(RNS) — Staccato Powell touted himself as an innovator who would carry a “new paradigm” after his 2016 election as an African Methodist Episcopal Zion Church bishop, assigned to supervise the western U.S. congregations within the predominantly Black denomination.
He was once the primary to arrange a bishop’s place of dwelling within the Western Episcopal District, in search of to oversee church affairs and make stronger church enlargement whilst dwelling within the district, as an alternative of touring out and in of the six-state area.
However was once he a pioneer or a swindler? Used to be he an entrepreneur who, as he stated, used “subtle financing of church belongings” to make stronger congregations and strengthen their pastors? Or, as the rest AME Zion bishops stated, did he inappropriately use church buildings’ mortgages in a way that led a few of them to obtain foreclosures notices?
A month after he was once “disrobed” in a church trial as a bishop of the denomination that dates to 1796, the solutions rely on whom you ask and whose views you consider.
In an interview after the trial, by which Powell was once discovered responsible of 20 counts towards him, the previous bishop instructed Faith Information Carrier he intends to proceed to make use of the identify of “bishop” even though he not holds that rank within the denomination of his beginning.
Underneath his management, he stated, the collection of church buildings within the Western Episcopal District grew from 35 to about 50 and he inspired the ones congregations to show over a 10th, or tithe, in their collections to strengthen the denomination’s connectional construction. This was once a departure from the standard overview manner.
“We ushered in a brand new paradigm of enlargement and growth, which as a bishop we’re mandated to do by means of the Guide of Self-discipline,” he stated.
However AME Zion bishops say Powell violated that AME Zion rule e-book by means of changing church deeds and conveying them to the entity he included to deal with district industry.
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Bishop Kenneth Monroe, senior bishop of the AME Zion Church, instructed RNS that greater than part a dozen church buildings are in court docket over what denominational leaders imagine an unlawful switch of deeds via an entity created by means of Powell that enabled the deeds for use as collateral for loans.
Because of this, a minimum of one church was once misplaced to foreclosures, a chapter pass judgement on stated.
“All we’re doing now is attempting to save lots of the ones congregations which can be in chapter court docket,” stated Monroe in a contemporary interview. “That’s our effort, is to save lots of the ones congregations from being misplaced.”
He stated Powell’s removing was once now not exceptional however uncommon. Every other bishop was once got rid of in 1948 for what Monroe described as much less critical fees than those confronted by means of Powell. The 1974 historical past of the denomination, “The African Methodist Episcopal Zion Church: Truth of the Black Church,” notes one different bishop who was once disqualified, pronouncing each have been “disciplined by means of the church for laxity in personality and failure to reside as much as the factors wherein they have been elected.”
“This can be a very tough time for our church,” Monroe added. “All of us are saddened by means of it and confidently we’ll have the ability to recover from it.”
A contemporary abstract of ongoing court cases by means of the U.S. Chapter Courtroom of the Jap District of California states Powell signed the deed of First AME Zion Church of Los Angeles “himself, even supposing he held no place of business in that native church.” The AME Zion Western Episcopal District, the entity Powell included, “had no authority to pledge that belongings as collateral for any mortgage.”
The usage of the church’s belongings, the district, of which Powell was once CEO, acquired loans within the quantities of $1.2 million and $1.5 million, in keeping with the court docket abstract. The church most effective realized of an issue when lenders began foreclosures court cases. The entity Powell included due to this fact filed for Bankruptcy 11 coverage.
A criticism filed in the similar chapter court docket by means of College AME Zion Church of Palo Alto, California, states the district likewise secured “tens of millions in loans” after Powell “fraudulently” burdened the church to switch its belongings. The report comprises a picture of a textual content message alternate by which the church’s pastor writes of receiving a understand of foreclosures and asks what to do.
“Put the letter within the draw and consider what I instructed you,” was once the reaction, which the criticism stated was once texted by means of Powell, with a promise that the placement can be resolved.
“But, Powell didn’t ‘unravel’ the topic,” the criticism states.
