Fifty-Ninth St. Baptist to vote on Barnes’ fate
Abraham Lincoln, paraphrasing the Gospel of Mark, said, “A house divided against itself cannot stand.”
This is a fate many parishioners of the splintered Fifty-Ninth Street Baptist Church in West Philadelphia are trying to avoid by having a meeting and secret ballot on Monday, March 12, at Sayre Recreation Center, 58th and Spruce streets.
The purpose of the meeting, according to long-standing members, is to vote on whether the church will sever its relationship with controversial pastor Daly Barnes.
The meeting will begin at 7 p.m. and will be administered by officials with the Pennsylvania Eastern Keynote Baptist Association.
Barnes has been in the news recently for a spate of personal issues and disputes, including allegedly striking his wife.
While those issues may be contributing to the growing drumbeat for Barnes’ departure, it is his failings as a spiritual leader and administrator that really has the congregation ready to part ways with Barnes, say some church members.
“We are asking the board to dismiss him due to his lack of ability to govern the church; we shouldn’t have to go the press, and the press shouldn’t have to come to us to find out what’s wrong with our church,” said Awanda Jackson, 62, who has attended the church for more than half her life, but is now in exile, along with dozens of other members who allegedly butted heads with and questioned the acumen of Barnes. “We heard that he came with some baggage, but thought this would be a fresh start for him. And then, all of a sudden, he turns into a tyrant.”
Barnes couldn’t be reached for comment. Representatives from the Black Clergy of Philadelphia and Vicinity and PEKBA hadn’t returned requests for comment as of Tribune press time.
Jackson has worked and volunteered at the church for the last 20 years, and says this division is having a catastrophic effect on her beloved house of worship. She said when Barnes first came in two years ago, she was thrilled by the infusion of energy and style a new pastor usually brings to a church. But soon after, Jackson said, she began to notice “little things” that grew into much bigger issues.
“We are a praying church; we have our fights like everyone else, but we settle,” Jackson said. “He’s like the Gestapo — he just seems oblivious to people.”
Jackson said more than anything, this division has heaped pain and confusion upon the flock, especially longtime members such as herself.
“We can’t meet at church anymore, and it’s hurting me to my heart … now I can’t even go by there to say hello. It’s a real shame,” Jackson said. “There are people who have been friends for 30 and 40 years who are now not talking to one another.
“He has ripped whole families apart, and now, grandmothers and mothers are going to different churches,” Jackson continued. “We’ve been in the church a very long time, and no man of God can just come in to the church and exile members.”