There was to be no confusion. A bold sign, in fact, made it clear what the evening was about: “Vote Here for Removal of Clayton Howard.”
Under a red-and-white tent on the front lawn, many parishioners of Ebenezer Baptist Church cast their ballots Friday evening to remove their pastor.
In a 93-2 vote, the majority called for the Rev. Clayton Howard to step down from the pulpit.
They also unanimously agreed to reinstate four members of the church who had been excised seven weeks ago.
In the past few months, the church has been divided.
Howard and head church trustee Thanda Maceo called for the congregation to vote to remove Nora Moneghan, Renee and Josiah Brown, and Daryl Murphy at a March 8 church meeting.
The four members had openly opposed Howard’s leadership, as well as his plans for a $1.25 million expansion.
Suspicious of Howard’s motives, they had called police, written letters to the bank, consulted an attorney and even hired private investigators.
While there were more than just four people trying to stop the expansion, Howard and Maceo declared those four members excised after the March vote.
Church leaders refused to let them return, even calling police to have them arrested for criminal trespassing when they attended service one Sunday.
For the past several weeks, the “4” have been hosting their own services.
But they also organized to remove Howard from his position in the church.
With guidance from an attorney, the scriptures, church by-laws and the “laws of the land,” they made sure they had everything in order, Renee Brown said.
They sent 238 letters, reaching every church member, to notify members about Friday’s vote.
Parishioners who have supported the “4” had to set up a tent on the church’s front lawn Friday evening — Howard and other church officials refused to let them use the fellowship hall.
When he saw a faction of his congregation outside the church, Howard protested, witnesses said.
He drove his SUV onto the lawn, tried to pull up the tent stakes and ordered everyone off the property, Brown said.
Howard had arrived Friday at the church to celebrate his three-year anniversary as pastor at Ebenezer.
Instead, he arrived to see a great, big sign calling for his removal.
When police arrived to settle Friday’s dispute, they decided church members — except for the “4” — had every right to be on the property.
So at 6 p.m. the first ballot was cast.
During an hour of voting, the parishioners’ locations marked a clear divide.
Those outside the church were casting votes for Howard’s removal. Those inside the church celebrated his anniversary.
Briefly, Howard watched from the parking lot. But he was nowhere to be found when the votes were tallied. He did not return multiple calls seeking comment Friday night.
Just what will happen in the next few days remains to be seen.
“I don’t know what he’ll do, but we’ll stand on our own goodness and God’s righteousness,” Brown said. “Because we don’t have any righteousness.
“The church is for God’s worship and not a man’s worship,” she said. “Pastor Howard needs to find another building if he wants worship for himself.”