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  • Rev. Lyons: 'It's been a rough day'

    By TIM ROCHE and WAVENEY ANN MOORE

    ©St. Petersburg Times, published July 9, 1997


    ST. PETERSBURG -- With questions swirling about his finances and his personal life, the Rev. Henry J. Lyons declined to provide any answers or clarify any misunderstandings Tuesday from his hotel in Nigeria.

    "Oh, it's been a rough day," Lyons said.

    When pressed for comment on his wife's arrest this weekend on charges of trying to burn down a $700,000 home in Tierra Verde that he purchased for another woman, the nationally respected minister said he planned a news conference Friday.

    "My wife and I will both be there," he said before abruptly cutting short the telephone interview. "I'm going to respectfully hang up now."

    Bernice V. Edwards, who shares the Tierra Verde home with Lyons, did not return messages left for her in Nigeria.

    Lyons' wife of 25 years, Deborah Lyons, was charged with arson and burglary after she told sheriff's investigators she found a deed in her husband's briefcase and went to look at the five-bedroom, three-story house in southern Pinellas County.

    She told investigators she had suspected her husband was having an affair but was convinced of it after finding some of his clothing and other belongings in the house. She reacted by breaking lamps, throwing around clothes and tearing the stuffing out of pillows. She then set the pillows and upholstery on fire before leaving the house, sheriff's reports say.

    Although Lyons had little comment Tuesday, others had plenty to say.

    Reaction -- among parishioners, ministers and national Baptist officials -- was much the same. Most simply were stunned, particularly by Mrs. Lyons' arrest, while others were not at all surprised because her husband has been the subject of rumors for years.

    "It was common talk," said Betty Andrews, a retired Honeywell employee who belonged to Lyons' Bethel Metropolitan Baptist Church until last December.

    She said she left the church after everything seemed to be centered around money. "Every auxiliary in the church had a budget. You couldn't belong to an auxiliary unless you paid dues," she said.

    The Rev. Alvin W. Miller, an associate pastor at Bethel Metropolitan church since 1984, said he was disappointed by this week's revelations. But he said he was not necessarily upset to learn about Lyons' apparent lifestyle, possibly helped by church funds.

    "No, I am not angry," said Miller, who tithes from his salary as a teacher. "I am just more or less shocked. Number one, when I give my tithes, I still believe that I am giving to God through Christ Jesus. I support my church, but I don't support his lifestyle because I know that our church can't carry his lifestyle."

    In the church, Lyons is known as a charismatic preacher who has the ability to inspire a crowd. Beyond the church, he has worked to improve the plight of black people in St. Petersburg and elsewhere.

    He was elected president of the National Baptist Convention USA, the nation's largest organization of black churches. He also has helped found Trusted Partners, a program designed to make black men better husbands and fathers.

    Word of Lyons' marital troubles and his wife's arrest reached colleagues on the national preaching circuit Tuesday.

    The Rev. Dr. E. V. Hill, a Baptist convention board member from Los Angeles, said he wanted to hear from Lyons before passing any judgments.

    "I feel that it raises a great concern. But whether that concern has impaired his ability to lead becomes another question," Hill said. "The position of the board will be to wait for a statement from Brother Lyons. . . . It will be then that if anybody has anything to say, we will say it."

    As Baptists, he said, their focus is to "move immediately to a healing position, if that's possible."

    Many people expressed concern for Mrs. Lyons, 49, who was released on $10,000 bail after her arrest Sunday.

    Regarding the criminal charges against her, the Rev. F. Brannan Jackson of Indiana said: "It does come as a shock to me. It does. Because I've always known Mrs. Lyons to be a tall, very beautiful, dark, stately woman."

    Regarding the Lyonses' relationship, he said, "I never detected a bubble on the water."

    Miller, the associate pastor at Bethel Metropolitan church, said he has "lots of compassion" for Mrs. Lyons, but he noted that "everybody has a breaking point."

    Even though sheriff's reports say she burned the house because of her husband's "cheating," Mrs. Lyons said in an interview Monday night that the fire was an accident. She said she dropped a match after going to pick up papers for her husband at the house he shared with Bernice V. Edwards. She said she had always known about the Tierra Verde house, despite what sheriff's reports said.

    Her comments, published Tuesday in the Times, worried her friends.

    "To even contemplate on what she did, you have to know why she did it," said the Rev. Anderson L. Clark, another associate pastor at Bethel Metropolitan.

    "You have to be a complete idiot not to see something suspicious in that: You set something on fire and then all of a sudden 32 hours later you tell another story."

    Imam Askia Muhammad Aquil of the Believers' Mosque, who worked with Deborah Lyons at the St. Petersburg Housing Authority and served with her on the Youthbuild board, also is worried.

    "She is a highly respected member of this community who has given tirelessly to her family, her church, the youth of our city, the poor and to anyone else she could reach out to and help," he said. "I am very confident that she would be vindicated and her dignity preserved when the final story is told about this disturbing incident."
    -- Staff writer Mike Wilson contributed to this report.


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