Lawsuit seeks to oust pastor at Blackwelder Park Baptist

Published 12:00 am Saturday, September 24, 2011

EDITOR’S NOTE: The suit filed by Blackwelder Park Baptist Church against former senior pastor Keith Kannenberg went into mediation and was voluntarily dismissed on June 12, 2012.

By Shavonne Potts
KANNAPOLIS — The trustees of a well-known Kannapolis church are suing its senior pastor because, they say, he has refused the congregation’s calls to step down.
The trustees of Blackwelder Park Baptist Church and the church’s Policy and Procedures Ministry Team say Senior Pastor Keith Kannenberg has done nothing they’ve expected him to do as a pastor. So they’ve repeatedly asked him to resign, and he’s refused.
The civil lawsuit was filed Sept. 15 in Rowan County.
A message left for Kannenberg with a church employee was not returned. A woman who answered the telephone at a local listing for Keith Kannenberg said he did not live there. He did not respond to requests for comment made through his Facebook page.
Melvin McGee, who represents the trustees, and Robert Bare, who represents the ministry team, are named as plaintiffs in the suit.
Members of the pulpit committee, who act as a search committee when the office of pastor is left vacant, addressed an undated letter to Kannenberg sometime this year. The letter, which is contained in the court file, said the committee has pleaded with the pastor to step down.
The letter said the church expects this matter to go the courts and believes it to be a “black mark” on all of Christianity, the church and Kannenberg. But the lawsuit requests a jury trial, and the letter’s authors say they hope the real Keith Kannenberg will be revealed to the world.
“You won’t be able to hide behind innocent people and have them to do your dirty work for you anymore,” the letter said.
In a second letter to Kannenberg from the pulpit committee dated Sept. 1, the group accuses him of trying to “destroy” the church. They also accuse Kannenberg of causing so much division in the church that the courts are their only option for his removal.
According to the church website, Kannenberg has been pastor since 2008.
In the letter, the committee called Kannenberg a “mean-spirited man who thinks he is God himself.”
The committee also accused Kannenberg of firing church staff members who disagreed with him while allowing those in opposition to remain in positions with no decision-making authority.
The trustees say there were red flags that made them doubt Kannenberg’s ability as pastor to lead them.
The church created a petition and collected the names of 231 members asking that the pastor be fired.
After the petition, the trustees took an “unprecedented” step in firing Kannenberg, the lawsuit said.
The church has a constitution and bylaws, which over the years have included a number of revisions, the most recent being in July. The church’s Policy and Procedures Ministry Team met to discuss a suggested revision that would allow the church to terminate the senior pastor with a majority vote by secret ballot instead of a 75 percent vote. The suggested revision had to be put to vote in a special called meeting.
The trustees, who are guardians of church property and grantors of surety including promissory notes and deeds of trust, did not have the authority on their own to fire the pastor and thus had to put it to a vote, the lawsuit says.
The church trustees say Kannenberg made efforts to thwart the proposed change to the church’s constitution.
It was announced during a Sunday morning church service that a special meeting was being called to approve the recommended revisions. The following Sunday, according to the complaint, Kannenberg had an announcement made that there would not be a special meeting.
Members of the Policy and Procedures Ministry Team allege Kannenberg again tried to prevent them from telling the congregation about the meeting by directing the music be turned up, “so as to drown out the speakers,” the lawsuit said.
A shoving match ensued during this incident, the lawsuit says.
After the July services, about 200 people held a meeting in the church’s Family Life Center and voted 201-0 to revise the constitution and bylaws.
Another business meeting was held, and the firing of Kannenberg was put to a vote. Members voted 207-1 in support of Kannenberg’s termination.
During one of those meetings, the church also voted against approving its budget and against selecting officers for its committee. The members voted in favor of getting a mediator to help resolve the church issues.
Bare, one of the plaintiffs in the complaint, is a member of the church Policy and Procedures Ministry Team. He referred questions to attorney Rick Locklear, who is representing the trustees and ministry team.
Locklear said he and the church have tried to reach an amicable resolution.
“We understand it’s a difficult time for everybody,” he said. “An overwhelming number of the church members want to remain a community church.”
Blackwelder Park began in 1939 when community leaders gathered in a home with the intent to establish a Baptist mission. A few years later, that mission was organized into a Baptist church.
The church’s website now refers to it as “The Park.”
Of Kannenberg, Locklear said, the church members “wish him well,” but also wish he would resign.
Kannenberg has no attorney listed, according to court records.
No trial date has yet been scheduled.
Contact reporter Shavonne Potts at 704-797-4253.