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    Pastor calls for unity in flock

    The Rev. Joaquin Marvin, the minister who replaces the Rev. Henry J. Lyons and has faced troubles of his own, asks worshipers not to resurrect the past.


    © St. Petersburg Times, published December 11, 2000

    ST. PETERSBURG -- Performing a baptism on his first day leading Bethel Metropolitan Baptist Church, the Rev. Joaquin Marvin seemed to offer a fitting metaphor for rebirth of the scandal-weary church.

    During a sermon at the 11 a.m. service Sunday, he told the large congregation that his goal is to build a "purpose-driven church" that is both harmonious and united.

    Marvin, 35, replaces the Rev. Henry J. Lyons, who put Bethel Metropolitan in the national spotlight when his financial dealings and extramarital relationships were revealed. At the time, Lyons was president of the National Baptist Convention USA, which is thought to be the nation's largest black church organization. Lyons is now in prison for racketeering and grand theft.

    Marvin, who also has had trouble with the law, made fleeting references to his lapses of a decade ago and warned his congregation of those who seek to resurrect the past.

    "We're moving forward," he said, at times pacing the platform decorated with poinsettias and Christmas lights.

    Using Paul's first letter to the Corinthians as his text, Marvin gave the congregation a primer for achieving his goals at Bethel Metropolitan and emphasized Paul's admonition against divisiveness.

    He told the crowded church that deacons should work with the pastor, not against him. And he warned the deacons to make sure they go in pairs to visit female members.

    "You're not that strong," he told them.

    In turn, he urged female members of his flock not to tempt the deacons.

    Marvin, a former associate minister at Greater Union Baptist Church in Pensacola, was accompanied to St. Petersburg by his wife and parents. About 6 feet tall and broad-shouldered, the new minister wore a dark brown double-breasted suit. His forceful words, delivered in speech and song, seemed to captivate the congregation. As he reached the high point of his sermon, he strutted down the church's center aisle, whooping his message.

    Encouraging shouts of "Preach! Preach!" punctuated several points of his sermon.

    The Rev. Joseph Harvey, an assistant minister who once was a close ally of Lyons, sat on the platform near to Marvin. In recent months, Harvey has worked to oust Lyons' supporters and get the church new leadership. Marva Dennard, also a supporter of the new pastor, sat in a pew close to the front of the church.

    Besides Sunday's baptism, Marvin's duties on his first official day included congratulating several young church members for their scholastic achievements. He told the adults to support young people to prevent them from going astray. If they get into trouble, Marvin said, there are people lying in wait to remind them of their wrongdoing. That was just one of several subtle references that the new minister made to his past.

    State records show Marvin was sentenced to two years of community control in 1991 for forgery. Records from the Florida Department of Law Enforcement indicate he also was arrested several times between 1986 and 1991 on charges of petty larceny, possession of crack and marijuana, shoplifting, assault, showing a weapon and violating his probation.

    Maggie Davis, who has been a member of Bethel Metropolitan for more than two decades, was not at church Sunday. She also had ignored the invitation members received to meet the new pastor and his wife the day before.

    "I just couldn't bring myself to go," she said. "I feel we've been hoodwinked. Number one, we didn't know the full truth (about Marvin), and when it did come out, a lot of the members were completely shocked."

    Mrs. Davis said she is not sure that she will return to Bethel Metropolitan.

    She added, "I'm praying about it."

    Marvin is undaunted by the challenges ahead.

    "You got a good strong church here and we're going to get stronger," he told those who gathered to greet him on Saturday.

    "Let's move forward. . . . We're going to be a unified church. Don't let anybody tell you about your pastor, about your church. . . . Don't put your business on the street. Together we stand, but divided we fall."

    Recent coverage

    Lyons' replacement has outstanding warrants (December 5, 2000)

    Bethel members praise choice for new minister (December 3, 2000)

    Church ousts Lyons as pastor (December 2, 2000)

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