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Bethel members praise choice for new minister

The Rev. Joaquin Marvin, chosen by members' vote, refuses to talk about his past trouble with the law.


© St. Petersburg Times, published December 3, 2000

ST. PETERSBURG -- The man who will lead the congregation once headed by the Rev. Henry J. Lyons said he has been called to St. Petersburg to do God's work.

"We're certainly coming to do the will and the work of the Lord," the Rev. Joaquin Marvin, 35, said in a brief telephone interview Saturday.

He said he didn't know when he would be expected to begin his new job at one of the city's most prominent black churches, Bethel Metropolitan Baptist. He wouldn't say more about his plans and ended the conversation.

The congregation voted by a wide margin to replace Lyons with Marvin, the associate minister at Greater Union Baptist Church in Pensacola. He has a criminal record that includes arrests on charges of forgery, petty larceny and other offenses from the mid 1980s to 1991.

He succeeds Lyons, who had legal troubles of his own. The St. Petersburg minister and former president of the National Baptist Convention USA, is imprisoned for racketeering and grand theft.

Marvin on Saturday refused to talk about his past trouble with the law. "All of the things have been exonerated," he said.

State records show Marvin was sentenced to two years of community control in 1991 for forgery. He was arrested several times between 1986 and 1991 and charged with possession of crack and marijuana, shoplifting, assault, showing a weapon, petty larceny and violating his probation, according to records from the Florida Department of Law Enforcement. The FDLE records show he pleaded no contest to several criminal charges.

Church members voted 200-49 to give Marvin the pastor's job at the end of a more than two-hour meeting Friday. They say there are about 600 active members. Afterward, many appeared jubilant, exchanging hugs and handshakes of self-congratulation.

"I'm glad we've got a new minister," said former City Council member Charles Shorter, standing outside the church that once proudly displayed Lyons' name.

"I've been a member of this church since the late '50s. I feel good about this action by the deacon board. I accept the quality of their work, their investigations. I am pleased," said Shorter, whose daughter, Lynda, was Lyons' former administrative assistant. She testified against Lyons in his state racketeering trial.

Lyons' problems began in 1997, when his wife, Deborah Lyons, was arrested for setting fire to a Tierra Verde home she discovered her husband had purchased with another woman, Bernice Edwards. The arson set in motion two years of revelations about Lyons' financial dealings and led to his eventual conviction and imprisonment in 1999.

Like Shorter, other longtime members of Bethel Metropolitan are supportive of Lyons' successor.

The Rev. Joseph Harvey, an assistant minister who was once close to Lyons, said the search committee was aware of Marvin's past. He said the new pastor was hired for "his ability to preach the word on a level where everybody can understand it and the anointing we feel God has bestowed upon him."

He added, "We believe he's a man of God."

Everyone has a past, said church member Marva Dennard, who fasted before Friday night's vote.

"All of us have done bad things in life, but we didn't get caught. . . . We're all subject to commit crimes. We're subject to killing people, and you never know what you are subject to do until you're confronted with it."

Ms. Dennard, a staunch defender of the church she has attended since childhood, added, "I am so grateful to the Lord that he has heard our cry, and he has given us a pastor that we can respect. Bethel is coming back, and it's going to be the church I know it to be. I am so excited about it."

- Times researchers Caryn Baird and Cathy Wos contributed to this report.

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