a guess. At any rate she didn’t sign it.

As a footnote, us teens were 100% pro pastor and family. We loved them. For some of my peers, it caused a conflict at home.

Things were at an impasse. At some point, a group of members contacted Bishop J. Neaul Haynes, who now presided over Texas Northeast. When the night of the meeting arrived, we were told to stay at home. Of course, we didnt do it. We all decided to wait until the meeting started and then sneak to the church and listen outside by the window that had an air condition in it. We could hear everything like that. Bishop Haynes arrived with Supt TD Daniels and Supt TL Young, his Admistrative assistants. While I wont go into detail, suffice to say the meeting was very ugly. It hurt to hear the accusations.

After that, things were never the same. I cant remember if Pastor Echols left immediately or not. I left the church at 18 due in part to my own internal conflicts and being fed up with the division. Power House lost its former glory and to this day its sad to say has never recovered.  Everyone of the members who signed the petition are dead. Im not suggesting God killed them, just stating the facts. My mother is still a member and at 81, is faithful as best she can be. She was even recognized as a “Member of the Year” in Texas Northeast. But there is no power in that house anymore.

Finally, I want to say that Pastor Isreal Echols, Sr, may God rest his soul,  was no wolf and he cared for the flock of God. The personality conflicts that arose were avoidable. But for churches in the grip of a wolf, the only recourse is to fight to save yourself.

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