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Published: Thursday, 5/2/2002

Judge denies pastor's bid to reclaim his church

The pastor of a central-city church was ousted legally and his request to regain control of the church was denied yesterday in a ruling issued by Lucas County Common Pleas Judge Charles J. Doneghy.

The Rev. Ronald McCraney, pastor since 1996 of Greater St. Mary's Missionary Baptist Church, filed a lawsuit March 12 alleging that a vote to remove him, the trustees, and deacons from office did not follow church bylaws and therefore was invalid.

The suit claimed the dissidents, led by deacon board chairman Willie J. Stewart and his daughter, LaDonna Conley, both of 2803 Inwood Dr., unlawfully changed the locks on the church doors following the March 9 vote in which 74 church members voted unanimously to remove the pastor and his officers.

Mr. McCraney, represented by attorney Marvin K. Jacobs, sought a temporary injunction barring the dissidents from the church, which has been at 416 Belmont Ave. for about 75 years.

The court heard two days of testimony, March 21 and 22, on the request for the injunction.

The dissidents, according to court records, claimed Mr. McCraney was “taking compensation from church activities without paying taxes on the receipts (thereby increasing the tax burden on the church); taking actions without proper notification to the official board, and circumventing voting requirements for certain actions.”

Mr. McCraney, meanwhile, “believed that all his actions were proper and within his power,” according to the judge's 21-page decision.

Judge Doneghy explained to the packed courtroom that the standard of proof for granting a temporary injunction is “clear and convincing evidence,” a higher standard than for the lawsuit itself, which requires “a preponderance of evidence.”

According to the judge's decision, Greater St. Mary's bylaws state that “the pastor shall serve indefinitely at the will of the church.” It said the March 9 meeting “was a proper forum in which to oust the improperly seated McCraney,” and that “the will of the majority at the meeting was to remove the pastor.”

The ruling said the McCraney camp failed to prove that it is “likely to succeed on the merits of its complaint” and that it also failed to show evidence of irreparable harm.

A member of the dissident faction, Carolyn Glover of Toledo, said Mr. McCraney “put us in a bind” because he had stopped paying dues for church membership in the Baptist Alliance.

When the dissidents tried to take their case to the alliance, “we were dumbfounded” to learn that the church was no longer a member, Ms. Glover said. She claimed that Mr. McCraney “couldn't work with church members” and had been driving people away “one by one.” Attendance has increased since his ouster, with about 200 present for last Sunday morning's service, Ms. Glover said.

She said her group hopes Mr. McCraney “will come to his senses” and drop his lawsuit following yesterday's ruling.

Mr. McCraney had no comment after the decision was issued. His attorney, Mr. Jacobs, said he needed time to review the decision before he could comment.

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