Jackson church fights to regain financial footing

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A Jackson megachurch is trying to regain the trust of its remaining members after a disastrous spate of what a top church official called financial mismanagement.

JACKSON, Miss. (AP) — A Jackson megachurch is trying to regain the trust of its remaining members after a disastrous spate of what a top church official called financial mismanagement.

Membership at Word of Faith Christian Center Church plummeted from several thousand to fewer than 1,500 following news the church is $431,000 in debt.

The church, which had one of the largest African-American memberships in the city, replaced a pastor, Kevin Wright, over what it called "his moral failure," and shut down its popular athletic facility that served hundreds of people in the community.

The AP tried unsuccessfully to reach Wright and former church business manager Jeffrey Lewis for comment.

Wright was considered one of the top pastors in the Word of Faith system, which includes about two dozen churches in 10 states, as well as some internationally.

Wright led the Jackson congregation, which meets on the former site of the Shady Oaks Golf and Country Club on Clinton Boulevard, and oversaw several of Mississippi’s other Word of Faith churches, with sites in Durant, Gulfport, Hattiesburg, Meridian, Southaven, Starkville, Vicksburg and Yazoo City.

Bishop Keith Butler, leader of the Jackson congregation’s headquarters church, Word of Faith International Christian Center in Southfield, Mich., said in a statement to the Clarion-Ledger newspaper that "business and financial operations of the ministry were extremely and poorly handled."

"The business manager for the ministry at that time failed to run an efficient and proper operation," the statement said.

Church officials have not accused anyone of theft, claiming instead that "ministry finances were in disarray."

Jannelle Griffin of Jackson was operations manager for the church’s athletic facility, the Mississippi Basketball and Athletics complex. The facility served up to 1,000 adults and children in athletic activities and after school programs. Its closure was a blow to the community.

"Coaches have been blowing my phone off the hook," she said. "Closure of (the basketball and athletics complex) affects the community, not just the church."

Following Sunday worship service on Sept. 19, church officials announced to the congregation that Wright and the church’s former manager had, at one time, formed the nonprofit Word of Faith Foundation. The foundation owned and operated the athletic facility, including its after-school program and other church programs.

The church is seeking control of that foundation.

Copyright 2010 The Associated Press.

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