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Pastor's Spending Habits Spur Lawsuit at St. James

The Rev. Kelvin Sykes is a man of the cloth, but some members of his eastern Henrico County congregation would like to feel the fiber of his fabric before putting any more faith in his piety.

Five longtime members of St. James Baptist Church in eastern Henrico County want to know more — a lot more — about how the church's pastor has been spending what's put in the collection plate.

It's their contention that the church's finances are not a secret shared by the board of trustees, Sykes and God. In a lawsuit filed in Henrico County Circuit Court this month, those church members ask a judge to order the church's board to submit its books to the eyes of an independent accountant.

Why, in a house built on faith, is there such suspicion?

"This is a group of concerned [church] members who are bringing actions against their church because of the actions of their leader," says Horace A. Fields Jr., one of the five plaintiffs in the suit, declining to comment further.

Other plaintiffs either did not return calls or declined to comment.

According to the lawsuit, parishioners began raising questions soon after Sykes arrived in February 2004. Just five months into the job, the suit alleges, he took a 30-day paid vacation. Since then, the suit says, Sykes has ensured that he stays relaxed and not too overloaded by work by routinely hiring a substitute pastor "who is paid by the church without proper clearance."

Sykes also has "created new positions and installed new officers without church approval," according to the lawsuit.

In addition, it continues, "[Sykes] removed the church treasurer from his position in 2004 and didn't appoint a new treasurer until Nov. 19, 2006."

Unauthorized transfers of large sums of church money and a "flawed" budget report submitted at the church's January 2006 meeting, the suit charges, also haven't helped quell suspicions among church members.

Defendants in the suit have also declined to comment or not returned calls. The lawyer representing the plaintiffs in the case, Watson M. Marshall, also did not return calls for comment by press time.

"I don't care to discuss it at this point," says Ernest Barbour, chairman of the board at St. James, and one of the nine defendants named in the suit. "Everything has been turned over to our lawyers." S

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