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Preacher makes plea to succeed Lyons

A Los Angeles minister solicits support at the church of the former National Baptist Convention's president.

By WAVENEY ANN MOORE

© St. Petersburg Times, published September 6, 1999


ST. PETERSBURG -- As thousands of Baptists began gathering for this week's mammoth meeting of the National Baptist Convention USA, a top candidate for president of the 104-year-old organization made a last-minute pitch for support Sunday.

The Rev. E.V. Hill of Los Angeles preached at the St. Petersburg church of the convention's former president, the Rev. Henry Lyons, who resigned in March after being convicted on state racketeering and grand theft charges.

Hill, considered to be Lyons' hand-picked successor, was accompanied Sunday by about 50 members of his California congregation and a dozen ministers who support his candidacy.

Signs of Hill's campaign appeared inside and outside Bethel Metropolitan Baptist Church, 3455 26th Ave. S. A large green-and-white sign soliciting votes hung on the side of a van. In the church's lobby, supporters staffed a table covered with campaign buttons and literature.

There is little doubt whom the leaders of Bethel Metropolitan are supporting as the next leader of the nation's largest black religious organization. An associate pastor introduced Hill, one of 11 men running for the office, as the National Baptist Convention's "next president."

Greeting members of Bethel Metropolitan, Hill told them that he had tried to visit their pastor at the state prison near Ocala, where Lyons is serving a 51/2-year sentence.

Unfortunately, Hill said, there had been a mix-up in the visitation time.

"I was too late, but the intent was good," he said, adding that he left a message for the fallen Baptist leader.

Hill, pastor of Mount Zion Missionary Baptist Church in Los Angeles, was a steadfast ally of Lyons during state and federal investigations into Lyons' financial dealings and during repeated calls for his resignation as head of NBC. But the Los Angeles preacher told the congregation that he also had been loyal to Jimmy Swaggart, the evangelist who made a teary confession of his relationship with a prostitute.

"I went to Baton Rouge and preached for him," Hill said.

When the media asked why he did such a thing, Hill said his reply was, "I wanted to meet people who could forgive and go on."

Like the people of Bethel Metropolitan, he said.

"Pastor Lyons and I were very good friends. . . . You encouraged him and you helped him keep his sanity. I wanted to come and . . . say thank you."

He was bringing a message of encouragement, Hill said, urging visiting members of his congregation to make a special $1,000 offering to Bethel Metropolitan.

Toward the end of the service, though, the 65-year-old minister's energy seemed to flag. He needed help to get up from his chair, and he later said he was feeling a little weak.

Sitting in the front row during the service was Deborah Lyons, wife of Henry Lyons.

It was Deborah Lyons' anger that launched the investigations that toppled her husband. In 1997, she burned and ransacked the pricey Tierra Verde home he owned with Bernice Edwards, one of the women linked romantically to him.

"There are not too many who have had your troubles," Hill told Deborah Lyons on Sunday. "You've been a strong woman."

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