A local pastor will lead a rededication service this weekend at a church building he has not led service in for more than two years.
At 4:45 p.m. Sunday, the Rev. Melvin Baber will meet Friendship Baptist Church congregants in the parking lot at 401 E. Market St. in York City.
Baber said he will lead them into the facility, where the rededication service will begin at 5 p.m.
"This rededication is spiritual as well as emotional," said Baber, 54, of Lower Paxton Township. "We're hoping for unity. We're hoping for a coming together so we can move forward as a body of Christ. Let's move forward and let's do ministry."
The church is focusing on continuing its missionary, outreach and youth ministries, while healing those who were hurt by the church split and legal issues, Baber said.
Dispute: Baber, who started pastoring at Friendship 10 years ago, was fired Sept. 18, 2011, by some of the church's leaders. Baber had been lobbying for a pay raise, according to court documents.
Ensuing contention resulted in the congregation's splitting, as part of the congregation went with Baber, who eventually began holding services under the Friendship name at 150 W. Jefferson Ave. — the site of Grace Lutheran Church — beginning in January 2013.
Baber filed a wrongful termination suit against eight church leaders, Mayor C. Kim Bracey among them. York County Orphans' Court Judge Penny Blackwell ruled in September that the leaders had not acted within the procedure set forth by the church's constitution for terminating a pastor.
Decision: While Blackwell denied Baber's request for lost wages, she did order the church leaders to turn over the church's keys and financial documents to the plaintiffs, who were congregants who sided with Baber and had also filed a civil suit in the matter.
"Our stance has always been that those individuals that illegally tried to fire me and locked us out of the church, they did not have the authority to do what they did," Baber said. "We stood for what was right and right won out. To God be the glory."
The other part of the congregation continued worshipping at 401 E. Market St. until Jan. 22, when that congregation handed over the keys because of the court order, said Robert Roland, vice president of the church's board of trustees. Baber had sued him, along with city Mayor C. Kim Bracey, Geri Hartzog, Ira Avery Jr., Benjamin Washington, Cari Jimerson, Mark Scott and Lewis Peaco.
Roland said Baber's firing was justified.
Under appeal: Roland, a Friendship member for more than 30 years, said the case is still under appeal. The appeal was filed at the end of December to the Superior Court in Harrisburg, said the group's attorney David Taylor who has a law office in Washington County.
Except for when the facility was temporarily closed for two months — January to March in 2012 — because of an altercation between the factions, the church was open throughout the dispute to anyone who wanted to worship there, including those who sided with Baber, Roland said.
He said that he and his fellow congregants do not have access to the facility now, as the locks have been changed by the Baber-led congregation.
Roland said he is now worshipping with his fellow congregants at a temporary meeting site, and they still call themselves Friendship Baptist Church members.
"It's sad we have a minister who could care less about how that church was brought up in the community and the hard work a lot of families put in to make Friendship what it is," he said. "We have family against family ... friends against friends. It's unfortunate that a shepherd would divide and mislead the flock."
—Reach Eyana Adah McMillan at firstname.lastname@example.org.