Congregation members who were barred from a Woodstock church last year by a former pastor say their prayers were answered Wednesday when the pastor turned over the keys to the church and put an end to the dispute that shut the church down for months.
Members of Welcome All Baptist Church said Thursday that their legal battle with former pastor Willard Hamrick was resolved at a mediation hearing before a judge in Canton on Wednesday.
Eva Henderson is one of the members of the congregation who filed a petition in Cherokee County Superior Court against Hamrick, asking him to give the congregation the keys to the church after they said he locked them out of the building and told them they were no longer members in December.
But Henderson said Thursday that Wednesday’s hearing finally yielded an agreement, and the keys have been returned.
“Everything was resolved,” she said. “We got the keys back, we changed the locks and we’re doing great.”
Henderson said the scene after Wednesday’s hearing was one of relief and rejoice.
“Everybody held up their hands and said, ‘Thank you, Lord, for letting us get our church back,’” she said.
Now, Henderson said she and her fellow parishioners plan to go to Welcome All on Saturday and get the church ready for its first service in months Sunday morning at 11.
Jean Staton, a fellow member of Welcome All, said Thursday she was thankful and looking forward to the service Sunday.
“This has been long and coming,” she said. “A lot of prayers have been answered. It’s by the grace of God that we got our church back.”
Henderson declined to comment on what the agreement entailed and asked that her attorney, Channing Ruskell, be contacted for that information. Ruskell could not be reached for comment.
Hamrick and his attorney, Steve Abernathy, also could not be reached for comment by press time Thursday.
Henderson said the situation started when Hamrick, who had resigned in June 2012, came into the church six months later and announced that he had been reinstated as pastor, even though a new pastor, Roy Smith, had taken over.
The congregation says Hamrick locked them out of the church when they questioned Hamrick’s reinstatement.
Henderson said they decided to let the courts handle the situation, and she and another member, Marshell Staton, filed the complaint.
Henderson told the Tribune in April that Hamrick’s resignation in June was after he learned of an investigation being conducted about his handling of insurance payments the church received after it was damaged by flood waters.
She said Thursday that she and the other members of Welcome All’s congregation feel vindicated to have the church back.
“It’s been seven or eight long months of this, and I’m glad it’s over with and finished,” she said. “God knew who that church belonged to.”