COVINGTON -- Even though the judge ruled the conveyance of Mt. Zion Baptist Church to a nonprofit organization was improper, the case remains ongoing and the ousted parishioners are still worshipping at another location.
"The judge issued a partial order and until a final order is issued, the status quo remains," said attorney Robert Stansfield, who represents Clayton "Skeet" Dial and his daughter, Angela Ballard, in the case.
Newton County Superior Court Judge Samuel Ozburn made his partial ruling in July in the case that pitted Pastor Chris Allen and more than 30 members of the church against Dial, the church's sole deacon, Ballard and God's Hope Builders.
The lawsuit was filed after the pastor and other congregants of Mt. Zion Baptist arrived to church one day in August 2010 and found no trespassing signs on the property and the doors locked. They then learned Dial and Ballard had conveyed all of the church's assets to the nonprofit group, God's Hope Builders Inc. of Conyers.
The church members then sued Dial, Ballard and God's Hope Builders Inc., alleging the transaction was illegal. A three-day bench trial was held in May.
In his partial order, Ozburn determined that the transfer of the church property and assets was not conducted "in the usual and regular course" of the church's activities and members of the church did not approve the transfer of the property. Consequently, the judge ruled the transfer was unlawful.
After the ruling was issued, Pastor Allen and the other plaintiffs were hopeful they would be able to return to the church and resume activities there. However, several other legal issues remain unresolved, including an attempt by Dial and Ballard to properly ratify the conveyance of the property.
"We all, myself included, were a little bit ignorant and didn't fully understand," Allen said. "We were disappointed that we thought we had finally come to the end of this thing and were disappointed to find out this could take a significant amount of time yet. So, we're disappointed, and that's putting it mildly."
Since being displaced, Allen and other Mt. Zion members and congregants have been holding church services at Lighthouse Baptist Church on Ga. Highway 81 north of Oxford. Services are held at 1:30 p.m. Sundays and at 7 p.m. Wednesdays.
In the meantime, Dial and Ballard are continuing to host services with other members at Mt. Zion Baptist Church located on Mt. Zion Road near the Georgia International Horse Park.
This, and the fact that a Homecoming Service was held at the church, has been a difficult pill for Allen and his congregants to swallow.
"I know that the community is a little confused because they have been meeting there," the pastor said. "I think it's really another jab to go along with everything else they've done to us. That they would be allowed to meet there and hold homecoming last week was a heavy blow to us."
He pointed out they were locked out of the church a week before homecoming last year and were not able to hold homecoming services then either.
Even though the Mt. Zion congregation is continuing to meet -- albeit at another location -- and is refocusing its energies on reaching out to the lost and hurting, Allen said reclaiming the property is important for the members.
He said there are several elderly and widowed members who have a deep history with the church and the building represents how much of their lives was poured into ministry there.
"They were heartbroken and were disappointed, to say the least. There have been a lot of tears shed for that. Many of them can't stand up for themselves, and that's one of the reasons we are standing up for them. It's the right thing to do," Allen said.
Secondly, the pastor said having a home church is important for spreading the gospel and offering a place to minister to families and to the community.
Allen said taking legal action was their only recourse.
"Think about if someone came to your house and kicked you out and told you to go away. Would you not call the law?" he said. "The way we see it is they took something that is not legally theirs and gave to someone who had no stake in it We had no other recourse but to go to the law of the land."
Allen said he and the other members continue to "pray for a miracle," but they will allow the law to take its course.
"We are happy in the Lord, and will pray for God's will," he said. "We want everybody to be patient -- we're trying to do what is right."