Church’s congregation files suit to oust pastor
By Judy Masterson email@example.com | @JudyReport October 15, 2013 7:52PM
Mt. Zion Missionary Baptist Church, 2500 W. 30th St. Zion. | Submitted photo
Updated: November 17, 2013 6:25AM
Members of Mount Zion Missionary Baptist church in Zion have filed suit in an attempt to oust the pastor they welcomed with open arms in 2011 but who they’re now calling a “wolf in sheep’s clothing.”
The struggle between Rev. Robert Williams and longtime Mount Zion members includes a venomous and threatening letter, a police report in which congregants were singled out by Williams as suspects and asked for fingerprints and DNA swabs, an order of protection, and at least two police calls to the church at 2500 W. 30th St.
The lawsuit, filed Aug. 30 in Lake County Circuit Court, alleges that Rev. Robert Williams continues to pastor the church despite being terminated by the congregation’s Board of Directors on July 8. It accuses Williams, 45, of usurping the board’s authority, illegally calling a business meeting during which he orchestrated changes and condemned leaders he believed responsible for his termination and attempting to seize control of the church’s financial accounts, property and assets.
Williams, reached at his Beach Park home this week, declined comment on the matter. His wife and church secretary Casherall Williams, also declined comment, but not before alluding to “disgruntled former employees. She characterized the dispute as “nonsense.”
Longtime church members accuse Williams of sowing division.
“He came in and he split the church,” said Inez Simmons, a member for more than 40 years and former longtime director of the church’s vacation Bible school. Simmons said Williams insulted her, from the pulpit, calling her the “root of bitterness.”
“I was excited when he came on,” Simmons said. “Our former pastor built a great legacy and a firm foundation to move forward. I thought Pastor Williams would do great work and be good for the young people. But I have been totally disappointed in an agenda that’s not for the people, but himself.”
According to court documents including a July 8 dismissal letter, Williams was hired on the condition that he submit to ongoing counseling by Rev. B. J. Gaston, who was to help him grow into his new role. Gaston, who declined to be interviewed, pastored the church for 47 years, retiring shortly after Williams took over in May 2011.
Gaston wrote a letter to the church on April 26, 2012, in which he accused Williams of breaching his employment contract by rejecting Gaston’s counsel, changing the locks on the church and the building where Gaston kept an office, and of orchestrating “a carefully crafted ploy to remove any oversight or accountability.”
The discord came to a head in late 2012 when Williams took an anonymous letter he allegedly received through the mail to Zion police. Dated Dec. 17, 2012, the letter casts aspersions on Williams, his family and supporters, insists “you are only interested in getting your damn hands on our money,” makes liberal use of the N-word, mentions the mass shooting in Newtown, Connecticut, and threatens: “Consider yourself warned.”
In a statement to the police, Williams implicated Simmons and six other Mount Zion members, who were then called in for questioning.
“I had no problems with Pastor Williams until my name appeared on that police report,” said Brenda Beasley. “I had nothing to do with the letter.”
Beasley said Williams fabricated a statement to police that she and her sister Lynda had apologized for “name calling and correspondence.”
“The whole thing was a lie,” Beasley said. “He couldn’t produce any correspondence. When we confronted him, he told us that the police made it up. But the police confirmed they did not make it up.”
Beasley said Williams used the letter as a reason for installing $10,000 in security cameras around the church.
Odessa McKnight of North Chicago, another veteran member of the congregation, said Williams has prohibited open discussion during church meetings. Police were called, she said, after one meeting in which a member raised concerns over the police report and arguing ensued.
McKnight, who said she has been disinvited from leading songs as a member of the Mount Zion Choir, said a supporter of Williams had obtained a “restraining” order against her, using the church’s address, in an attempt to keep her from worship.
Attendance, which was once as high as 1,000 at some services, has dwindled, McKnight and other members say.
“I’ll keep coming,” McKnight said. “If I let him run me away, that means he’s won.”