Rampant squatting is not just a homeowner crisis as an Arkansas church has been in a years-long dispute with a bishop allegedly refusing to leave.
In Crossett, Arkansas, Bishop Earnest Smith has been preaching in the same building since 2019 after it was said he had agreed to a use lease for $200 per month. Known to the owners as the Allen Temple C.M.E. Church, the current preacher, said to have ceased making payments, has since renamed it Temple of Faith Ministries and, as members told KATV, will not vacate.
Rekandria Leach explained to the outlet how the bishop’s claims were allegedly fraudulent as she detailed, “It’s been going on too long. It’s time for him to go. We have had our locks changed a lot of times and he come right back in and just take over. He said he will not leave. But you will go Earnest Smith.”
According to the report, after the previous pastor relocated in 2019, Smith requested to use the building at a $200 rate he contended covered the insurance policy, not rent, but Leach said, “He didn’t want to sign another lease agreement or anything” after the first year when the charge was set to double to $400.
“No ma’am. Never would do that,” Smith had claimed in his defense while asserting he never signed any lease agreement, but that he had been making payments for nearly three years to church secretary Faye Pam. “I called her, I said ‘We need a commercial lease with the correct people name on the lease. Not just you. Not just you.”
As the story of his alleged squatting spread, the Daily Mail reported that Smith said during his recent Sunday service, “No matter what the enemy throw at me, I’m on my way back…in life we have to understand that we are going to go through some trials and tribulations. The lord does not tell us how we’re going to go through those trials and tribulations.”
“We all have gone through things in life, we have been accused of some stuff…we have been accused of some things in life,” he went on, “the difference of yours and mine is that I was put on national television.”
The Bishop went on to claim to KATV that Pam had led him to believe they were being given the building. “She said, ‘We are probably going to give you the building because we’re not going to use the building.’ She said, ‘Because I know you.’ I said, ‘OK.’ I said, ‘Thank you’ — really got excited. We paid. We’ve never been squatters. We’ve been paying all this money to her, and we’ve got proof that we paid the money to her.”
“She said, ‘You all can have it but let me talk to my people in Little Rock.’ She kept telling us about people in Little Rock. I was thinking the people in Little Rock was the CME. She came to service one Sunday. She came back to service another Sunday, so I asked her, ‘Hey, Sister Pam, have you talked to your people?’ [and she said,] ‘Oh yeah, we going to, Pastor, don’t worry about it. We going to take care of you.’ That’s what she said,” he alleged.
Meanwhile, church trustee Claudelle Smith, of no relation, countered his arguments as she asserted, “What I hold in my hand here is the deeds. Allen Temple CME Church, that’s who it belongs to. Squatters come in and take over, and they’ll get something for nothing where they’re not paying for it.”
A member of the community and Temple of Faith Ministries attendee told KATV, “I was introduced to the Pastor and immediately I started to feel a love. A very unique love to want to see me have a chance at life and to be engaged in the presence of the Lord.”
That man, Scott Adair, asserted no knowledge of the property dispute and added, “I can honestly say this Pastor and his wife and the people of this church love us and not to be redundant but the Lord’s vision for Crossett is to salt and pepper a church where white people and black people can come together and have a true love for one another and I see this happening here at this chuch and I’m glad to be a part of it.”
When asked by KATV if he intended to vacate the property, the bishop explained, “The attorney told me since you’re there and you established, you can go in there. Do I want to move? The flesh does because I’m tired. But the Spirit keep telling me to fight this out. I want to tell the judge the same thing I’m telling you because I’m ready for this to be over. I am absolutely tired of this.”
Smith added, “I tell my people all the time. We are going to be talked about. Criticized. They did that to Jesus Christ. We are not exempt. But when it hits you hard, it hurts. Especially the people you thought you could trust.”
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