By Bob Smietana
A long-running feud between a Kentucky church and its ex-pastor took a new twist this week.
Church members seized control of their building and shut down services indefinitely—after their former leader refused to turn over the keys.
A statement from the elders at Southern Acres Christian Church in Lexington claims the church ousted Cameron McDonald as pastor in a unanimous vote last month.
In response, he locked them out. And kept them out for a month.
“Because Mr. McDonald refused to turn over the keys to the property at 301 Harvard Drive for a month after the February 4 vote, last Sunday evening, we entered the building and took lawful and legal possession without resorting to the use of force or violence,” a church elder said in a statement posted on the congregation’s website.
The church will be closed until further notice.
Southern Acre’s troubles became public after Thanksgiving, when two church members sued McDonald, claiming he had ousted the church’s governing board and changed the bylaws illegally, according to the Lexington Herald-Leader.
The suit also claimed financial mismanagement. It was later dismissed as church members tried to work out the dispute privately.
Things got so heated that one church member had to be escorted off the premises by police for disrupting a church service.
Police later barred 54 church members from attending services in January.
Soon afterward, a new lawsuit was filed, claiming the pastor had embezzled $100,000 from the church and used it to pay the mortgage on his own house.
McDonald has denied all wrongdoing.
But some of his critics were locked out of the church and barred from attending services, according to the Herald-Leader.
Eventually about 200 members held a vote at a nearby park—where they voted in a new governing board and voted McDonald out.
“This process should be very straightforward,” church member Chance Staley told the Herald Leader, after the vote.
“If it does not become straightforward, we will just take the legal actions required. … Even if that means that the police have to escort him out.”
Staley also told the newspaper that church members who supported the former pastor would still be welcome.
So would their former pastor—if he came to worship but not to preach.
“We’re not going to lock him out,” Staley told reporters.
After McDonald locked the congregation out instead, Staley and other leaders took steps to gain legal access to the building.
The feud with their former pastor, however, remains ongoing.
“We will have no further comment at this time and look forward to reopening the building in the near future,” the church said in a statement.
“We look forward to worshipping Jesus and praying together soon. Stay tuned for future updates.”
- Proceed with Care: Handling Pastor Misconduct
- Guard Against Embezzlement
- In the Church Offering Plate and Out the Back Door: Is Your Church Being Embezzled?
BOB SMIETANA (@BobSmietana) is senior writer for Facts & Trends.