May 25 2011 12:00 AM

The divide at Friendship Baptist Church is as apparent as ever

On page 14A of the May 8 edition of the
Lansing State Journal, a quarter-page advertisement announced the
installation of Friendship Baptist Church’s new pastor.

The next day, that pastor — the Rev.
Clyde Carnegie — announced his new position before the Lansing City
Council. Carnegie drew a round of applause from Council members and the
public sitting behind him.

However, the announcements angered Rita
Bunton, who has been a member of Friendship Baptist for 29 years. Bunton
co-chairs the committee that installed a different pastor for
Friendship Baptist — the Rev. Robert Nicholson — on May 15.

“There is still this elephant in the room — this 800-pound elephant in the church — with two churches,” Bunton said.

Carnegie and Nicholson have led different
“groups” of churchgoers at Friendship Baptist Church, 2912 Pleasant
Grove Road, ever since the Rev. Lester Stone died more than a year ago.

Bunton refers to those who attend
Nicholson’s Sunday service at 10 a.m. as the “majority group.” She
refers those who attend Sunday service at 7:30 a.m. and 4 p.m. with
Carnegie as the “minority group.”

Bunton said the split “got bad” in 2007.
In the past, Lansing police officers have been dispatched to the church
to keep matters civil between the two groups.

Stone was pastor of Friendship Baptist
for 27 years. He led a “march for justice” in Lansing protesting the
1996 death of Edward Swans while in custody of the Lansing Police
Department. Stone opposed the movement within Friendship Baptist that
split away from the majority. The split apparently started over business
matters. When some members filed suit in December 2010 against Stone
when he tried to set up a separate church bank account, Ingham County
Circuit Judge Joyce Draganchuk dismissed the suit and said the court did
not have jurisdiction over the matter.

Bunton said attempts to get church-governing bodies to intervene have been unsuccessful.

The style and attendance size of the
groups is apparent. On a recent Sunday, the 10 a.m. service under
Nicholson was louder with dozens more people than the 4 p.m. service.
The 4 p.m. service sang hymns with Carnegie and an organ at a
comparatively low decibel level. The 10 a.m. service’s music was led by
various singers who belted gospel songs with a drummer, a second
percussionist, a bassist, organist and pianist.

Both groups passed out their own brochure
before each service. Carnegie’s service lasted about 45 minutes;
Nicholson’s lasted about two-and-a-half hours.

Friendship Baptist’s website announces
Carnegie’s installation and lists him as the church’s pastor. The
website also says “Worship is every Sunday at 7:30 AM and 4:00 PM,” and
does not mention Nicholson or the 10 a.m. service.

Representatives of the “majority” refuse to recognize the others as a separate church.

“Knowing and realizing that there is a
separate entity operating under the guise of Friendship Baptist Church,
Pastor Nicholson takes the position his responsibility and commitment
are for those who called him to be their pastor,” Nicholson said in an
interview. “(I) pastor the 10 a.m. service.”

Nicholson also is the founder and pastor
of Grace Tabernacle Church, 1819 W. Willow St. in Lansing. He said he
“is not happy with the current status of the (Friendship Baptist)
church,” but that he is “convinced that God will correct the folly of
men’s appropriations.”

As Zeferonia Demps — who is commonly
referred to as “Doll” — was walking into Carnegie’s 4 p.m. service
Sunday, she expressed sorrow about the split.

“I wish we could be together and be one,” she said. “There’s nothing I can do but pray about it.”

Demps has been a member at Friendship
Baptist for more than 40 years. She said Carnegie is a “man of God” and
he, too, has been involved with the church for more than 40 years. She
said she doesn’t know Pastor Nicholson very well or why the split
occurred.  “I’ve been searching for an answer to that question for a long time.”

At Nicholson’s installation May 15,
Bunton said Nicholson “was there to comfort us in the dark period of the
church,” amid the split and Stone’s death. She said she’s not
interested in uniting the two groups.

“Quite honestly, I don’t want to,” Bunton said. “I really don’t see that happening because we are not of the same spirit.”

City Pulse intern Ashley Brown contributed to this story.