The Rev. Henry Lyons
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Minister will face his church, media today
The Rev. Henry J. Lyons walks through Tampa International Airport Thursday night after returning from Nigeria. Questions have arisen about a possible affair and his financial dealings since his wife's arrest Sunday. Lyons said he will speak at a news conference at 2 p.m. today at his St. Petersburg church.
By MIKE WILSON and MONICA DAVEY
©St. Petersburg Times, published July 11, 1997
ST. PETERSBURG -- The scorched waterfront retreat, the dubious woman friend, the shiny black Mercedes and the ungodly tangle of deals: The Rev. Henry J. Lyons, one of Christendom's great talkers, will get a chance to explain them all today.
Returning from a business trip in Nigeria, Lyons arrived alone at Tampa International Airport about 10:45 p.m. Thursday. Appearing tired and solemn, he walked outside and got into his son's black Chevy Blazer. He declined to comment about his troubles; he would talk, he said, at a news conference at 2 p.m. today.
Asked if he wanted to say anything at all, Lyons replied, "I don't have my attorney here; I couldn't do that."
Earlier, as he was changing planes in New York, Lyons told a television crew, "I'm trying to get home. I'm worried about my wife."
The electric, nationally known preacher has promised the news conference at Bethel Metropolitan Baptist Church, but some of the people closest to him hope he won't show up.
"To keep from being embarrassed, I am hoping that he won't go, because you guys will tear him apart," said the Rev. Anderson L. Clark, an associate pastor at the church. "He can't justify anything that is in the newspaper."
Lyons -- who was in Nigeria with his friend Bernice Edwards, a convicted embezzler -- also has called an emergency meeting of the board of the National Baptist Convention USA Inc., apparently to discuss the leadership crisis. The meeting is scheduled for Thursday in Nashville, the denomination's headquarters.
"There's a lot of grave concerns across the nation among National Baptists about which way this is going," said the Rev. J. J. Barfield, a board member from Philadelphia. "I guess at this point anything you hear is no surprise."
Several national news organizations, including the New York Times, Time magazine and NBC news, planned to cover today's news conference at Bethel, which is at 3455 26th Ave. S.
Approached by the TV crew after his plane landed in New York on Thursday, Lyons denied having an extramarital affair with Edwards, with whom he owns a $700,000 home in Tierra Verde.
Lyons' wife, Deborah, told investigators she believed he was cheating on her. That, she said, is why she went to the house last Sunday and set fire to pillows and upholstery.
Mrs. Lyons has since said that her husband is faithful and that the fires were accidental.
Edwards' attorney, Franklyn M. Gimbel of Milwaukee, said Edwards has asked to meet with him as soon as she returns to the city. Edwards once lived in Milwaukee.
"If Dr. Lyons is in some kind of trouble, she would be very upset. She is very devoted to his work," Gimbel said. "I understood that she had a professional relationship with him, always on a professional basis."
Edwards, 40, had a "marriage-like" relationship with a Milwaukee man named Douglas Jones until his death from cancer about a year ago, Gimbel said. She has three children, a teenage girl and two younger boys.
Family members shut the curtains and turned away reporters at Edwards' house in Wisconsin Thursday afternoon.
The story that began with a dropped match swept like a wildfire through National Baptist circles Thursday. For the first time, some members of the 8.5-million-member denomination -- the nation's largest African-American church group -- expressed doubt about Lyons' ability to continue as their leader. Lyons' five-year term as president expires in 1999, but the convention could move to oust him at its September meeting in Denver.
"Nobody's above making a mistake. But in this case I think it's gone past making a mistake or being indiscreet," said the Rev. Matthew Johnson of Greensboro, N.C. Johnson campaigned for Lyons when he ran for president, but has since become one of Lyons' most vocal critics within the denomination.
" "What's in it for me?' That was Lyons' whole philosophy from the beginning," Johnson said.
The Rev. Dr. William J. Harvey, the convention's secretary of foreign missions for almost 40 years, said he read the accounts of Lyons' troubles "with great sadness."
"As an officer of the convention I am of course concerned about the image of our convention," he said.
Harvey -- who oversees the convention's efforts to spread the gospel outside the United States -- said he did not know that Lyons was going to Nigeria and did not know why he went. The convention has missions in several African nations, but Nigeria isn't among them.
It hasn't had a mission there since 1962, he said.
©Copyright 2006 St. Petersburg Times. All rights reserved.