Leaders of the 2 church buildings, every of which is looking for to regain the deeds to its belongings, both may just now not be reached for remark or declined to explain main points of the chapter court cases.
Powell additionally stated he was once “now not at liberty to speak about the details of that,” nor of the precise fees towards him by means of his former denomination, which is primarily based in Charlotte, North Carolina. However he stated “once we bumped into monetary issue,” the Bankruptcy 11 chapter submitting took place “for the explicit function of reorganizing in order that no church buildings can be misplaced.”
When the AME Zion Church’s Board of Bishops introduced the suspension of Powell, they accused him of “critical infractions and maladministration” that concerned mishandling of tens of millions of greenbacks associated with church loan price range.
A report Powell has issued in reaction states: “Referring to mortgaging church belongings, Bishop Powell innovatively hired subtle financing of church belongings to put money into and strengthen the imaginative and prescient and mandated paintings of the Western Episcopal District.”
In keeping with the criticism filed with the court docket in January on behalf of the AME Zion Church of Palo Alto, “Powell’s scheme is lately the topic of an ongoing FBI investigation.”
Requested about that declare, the FBI stated it will neither deny nor ascertain that such an investigation exists.
The Rev. Tony D. Henderson, a pastor and the presiding elder of the AME Zion Church’s Denver District, stated he thinks his pal’s ouster on the denomination’s Normal Convention in July was once an “emotional choice” slightly than an educated one.
Henderson, an Omega Psi Phi fraternity brother with the previous bishop, stated he doesn’t suppose Powell meant to defraud or harm the church however slightly sought to make stronger it.
“I’d agree that what Bishop Powell was once doing out within the West was once cutting edge, is cutting edge,” he stated, although some bishops didn’t approve of his manner. He believes Powell was once in search of to make use of church deeds to boost cash to lend a hand others slightly than leaning on person church individuals to lend a hand their congregations meet their monetary duties to their denomination.
“From what I noticed and from the conversations we had as presiding elder and bishop,
his imaginative and prescient was once to, as an alternative of commodifying the folk, draining the folk, use the land in an effort to carry housing to underserved spaces within the West, to carry jobs to the folk within the West,” Henderson stated. “And that appeared to be his function, his imaginative and prescient, his focal point, to not achieve issues for himself.”
The Rev. Ed Prothro-Harris stated he noticed Powell’s creativity because the bishop helped him get started Agape Fellowship AME Zion Church in Contra Costa County, California.
“Whilst you’re a trailblazer, other folks will problem what you’re doing as it’s now not been what was once achieved up to now,” stated Prothro-Harris. “So, in an effort to revitalize and to develop and to make bigger, you wanted new wholesome techniques of ingenious financing so as to fill up the pews and to do ministry paintings that was once now not essentially all the time recognized as sensible or conventional.”
Prothro-Harris, like Henderson, is a member of Omega Psi Phi, the world group for which Powell as soon as held the function of grand chaplain. The pastor stated the entity Powell included was once “instrumental” in serving to his church input a 2018-2019 subleasing association with some other church in a neighborhood strip mall.
“I consider that Bishop Staccato Powell is a devoted guy; I consider that he’s a religious guy and I consider that he would now not do the rest to jeopardize his courting with the God we serve,” stated Prothro-Harris.
“Whilst there are demanding situations that all of us face, I’d have liked for us so as to set up this example amicably, and now not glance as even though we’re seeking to separate ourselves from a person for industry and political functions.”
Monroe, the senior bishop, stated of the denomination’s choice to take away Powell as bishop: “Regrettably, we did what we needed to do.”
Even though some church individuals are disappointed by means of the debate, he stated he hopes the denomination will have the ability to triumph over it.
“The church is hurting,” he stated. “We’re looking for techniques to recuperate and repair and transfer ahead with the ministry for which God has known as us to do.”
Requested by means of RNS if, given the allegations leveled towards him and the wondering of his mishandling of price range, he expects to be criminally charged, Powell spoke back: “I be expecting to be utterly exonerated.”
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