Leaders of the AME Zion Church are to gather tomorrow to replace the pastor of a 24,000-member church in Temple Hills who, along with his flock, recently broke away to form an independent church.
Claiming that they were spiritually and financially stymied by church leaders, the Rev. John A. Cherry and 15,000 members of Full Gospel AME Zion voted to leave the parent church last month to form From The Heart Church Ministries.
But Bishop Milton Williams, of the Mid-Atlantic II District of the 1.5 million-member AME Zion Church, said that Cherry and his members can't leave the 203-year-old denomination. It remains an open question whether Cherry will step aside.
"Full Gospel AME Zion Church was admitted to the Philadelphia and Baltimore Conference of the AME Zion Church in 1981, and as far as I am concerned, Full Gospel will continue to remain in the conference," Williams said. Williams is to convene a special service tomorrow at Trinity AME Zion Church in Northwest Washington to name Cherry's replacement.
Church officials said privately yesterday that the Rev. Staccato Powell, of St. Louis, will be named pastor of Full Gospel, but they said they doubt Powell will ever stand in the pulpit of Cherry's church.
Neither Cherry nor any official of From The Heart Church Ministries would comment, said Toni Fox, Cherry's administrative assistant.
A few days after Cherry formed the new church, he said in a sermon July 11, "As a church, we press toward the mark for a higher calling."
Relations between AME Zion Church leaders and Cherry have been strained since May, when about 200 local AME Zion leaders elected delegates to next year's church General Conference but refused to elect Cherry. Full Gospel paid $67,000 in annual dues to the conference and donated $1 million to build a chapel in Ghana.
In a July 26 letter to Cherry, Williams questioned Cherry's loyalty to the local District because he hadn't attended a single District meeting of church leaders over the last year and in his May 30 sermon referred to "purple dogs," which some of the 12 bishops in the church thought was a derogatory reference to them.
In the last 18 years, Cherry's flock has grown from being a gathering of 24 people in a District storefront to a megachurch with millions in the bank, a national television ministry, two sanctuaries, a 10,400-seat building under construction and a Lear jet for the pastor's travel.
Despite the success of Cherry's congregation, Williams said, "He has to be accountable."
CAPTION: The Rev. John A. Cherry, former pastor of Full Gospel AME Zion Church, has formed From the Heart Church Ministries with members of his congregation.