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Forgiven, Lyons returns to flock

By TIM GRANT, Times Staff Writer
©St. Petersburg Times, published September 8, 1997


ST. PETERSBURG -- Back from Denver, where he spent a week winning the forgiveness he needed to retain leadership of the National Baptist Convention USA, the Rev. Henry J. Lyons returned to an equally forgiving congregation at Bethel Metropolitan Baptist Church.

Gone are the hard lines of fatigue and stress that creased his face in the days leading up the showdown in Denver. Gone are the sleepless nights, the worrying and loss of appetite that Lyons said took 20 pounds off his frame. Those burdens are lifted now, he said, by the grace of God.

"What the media calls tricks, it's not tricks to us. It's prayer," Lyons told his church Sunday. "When all is said and done, either the Lord delivers you or he don't."

With his presidency of the National Baptist Convention USA secure for now, Lyons presided over Sunday's service with enthusiasm and charisma. He briefly mentioned his skirmishes with the media and said he would no longer waste his time responding to reports about his financial dealings.

A near capacity crowd embraced Lyons at his homecoming. Several church leaders led prayers that made reference to last week's events: "We thank God for victory in Denver in the face of the enemy," said one member.

The only direct reference to the dramatic effort to unseat Lyons at last week's convention came when Lyons asked one of the 50 church members who accompanied him to Denver to give a report to the church. "It don't even have to be nothing long," Lyons said.

"We had a great victory in Denver," the unidentified member said. "And sister Lyons played a big role in that. Your prayers have been answered."

Reporters were again kept out of the church. A Times reporter was escorted from the sanctuary midway through the service.

For two months, Lyons has endured a virtual avalanche of unflattering news coverage, beginning after his wife was charged, accused of setting fire to a $700,000 house he owns with another woman in Tierra Verde. Deputies said Deborah Lyons told them she set the fires at the house because she believed Lyons was having an affair with the woman, Bernice Edwards.

Edwards, a convicted embezzler, had been hired by Lyons to worked as public relations director for the National Baptist Convention. Records show the two also own a time-share condominium in Lake Tahoe and tried to buy a $1-million estate in Charlotte, N.C.

In addition to the real estate, Lyons and Edwards collected hundreds of thousands of dollars in commissions from convention deals that convention board members were unaware of and may have used convention money to make lavish personal purchases. Lyons also maintained a bank account that board members were not told of.

Prosecutors have seized the records from that account, called the Baptist Builder's Fund, as part of criminal investigations into Lyons financial dealings now under way by both the Pinellas-Pasco State Attorney's Office and the U.S. Attorney's Office in Tampa.


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