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Baptist church suspends pastor

Matters came to a head during a meeting to discuss the minister's performance at Bethel Metropolitan Baptist.

By WAVENEY ANN MOORE, Times Staff Writer
© St. Petersburg Times
published February 5, 2003

ST. PETERSBURG -- The Rev. Joaquin Marvin, hired two years ago to replace the Rev. Henry J. Lyons after he was imprisoned, has been prohibited from preaching for four Sundays.

Leaders at Bethel Metropolitan Baptist Church say they are punishing Marvin for an uncontrolled temper and verbal abuse of the congregation, including an outburst at the wife of a member of the powerful deacon board.

Marvin called the St. Petersburg Times Friday night to complain that church deacons were trying to force him out and reinstate Lyons, who is serving time for racketeering and grand theft for his financial dealings while he was head of the National Baptist Convention USA.

"Lyons at this point is not even a possible candidate for being a pastor of Bethel again," said Jerome Smith, head of Bethel Metropolitan's deacon board and owner of Smith Funeral Home. He acknowledged, however, that some others on the 20-member deacon board have remained in touch with Lyons and visit him.

Lyons is now at the Bartow Work Release Center, where he does odd jobs such as painting. Corrections officials say he could be out as soon as Nov. 30.

Smith, the head deacon, said no decision has been made on Marvin's position at Bethel Metropolitan. The deacon board is awaiting a job evaluation report before recommending a plan to the congregation of about 300 active members, he said. That report is expected next week.

Since his call to the Times on Friday and again on Saturday, Marvin has not returned repeated calls.

Matters came to a head Friday night, during a heated congregational meeting called to discuss Marvin's performance.

"He was the one who basically got out of control. He walked out of the meeting. The suspension that was levied by the deacon board was based on that type of action. We had talked to him about some type of anger management," said Smith, who has headed the deacon board since January.

"Over the last two years, there have been some confrontations with various members where he was totally out of control. ... We have tried to live through it, hoping it would smooth itself out. So now he is trying to paint a different picture, as though he is the victim and we're the lynch mob and he is bringing in the picture of Lyons in an effort to gain sympathy," said Smith, a member of Bethel Metropolitan for 15 years.

According to Smith, the most recent incident occurred when Marvin verbally abused Smith's wife, Lynda, a church deacon.

Marvin, 38, has had legal problems of his own. Shortly after he was hired, he was arrested in Escambia County for violating two outstanding warrants. He had been sentenced to two years of community control in 1991 for forgery. State records indicate that he also was arrested several times between 1986 and 1991 on charges that included shoplifting, assault and possession of crack and marijuana. Marvin has since completed probation.

Despite revelations of his past problems, members of Bethel Metropolitan supported their new pastor when he took over the pulpit two years ago.

"He came into Bethel under turbulent conditions," said Smith, the head deacon. "We had gone two years without a pastor and when he came in, there were questions from members regarding his background."

Smith, who was on the pulpit committee that hired Marvin, described himself as having been a "very close friend" of Lyons, who had preached at Bethel for 25 years. Nonetheless, he voted to fire the once nationally prominent pastor after his conviction.

"When it was time to release him as pastor of the church, I supported that because I am not going to condone any wrong actions, and it is the same with this pastor."

-- Times staff writer Mike Brassfield contributed to this report.

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