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Parson attempts legal maneuver to retake Richmond Christian Center

Jeremy Lazarus | 3/24/2017, 7:24 p.m.
Fresh from campaigning for President Trump, Pastor Stephen A. Parson Sr. has launched a campaign to retake control of the ...

Fresh from campaigning for President Trump, Pastor Stephen A. Parson Sr. has launched a campaign to retake control of the Richmond Christian Center in South Side.

The minister has filed legal actions and enlisted Chuck Smith, a Republican candidate for Virginia attorney general, to represent his supporters.

He also has vowed to lead members into the Cowardin Avenue church’s service on Sunday, March 26, to resume the pulpit.

It’s the latest twist in the saga of Pastor Parson and the church he founded in his living room in the early 1980s. He built the church into a congregation of several thousand, but after the membership declined to a few hundred, he ultimately led the church into bankruptcy to prevent the RCC’s lender from foreclosing and selling the property.

In early 2015, he gave up the pulpit, stating he was going on “sabbatical” after a court-appointed bankruptcy trustee, Bruce H. Matson, required the church to take control of RCC’s finances from Pastor Parson under a reorganization plan to keep the church alive and prevent the property’s sale.

Now, Pastor Parson is seeking to oust the three volunteer trustees, Rhonda Hickman, Calvin Yarbrough and Raymond Partridge, who have been in charge since he left.

Last week, the trustees notified Pastor Parson that his “sabbatical” was over, that he was officially terminated as pastor and that he was generally barred from entering the church property.

Ms. Hickman separately has taken out a restraining order barring Pastor Parson from being on the property when she is present.

Pastor Parson responded with a letter firing the trustees as he began his legal actions.

On Monday, Pastor Parson’s first attempt was rebuffed in Richmond Circuit Court when Judge T. J. Markow declined to consider Pastor Parson’s plea for a temporary injunction to enable him to re-enter the church and resume his leadership.

Pastor Parson’s plea was based on 1984 court documents showing he was named the “permanent pastor” and “permanent chair” of the trustee board.

Judge Markow ended the hearing after noting that the church is still in federal bankruptcy court, which has exclusive jurisdiction over the case, and that he has “no authority” to address the issues raised by Pastor Parson, who acted as his own attorney.

“This is not over,” Pastor Parson said after leaving court.

He already has filed a separate request for a hearing before Judge Keith L. Phillips, the federal judge presiding over the bankruptcy case. No hearing date has been set.

Pastor Parson insisted he would enter the church this Sunday with his supporters.

He alleges that he was wrongly forced out of the pulpit.

However in court, Christopher L. Perkins, the attorney who represents Mr. Matson, told Judge Markow that RCC is now “a different church” from the one Pastor Parson began, with the documents Pastor Parson is relying on no longer valid.

According to the RCC’s reorganization plan that Mr. Matson prepared and that Judge Phillips confirmed with the support of creditors in January 2016, the RCC has been incorporated and the bylaws of the church altered to give the trustees full authority to hire and fire the pastor, control the property and handle the finances.

The reorganization plan also includes a statement that “Pastor Parson may not be involved” with the RCC.

Outside the court, Mr. Perkins also reminded Pastor Parson that Mr. Matson had secured a judgment of $100,000 against him on behalf of RCC to recover church funds he spent when he was in charge that was found to be inappropriate.

Mr. Perkins told Pastor Parson that he would have “to stroke a check” to pay off that judgment to have any chance to take control.