By Reid Forgrave
The Cincinnati Enquirer
COLD SPRING - Scores of former members of the financially embattled First Baptist Church voted Sunday to form a new church in a nearly unanimous tally.
After Palm Sunday services at a rented red-brick building - the old First Baptist Church of Cold Spring - about 160 members voted out of their old church roundly answered "yes" to the first question posed on the survey: "Do you want to form a new and separate church?"
John Ross of Highland Heights, KY, fills out a survey to help determine what direction the First Baptist Church of Cold Spring will take.
(Meggan Booker photo)
The group has not yet chosen a name for the new church.
"This new church just keeps evolving and getting bigger," said John Shay, who helped organize the alternative worship services for dissident members of First Baptist Church. "It's not politics; it's not games. This is truly a group of people who just love to worship."
It was the seventh service former members of First Baptist Church of Cold Spring have held since details of the church's financial troubles surfaced.
Kentucky State Police are investigating whether church money from accounts controlled by the Rev. Larry Davis, the church's pastor, was spent on non-church expenses, such as gambling. In January, former church Treasurer Darryl Neltner said he had identified $500,000 in questionable transactions.
Though dissenting members hadn't officially formed a new church until after Palm Sunday services, an overflow crowd packed the church. Leaders asked for help on having a nursery, Sunday school, church services and prayer nights. They passed offering plates, and they sold Easter lilies for $7 apiece. They even solicited people to clean the new church on Saturdays.
Rick Hubbard, chair of the new church's executive committee, said parishioners should form the church for the right reasons - not out of spite, but because God is calling for a new church.
"Do you think this is God's will for us?" Hubbard asked. "Pray and consider God's will for us, for you as an individual, and let the Holy Spirit direct us as He sees fit."
Down the street, members of First Baptist Church of Cold Spring said things are normal again.
Harody Mendez, a Sunday school teacher and trustee, said he was pleased the dissidents decided to form a new church.
"I definitely think it's an encouraging thing, and I didn't see us getting back together as one church," Mendez said. "At First Baptist, things are back to normal again. We never stopped being a church, but (the tension) distracted us from the things we do."
At the new church, members were exuberant on Sunday about their future.
"I really don't understand how everything has fallen into place and gone so smoothly and quickly," said the interim pastor, the Rev. Bill Humphrey, a retired pastor who resigned as First Baptist's minister of pastoral care after the dissenters asked him to be their interim pastor.
"When someone said to me this morning, 'Hi, pastor,' oh, that was a good feeling," Humphrey continued. "But I'm still struggling to figure what we will do next."
Leaders of the new church said they likely will purchase the building they are currently renting.
They don't foresee problems with soliciting money from members of the new church.
"This is the cream of the crop," Shay said.
"All these people are your tithers. They've been sitting on their tithes, waiting for somewhere to put it."
Good Friday services
Members of the new church will hold Good Friday services this Friday at 7 p.m., and will celebrate the Lord's Supper at the red brick church building at 3810 Alexandria Pike in Cold Spring.
Jan. 5: Fifth Third Bank contacts church members about some "unusual transactions" that have occurred in the church's construction account that the Rev. Larry Davis, pastor of the church, controlled.
Jan. 23: Former church Treasurer Darryl Neltner writes Kentucky State Police to say church money had been spent on gambling. He identified up to $600,000 in "questionable transfers."
Feb. 6: Kentucky State Police detectives executes search warrants at Davis' home and the church. Court documents say police were looking for both paper and electronic financial records.
March 10: Fifth Third Bank calls the note on the church's $4 million construction loan.
March 14: Members unhappy with Davis break from First Baptist by holding an alternate Sunday service at a nearby vacant church building.
March 17: The congregation fires anyone holding a position at the church that had attended an alternative worship service, calling their behavior "un-Christian."
March 24: The congregation votes to put up more collateral to avoid a foreclosing on its year-old sanctuary.
March 25: Church member Darlene Barnes of Fort Thomas is called before a Campbell County grand jury. Other current and former members of the church called before the grand jury in recent weeks include Neltner and Ted Wallace, former chairman.
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