For three years, the blue-clad pews inside Center Street Baptist Church, 715 Center St., have been empty.
A lawsuit between Apostle Carlos Lamar and “unidentified individuals holding themselves out as the trustees of Center Street Baptist Church” has prevented anyone from entering or using the 127-year-old African-American church.
But on June 12, the Kentucky Court of Appeals upheld a Daviess County circuit court ruling in favor of the trustees.
According to two of the trustees — Bill Harris and Richard Long — they are ready to begin worshipping again inside the Center Center church building but claim they can’t move forward because Lamar refuses to comply with the ruling.
In the lawsuit, the trustees sued to have Lamar removed as pastor, damages awarded, an accounting of any financial accounts that Lamar held from the church and all removed property returned.
“The issue is the name, all of the furniture that they took, the musical equipment that they took and money they took out of the church,” Long said.
Lamar, however, claims he doesn’t have anything that belongs to the old Center Street church building.
“They sued me, not Center Street,” Lamar said. “…And here’s the problem with that. They’re saying there’s all this stuff that’s got to be returned; I didn’t take anything. …Center Street moved to another location. All I do is preach.”
In 2017, the trustees filed their lawsuit in Daviess County Circuit Court. In May of 2018, Circuit Judge Jay Wethington ruled a default judgment in the trustees’ favor.
According to Wethington’s ruling, Lamar was served with a civil summons and a copy of the complaint on Oct. 22, 2017 by a Daviess County constable. And in his ruling, Wethington found that Lamar “has failed to respond to the plaintiff’s complaint, or serve a copy of any response which he might have upon counsel for the plaintiff .…”
Lamar, who appealed the circuit court ruling, was hired as the Center Street Baptist Church pastor in 2011.
But in 2017, Lamar and members of the congregation moved to a separate location at 2820 W. Fourth St.
According to Lamar, a majority of the membership voted for what was supposed to be a temporary move in an effort to raise money to demolish the Center Street church and build a new one on the same spot.
The fundraising effort was called the Nehemiah Project. But that never came to fruition.
Before he was hired at Center Street, Lamar said he was invited to preach there.
It was then, according to Lamar, that he noticed how outdated and dilapidated the Center Street church building was and was reluctant to submit his resume even after being asked to by one of the members.
“…God sends apostles into places they don’t want to be in, where they don’t want to go because he’s got a work for them to do,” said Lamar, who came from Hopkinsville. “That’s my whole purpose for coming there. I didn’t want to be there; I didn’t even like Owensboro; I didn’t like that building; I didn’t like anything but I was being obedient to God.”
When services moved to the Fourth Street location, the church also went by New Beginning In Christ Baptist Church.
Long said the issue is not Lamar starting a different church.
“We don’t have a problem with him opening another church — New Beginning — but don’t do it on our backs. Don’t take our stuff and don’t try to take our name,” Long said.
Even in the different location, Lamar said Center Street Baptist Church is still the church’s official name, but that a name change was necessary because it was difficult to do business as Center Street.
“Center Street couldn’t get insurance unless we were willing to pay $500 a month, because of all the insurance claims that had been placed against the property,” Lamar said. “…We were always Center Street. We just did business as New Beginning.”
The trustees, however, claim the Center Street church building was still viable and insurable for hosting worship services.
According to an Oct. 8, 2018, letter to the trustees from Joe Sublett, city housing inspector and code enforcement officer, there were “no immediate life safety issues” that were found after a walk-through of the Center Street church building.
And now that they have access to the Center Street Church building, Long and Harris said plumbing, electrical and air conditioning repairs have been made.
However, roof and siding repairs are still needed.
Along with the trustees, Center Street church members Brenda Cowherd, Linda Washington, Martine Farmer, Annetta Owsley and Donnetta Wimsatt said they’re ready to return and have missed worshipping there on Sundays.
Owsley, who’s been a member of Center Street Baptist Church for more than 70 years, said she’s been attending Zion Baptist Church for the past three years.
“My family was raised in this church,” Owsley said. “…I truly miss it. I miss my church. …It’s a shame I can’t attend my own church.”
Despite having lost his appeal, Lamar maintains the trustees won on “a technicality” because he was misled by the trustees’ attorney into thinking there was no case and that no lawsuit would be filed.
“The next thing I know he files a default judgment and that’s how they won,” Lamar said.
According to the Court of Appeals ruling, “the trial court did not give any credence to Lamar’s assertion that he was misled by opposing counsel. Aside from Lamar’s bare assertion, there was no other evidence in the record to support this claim.”
Don Wilkins, firstname.lastname@example.org, 270-691-7299