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Members of Charlotte church protest pastor

By Elisabeth Arriero
earriero@charlotteobserver.com

Tensions ran high at a north Charlotte church Sunday morning as members protested Pastor Andrew Rollinson’s leadership, saying he was fired nearly three months ago but refuses to leave.

“Rollinson must go!” about a dozen people chanted outside Morningstar Baptist Church at 5623 Phillips St., off West Sugar Creek Road in the Derita area. “When? Today!”

Rollinson said he has no intention of leaving the church. He said the members who fired him did not follow church bylaws, and therefore the decision is invalid. He did not say how the members violated the bylaws.

“I’m the pastor. I will be the pastor until people want to follow the bylaws,” he said. “This is a group of irate individuals who want what they want and are not able to get it according to the bylaws, and they became irate.”

Several Mecklenburg County sheriff’s deputies remained parked outside the church for hours Sunday. At least twice, opposing sides of the protest argued face to face before services.

“I’m the pastor,” Rollinson told a group of protesters.

“No, you’re not. You’ve been dismissed,” one responded.

Some of the church’s 200 members say they fired Rollinson in April but that he refuses to leave.

“Due to his character that is not becoming of a pastor, his dishonesty, controlling demeanor, using the pulpit to disrespect his members ... we are removing Pastor Andrew J. Rollinson from his duties effective immediately,” says the April 28 letter signed by five church leaders. “May God continue to bless you and your family and we hate things had to end this way.”

Since Rollinson was hired three years ago, some at the church say he has given himself more power and used it to ban members who don’t agree with him. Some also say Rollinson has given himself more control over church finances.

“All we want is for him to leave,” said Vernell Miller-Thompson.

Nobody was arrested at the church Sunday.

Deputies told Rollinson that after talking with the Sheriff’s Office attorney, they determined he was not trespassing.

Donald Fontenot, one of Rollinson’s deacons, read a statement Sunday in response to the protest.

“We love our pastor Andrew J. Rollinson and the leadership he brings,” the letter said. “He has not done anything wrong and he leads us in the fear of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ.”

The statement also acknowledges that the church has banned 19 members for reasons including “violating our First Amendment Right, participating (in) and encouraging a public disturbance (and) continuous outbursts of false accusations from the pew.”

Jackie Black, chairman of the board of deacons, said he’s lost trust in church leadership.

“I have a different perspective on preachers now,” he said. “I see this as a business for them and not a place of worship.”

By the time services began shortly after 11 a.m., the two sides appeared to have reached a truce. Law enforcement left and many members headed into the church for worship.

Dwayne President, who was attending the church for the first time Sunday, said he did not know which side to believe. He also said the tension was distracting from the true purpose of Sunday.

“Gandhi said, ‘I like your Christ. I don’t like your Christians.’ I can see why he said that now,” President said. “I’m apologizing for the church. The church is supposed to be an example and a light amongst nonbelievers.”

Black acknowledged that the drama has taken away from the church’s mission.

He said the church plans to involve its attorney more when drafting a contract for the next pastor to ensure nothing like this happens again.

“We’re going to make sure it’s very specific so nobody can take advantage of us again,” he said.

Arriero: 704-358-5945; Twitter: @earriero
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