More news on our story from yesterday about the church that allegedly locked out members. New information now comes from the diocese about these events. The priest and members of the church cancelled services because of safety concerns. The group who got the television out there evidently faxed its intention to gather in front of the gates to all stations and news organizations in the Houston area. They were aware that the bishop's committee had voted to not hold services until they could get a security service to be at the church and keep these people out. They have threatened the treasurer at work and sent letters to his employer, they have threatened the vicar and his family. There is video from the previous week of these folks bodily throwing the vicar out of the pulpit.
Clarification of the situation comes from the diocesan news director, Carol Barnwell:
I'd like to offer some clarification for you and those to whom you have forwarded e-mails about St. Joseph's, Houston.
We have been dealing with this for some time now, had many meetings and are still working through it. Below is the response I sent to the news director at the television station yesterday. The news station was really played by this group of people. They were aware there was no service, called the station and then gathered in front of the church to make a scene. They also went way out of their way to send the link to everyone they could think of. All this after meeting with the bishop and refusing to have background checks. They walked out of that meeting (we had to have a guard at the office during it). They are very good at disseminating the bad news. What a wonderful thing it would be if they could share the Good News with such enthusiasm.
[The Rev.] Emeka [Agim] is one of the most kind people I have ever met, he has refused to allow us to put restraining orders on the people who have threatened him and his family with bodily harm because he doesn't want that kind of action associated with his church. The sheriff told him last week that he needed to have the orders in place so they could protect him. This group is out of control and I would love to not be part of the machine that further spreads their ugly story.
Below is the message I sent to the news director but it doesn't make as good a visual as a group chanting in front of the locked gates...it would be better to have the story first and pass around the true information before helping several dozen people bully a priest, his family and the treasurer.
When this group bodily ousted Emeka from the altar during a church service on Feb. 10, there were more than 150 people in the church worshipping. It was after this altercation that the bishop's committee voted to not hold services again until the church could be secure.
Letter to the television station:
I became aware of a story reported by Mark Garay on Sunday regarding St. Joseph's Episcopal Church and wanted to clarify a few things. The vicar, Emeka Agim, with the support of Bishop Don Wimberly, put in place a transparent system of accountability for finances of the church and had asked members of the bishop's committee to have background checks, which they refused to allow.
After a meeting with the bishop last month, some of the members of the bishop's committee still refused to have background checks and resigned from the governance committee of the congregation. They placed very negative stories about Agim and the church in the African newspaper, heckled him from the back of the church on several occasions during services and last week, the 10th of Feb., came in and accosted both him and the treasurer. It was this altercation that preceded Agim pulling the fire alarm to summon help.
Following a meeting with our multicultural ministry staff person, the sherriff, our diocesan chancellor and Agim last week the current bishop's committee voted to not hold worship services until we can secure the church because this group of people is out of control. Agim sent letters to former bishop's committee members and the church members who sided with them, asking them to not come back to the church or else a restraining order would be filed.
The Rev. Agim and his family have been physically and emotionally threatened by these folks to the point that we had to install an alarm system in the Agim's home. They have small children and his wife is pregnant with twins.
Our annual diocesan meeting was held in Galvleston this weekend and our offices are closed today because of this and the holiday. Your story only served to empower a group of people who have absolutely terrorized their own congregation and sought to maintain power and control where there are church canons to the contrary. The vicar has the bishop's full support in the matter.
I think it speaks to a larger story of trying to do multicultural ministry in a city with 80,000 Nigerians and the difficulty that exists in maneuvering other cultures own prejudices and notions of what is acceptable behavior in Church.
The Episcopal Diocese of Texas regrets the disorder of a few members who have threatened the priest and the treasurer and disrupted services on a number of occasions at St. Joseph's Episcopal Church, Houston. As soon as security can be provided for the church, it will reopen.