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Members sue church over withheld records

– A south-central Fort Wayne Baptist church faces a lawsuit from a handful of congregants, wanting to take a peek at the church’s books following some disagreements between the pastor and the church board.

The lawsuit was filed last week in Allen Circuit Court by five members of Pilgrim Baptist Church – Rick Stevenson, Rodney Haywood, Keith Morrison, Percy Moore and Wyman Ashford – against the church.

According to the lawsuit, the five men were trustees of the church or church members.

In April and October, the church’s pastor, the Rev. Sam Shade Jr., asked the church’s trustees if he could have an anniversary bonus and money to fix the roof of his personal home.

When the board members denied Shade’s request, Shade and other church representatives suspended several church trustees, which is against Indiana law unless the church’s bylaws specifically allow it, according to the lawsuit.

When the suspended trustees asked to inspect the church’s record books to see if the suspension was allowed by the bylaws, church officials refused to allow them access. Indiana law also requires that churches make their articles of incorporation, bylaws and other official church records available for inspection by church members, according to the lawsuit.

Worried about the possibility of improper financial transactions, the suspended board members also asked for the church’s financial records. In spite of repeated requests, Pilgrim officials refused to allow the men access to the records, the lawsuit said.

Repeated attempts to contact Shade through the church over the past week were unsuccessful.

Throughout the month of January, the plaintiffs sent formal written requests to inspect the records, but there was no response from church officials, according to the lawsuit.

The plaintiffs are asking the court to have a hearing to determine whether they are entitled to the records and are asking for the return of their attorney fees.