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AME Pastor Removed After Failing to Complete Financial Audit

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The governing board of an African Methodist Episcopal Church in Baltimore has removed the head pastor after he allegedly failed to complete an annual financial audit on time.

The majority of the board of Empowerment Temple voted last week to remove Pastor GJ Barnes III immediately, the Baltimore Sun reported, after he failed to provide documents required by the church’s mortgage lender, putting Empowerment in danger of foreclosure.

The audit was also completed late last year, causing the church to incur fines, per the Sun. 

No leadership transition plan was immediately clear. A Sunday service was led by Ann Lightner-Fuller, a former interim pastor at Empowerment. However, Barnes also posted his own sermon on the church’s website, the Sun reported. 

Empowerment officials said Barnes had locked them out of the church’s online giving and social media accounts, and that they were forced to create a new Facebook page because theirs had been “compromised.” Church officials also have asked members to donate only in person or via mail, not online, until the situation is resolved. 

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A statement from Empowerment Temple quoted by the Sun said the church was requesting prayers “during this time of transition” and looks forward to “new leadership where we can continue to serve the community.”

Barnes took the helm at the 4,000-member megachurch in 2019. He and his wife Junetta, listed as “first lady” on the church’s website, have had previous financial problems, according to public records cited by the Sun, including a federal government lien of more than $1 million in  2017 and a Maryland comptroller’s office lien for $273,000 in 2020. Both cases are listed as closed.

The couple said in a Facebook post they would hold a public meeting Aug. 11 to share their gratitude for the support they had received and ensure that “the truth is told.”

A church official also said a regional AME official offered to relocate Barnes to another church after the problems with the current audit became evident, but he refused saying he wanted to start his own church, in violation of church doctrine.

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Anne Stych

Anne Stych is a writer in Charlotte, North Carolina.