A 24-year-old deacon of Gethsemane Baptist church here has been charged with murder in the shotgun slaying of the church's financial secretary, Paul F. Smith, who had told police he suspected the deacon of taking church funds, authorities said last night.

D.C. police sources said Louis B. Sawyer of 6522 Dover House Rd., Upper Marlboro, was arrested about noon Monday after a clerk at I. Magnin's clothing store in White Flint Mall notified security guards that a man was attempting to buy several shirts with a credit card issued to Smith.

Sawyer was charged in Montgomery County with forgery and with being a fugitive from the District, where a Superior Court warrant charging him with felony murder has been issued. He was being held last night at the county detention center in lieu of $100,000 bond, pending an extradition hearing on the murder charge.

The body of Smith, 62, was found by a passing motorist early Friday in Rock Creek Park at a picnic area near Blagden Avenue and Beach Drive NW. He had been shot several times with a shotgun, according to D.C. police.

After lengthy interviews with Sawyer Monday night and yesterday, D.C. police said they were investigating the possibility that Smith was the victim of a murder-for-hire plot and that the killer was paid with a portion of several thousand dollars in cash that Smith had with him when he left the church Thursday night.

Sources close to the investigation said police are also looking into allegations that the purported murder scheme may have involved as many as three persons, and that at least two of them met Friday to divide the money, credit cards and other items taken from Smith.

Smith, a retired U.S. Postal Service employe who had been responsible for Gethsemane's financial records for many years, had suspected for more than a year that money was being taken from church collections, according to police sources. While he was attempting to track down the shortages, police said, the tires of Smith's car were slashed seven times outside his home on Delafield Place NE.

Recently, police sources said, Smith had told the church's minister and D.C. police that he believed Sawyer was responsible for the shortages, but police were said to have shown little interest in the matter.

Last Thursday night, Smith went to the church at Fourth and Hamilton streets NW for a meeting and was seen leaving about 10 p.m.

Police were unable to make an immediate identification of Smith's body because they had no record of his fingerprints. He was identified late Friday after his wife filed a missing person report.

Meanwhile, Friday, Smith's credit card was used numerous times for purchases before it had been reported stolen. By Monday an alert for the card had been issued, police said.

Sawyer, a self-employed political and religious speaker, had known Smith since 1983, sources said.

Police said they had a search warrant for Sawyer's home but had not executed it as of late last night.