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Church terminates Rev. Lyons' successor

(ran South, East editions)

The Rev. Joaquin Marvin, hired by Bethel Metropolitan Baptist Church to replace the imprisoned Henry J. Lyons, has been dismissed.

Marvin, 38, had been embroiled in a series of disagreements with church leaders before his firing at a recent congregational meeting. The vote was 120-51, said Ron Davis, who led the church's powerful deacon board at the time of Marvin's hiring two years ago. Marvin was given $11,000 in severance pay, Davis said.

Jerome Smith, current chairman of the deacon board and owner of Smith Funeral Home, declined to discuss Marvin's dismissal.

"He has already indicated that he is pursuing a lawsuit against the church," he said.

Marvin could not be reached for comment, but he has blamed his problems on church leaders who wanted to force him out so they could reinstate Lyons. Church officials denied his allegations.

Lyons was convicted of racketeering and grand theft for his financial dealings while he was head of the National Baptist Convention USA. He now is at the Bartow Work Release Center, where he does odd jobs. He could be out by Nov. 30.

Davis, a good friend of the disgraced pastor, visits and talks to him by phone regularly. He said he does not know whether Lyons wants to return to Bethel Metropolitan, where he served for more than two decades.

"I do know that Dr. Lyons is very interested in pastoring. Where, I don't know," he said. "I have no clue."

Under Baptist church guidelines, said Davis, the board of deacons is now in charge of the church and Bethel Metropolitan is using associate ministers for its Sunday services.

Marvin's problems with Bethel Metropolitan, which has about 300 active members, became public in February, after his suspension from preaching for four Sundays. He was supposed to have returned to the pulpit March 2, but was fired by the congregation on Feb. 28. At the time of his suspension, church leaders said he was being disciplined for a volatile temper and for verbally abusing members of the congregation, including Lynda Smith, wife of the deacon board chairman.

Davis, whom Marvin fired as head of the deacon board shortly after his arrival in December 2000, said the church hired Marvin out of desperation.

"If they could have gotten a dog to stand in the pulpit and say, alleluia, they would have hired a dog," he said.

"They brought him in and he sang a couple of songs and whooped and hollered and they went for him. And they brought him back and he impressed them again. And right after that, they were ready to vote."

During the recent congregational meeting, several charges were brought against the pastor, Davis said.

"They had a list of things, about 15 charges against him. One of the first things on the list was calling the police on church members. Then they went right on down the list about his attitude, his behavior," he said.

Marvin told the congregation that it was his prayer the church "would get its act together" and that he had a job waiting for him in Pensacola, Davis said.

" "I need my money in 24 hours.' That's what he said," Davis recalled.

Marvin had served as an associate minister at Greater Union Baptist Church in Pensacola. After he arrived in St. Petersburg, his legal problems became public. In 1991, he was sentenced to two years of community control for forgery. Shortly after he was hired by the St. Petersburg congregation, he was arrested in Escambia County for violating two outstanding warrants. State records indicate that he also was arrested several times between 1986 and 1991 on charges that included shoplifting, assault, and possession of crack and marijuana. He has since completed probation.

In a February interview with Neighborhood Times, Marvin accused the church, at 3455 26th Ave. S, of failing to live up to financial agreements, which he said included a five-year contract. He gave the Times a copy of a contract showing that his annual salary was $40,000. The contract also called for the church to pay health insurance premiums for him and his family and to purchase a $500,000 life insurance policy _ with the church listed as the beneficiary for half. The church also agreed to contribute to his IRA. In addition, Marvin was given $1,150 a month for housing during his first 18 months of employment and $1,000 a month for utilities. According to the document, the congregation also agreed to give Marvin an anniversary gift of at least $10,000, "if the church is financially able to do so."

Marvin's salary far exceeded that of Lyons, Davis said, adding that Lyons' salary and benefits totaled just $36,000.

"In Dr. Lyons' package, the church paid 20 percent of his insurance. In this man's package, the church paid 100 percent. In Dr. Lyons' package, his family wasn't included."

When Marvin was hired, he added, he asked for an advance on his salary and received $3,500.

"It was never paid back," Davis said.

"Now that he is gone, the church is broke."

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