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Church summit raises cash for Lyons

By MONICA DAVEY, MIKE WILSON and DAVID BARSTOW

©St. Petersburg Times, published October 16, 1997


ST. PETERSBURG -- Baptist ministers began arriving Wednesday for a two-day Leadership Solidarity Summit meant to raise money for the legal defense of the Rev. Henry J. Lyons, president of the National Baptist Convention USA Inc.

"Brethren, I must make an appeal to you. . . . Our president has a staff of lawyers and professional people working and waiting for any charges that may appear," the Rev. John D. Chaplin, the convention's first vice president, said in an Oct. 8 letter to ministers.

"Lawyers are expensive. If you will be able to attend the summit, please bring a special love offering for our president's legal expenses. If you cannot attend, please mail it or give it to me and I will deliver (it) to the president on your behalf."

It was not clear how many ministers received an invitation to the summit, to be held at Bethel Metropolitan Baptist Church, where Lyons is pastor. At least 50 ministers made reservations in the eight hotels suggested by the convention, according to hotel managers and desk clerks.

The convention also is using the meeting to raise money for the Baptist World Center, its headquarters in Nashville, Tenn. In a Sept. 8 letter to member churches, Lyons said he needed to raise $72,000 by Wednesday to make a $422,000 mortgage payment.

The convention hasn't raised the $72,000, said Walter Cade, executive director of the Baptist World Center. He wouldn't say how much it has received.

"Have we raised what the president asked for? Categorically, no," he said.

The convention's 1997 annual report said it must pay $626,000 in interest on the Baptist World Center this year. The organization budgeted $1-million toward principal.

At the group's annual meeting in Denver last month, officials announced that they had raised more than $1-million in donations from convention members. But Chaplin said the convention still needs more.

In the letter to ministers, he wrote, "It's amazing that many people that declared that they love the convention can withhold their money knowing that the convention's expenses must be paid. . . . Time is of the essence."

Chaplin, of Washington, D.C., began the letter with a reference to annual meeting, where members voted to forgive Lyons for personal and financial dealings that brought about widespread media reports and federal and state criminal investigations.

"The Lord did a mighty work in Denver. We actually witnessed the teachings of the scripture fulfilled," Chaplin wrote. "The people of God spoke in harmony with the word of God. In the word of God, in forgiveness, there is restoration."

The letter said Lyons has been under "unusual attack by the media" and accused the Times of "pressing the state of Florida to bring charges against our president."

Lawyers Anthony Battaglia and Denis de Vlaming are advising Lyons on the federal and state investigations, respectively. Lawyer Grady Irvin also represents Lyons.
-- Information from the Associated Press was used in this report.


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