Sunday, March 21, 2004

Ousted group finds place to worship

Group from First Baptist borrows unused sanctuary

By Jim Hannah
The Cincinnati Enquirer

COLD SPRING - Ousted members of First Baptist Church here have found a temporary church at an unused sanctuary they abandoned more than a decade ago.

They say the building is a good refuge after they were stripped of their positions at First Baptist last week amid a grand jury investigation into church financial records and threats that a bank will foreclose on the church.

A vote Wednesday replaced the majority of the church's trustees with people more favorable to the Rev. Larry Davis, who is at the center of the investigation. The majority of the congregation called the trustees disruptive and unChristian for gathering outside the church to worship.

The division among the congregation has led to hate mail, a scuffle in the sanctuary's balcony and left life-long friends not talking to one another. And now, a new place of worship for the ousted.

For those who helped build the once-thriving church of 1,800, served with pride while it played a major role in the immensely successful Billy Graham Crusade, sang in its choirs and taught its Sunday school, the pain is enormous.

"That church, since my husband has been gone, is my life," said dissident member Midge Hubbard, 76, of Wilder. "This has just torn me up as well as everyone else. It is something that I would never believe would have happened in my lifetime. It is just hard to comprehend right now."

Hubbard believes she lost her position as the secretary who kept track of everyone's weekly offerings because she, along with others, demanded to know why money from church accounts controlled by Pastor Larry Davis was spent at a casino, trendy shops and sport betting tip services.

A criminal investigation into the church finances continues, but no one has been named a suspect or charged with a crime. Davis, who couldn't be reached Saturday for comment, has said he stole no cash but that his attorney has advised him to elaborate.

John Shay, who helped organize the alternative worship, said members like Hubbard were targeted because they didn't blindly follow Davis.

He said the group hasn't come up with a name for itself.

"We are just a group of First Baptist Church members who wanted to get together and worship," he said. "We are just meeting outside of First Baptist because ... we wanted a true worship service."

First Baptist sold their old sanctuary to Rolling Hills Christian Church several years ago. That congregation, which isn't holding Sunday service in the building, has rented it to the dissident group to have Sunday school classes at 9:30 a.m. followed by a service at 10:45 today.

The Rev. Bill Humphrey, a former associate pastor at First Christian, will preach.



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