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  • Lyons: Official ties to Edwards to end

    By TIM GRANT

    ©St. Petersburg Times, published August 4, 1997


    ST. PETERSBURG -- The Rev. Henry J. Lyons announced Sunday that he was severing all business ties with Bernice V. Edwards, the convicted embezzler he hired to be director of public relations for the nation's largest black church group.

    Lyons also announced in the church bulletin that he was going to "take a moment of rest and reflection during the month of August" and would be on leave from preaching at St. Petersburg's Bethel Metropolitan Baptist Church.

    Standing before the congregation with his wife, Deborah, at his side, the couple said they have a strong personal commitment to the Milwaukee woman.

    "Mrs. Edwards has three children and sister Lyons and I have agreed that if something were to happen to her we would take them and raise them," Lyons said. "That's how close we are. There's nothing going on. Nothing illicit. Just family friends." The relationship between Lyons and Edwards was called into question July 6 when Mrs. Lyons was charged with setting fire to a $700,000 Tierra Verde house owned by her husband and Edwards. Lyons, married for 25 years, listed himself as unmarried on the deed to the house.

    Lyons, pastor of Bethel Metropolitan and president of the 8.5-million member National Baptist Convention USA Inc., spoke to the congregation shortly before preaching Sunday's sermon. The picture of confidence and unity, Lyons and his wife stood together in front of the pulpit and reassured the faithful in the pews.

    "Sister Lyons and I prayed over this and we have an announcement to make," he began. "In 1993 sister Edwards came into our lives. We didn't know her. Sister Lyons worked with her closely. But we will cut all those business ties. I am in the process of doing that."

    When Lyons was done, Deborah Lyons spoke.

    According to sheriff's deputies, Deborah Lyons told them she suspected her husband was having an affair with Edwards. Nothing could be further from the truth, Mrs. Lyons said.

    "Mrs. Edwards and I have a close relationship. We are friends. We go out to dinner and talk on the phone all the time," Mrs. Lyons said. "It's sad that the St. Petersburg Times has turned this into something dirty."

    She implored church members to stop reading the Times.

    Activity in the sanctuary came to a halt while they spoke. Members who were supposed to be watching children in the church nursery had to be asked repeatedly to go back to their jobs, though they strained to hear Lyons speak. As they finished, the pastor and his wife were showered with applause and cheers of approval.

    Wearing a cherry red robe, Lyons appeared confident and in control of his church. Before his announcement, Lyons baptized several members and took time to praise two members of his congregation who had earned general contractors licenses.

    Lyons did not elaborate on what he meant by his decision to sever business ties with Edwards. Neither Lyons, his attorneys, nor Edwards and her attorneys could be reached for comment after the service.

    The two are connected in several ways. In addition to her job with the National Baptist Convention USA, Edwards also holds a position with a National Baptist Convention affiliate that markets cemetery services. And the pair still own the Tierra Verde home and a time share in a luxury condominium in Lake Tahoe, Nev. They were in the process of purchasing a Charlotte, N.C., estate at the time of Mrs. Lyons' arrest, but didn't follow through on the contract.

    Lyons and Edwards also have held a joint checking account, and Edwards shares the title to a $135,000 Mercedes-Benz S 600V with Lyons' church. State revenue officials are examining whether the purchase of the Mercedes violates state tax law.

    Lyons told the church he didn't know Edwards before she came into his life in 1993. That year she faced charges for embezzling from a school she operated in Milwaukee. She was sentenced in 1994, the same year Lyons was elected president of the National Baptist Convention.

    Edwards supported his campaign and was active with the state baptist group in Milwaukee. According to a letter Edwards' attorney wrote in 1995, Lyons was "fully aware" of Edwards' conviction and "advanced" funds toward payment of $32,652 in restitution.

      ©Copyright 2006 St. Petersburg Times. All rights reserved.