April 4-6, 2011. Our ministry, pastors and members under attack.

Monday, April 4, or Tuesday, April 5, 2011.  Margaret Sherrill, chair of the staff parish relations committee (SPRC) received a phone call from District Superintendent Ron Schultz’ office summoning the Reconciler SPRC to a meeting in the DS office.  No explanation was given as to the reason for this meeting.

Wednesday, April 6, 2011. The SPRC convened at the North Alabama Conference headquarters and we were told that our pastors (Kevin Higgs and Lawton Higgs, Sr.) had complaints against them. We were not told who brought the complaints, nor were we allowed to see the complaints or know the specifics, but the two general areas of concern had to do with mismanagement of money and using the pulpit to promote a personal political agenda.  Kevin and Lawton would be on “vacation” until this could be resolved.  That was it. We were warned not to talk about anything outside the group under threat of revocation of Kevin’s and Lawton’s credentials. We asked how we were to answer inevitable questions about our pastors’ absence.  We were told to respond: “Kevin and Lawton are taking time away from the ministry while we work as a team to get things worked out.” We were told that an investigation would be conducted within 90 days and charges made, if merited.  We would be notified when the investigation was complete.

We were also informed that materials were being taken out of the clothes closet which we maintain for the homeless. Ron Schultz had approved the changing of the lock on the closet, and Mary Jones, lay leader and founding member of the church, was denied a key, despite the fact that she had set up the closet years before and always coordinated the work in that area, spending hours every week to organize the clothes and coordinate volunteers. Rumors began circulating, fed in part by the associate pastor, that Mary was the person taking items from the closet, even though there was no proof at that time or in any time since.

Friday, April 8, 2011. Ron Schultz met with the chair of the finance committee, George Likis. His report from that meeting is attached. George Likis statements

Before our ordeal: a picture of Church of the Reconciler

On March 31, 2011, Church of the Reconciler was a vital, growing, United Methodist congregation.

We faced many problems, inherent in a ministry to the least of these. Our theology of radical hospitality and an unguarded gospel means we are in ministry to addicts, prostitutes, homeless, the unemployed, and the poor, in addition to those who are well-to-do. As a result, it sometimes feels like we are always a few steps behind where we should be…as soon as we understand a need, determine how to address it, and garner the resources, multiple other needs have presented themselves. But we feel called to our ministry and firmly believe that when God calls us, God will provide the resources.

And so, on March 31, 2011, we were feeding the hungry, housing the homeless, directing addicts in and to recovery, clothing those in need, and helping transport those without access to transportation. We had an active children and youth ministry that served nearly 50 children and youth and their families. We were pursuing the purchase of additional space to more safely serve our children while continuing to grow our ministry to the homeless community. We had recently formed new partnerships with UAB and other organizations.

We had two full-time paid ministers, and our founding pastor, R. Lawton Higgs, Sr., was ‘volunteering’ full time in his retirement. We had a wealth of volunteers who freely gave of their time to maintain the many aspects of our growing ministry. Many of those volunteers were formerly homeless, recovering addicts, who had found healing and wholeness at Church of the Reconciler and sought to help others on their journey.

Thanks to the support of many other churches in Birmingham and beyond, we managed to maintain our budget, and in the 18-year history of the church, we had always paid our bills on time and stayed solvent.

In short, we were a ministry whose leadership — pastoral, lay, and volunteer — and work was well-respected and highly thought of in the community.

But then our church came under attack, and we have been struggling to overcome that attack while staying committed to continuing this ministry ever since. Our story is documented on this web site. (To read the timeline in order, start at the bottom and work your way up.)

We continue as friends and members of Church of the Reconciler. We volunteer. We pray and study together. We serve. We feed. We clothe. We give our tithes and offerings to this church, which we still feel passionate about.

But we continue to seek justice. We covet your prayers and support in this endeavor.

“What, then, shall we say in response to these things? If God is for us, who can be against us?” Romans 8:31

For information: martislay@centurytel.net