And then there was darkness . . .

Pastor retaliates before being fired from church

Erick Johnson | 3/27/2014, 9 a.m.
Pastor Mark Gardner left his church members out in the dark. Last Wednesday, he filed an injunction and locked the ...
Mark Gardner

Pastor Mark Gardner left his church members out in the dark.

Last Wednesday, he filed an injunction and locked the church’s doors to shut out longtime, outspoken members and board members who ousted the pastor under evening skies on an empty lot the church owned just across the street.

Suddenly, members discovered the property they were standing on was no longer theirs. The pastor sold it.

To members that was Gardner’s last straw.

They fired the controversial, defiant pastor who has come under fire for allegedly running up hundreds of thousands of dollars in debt from loans and other expenses without the approval and knowledge of church members.

They used flashlights to read financial documents and signed statements before unanimously voting 20-0 to terminate the pastor, hoping to end to a nasty battle to put away Gardner. The pastor defied a suspension and continued preaching after leaders of the Florida State Association Church of God, an organization to which Northside belongs, temporarily stripped Gardner March 4 of his duties after he failed to give account for his personal and financial affairs of the church.

With the vote, the pastor is officially terminated from the church, though with the injunction, church members are still uncertain whether Gardner will leave the church and give up his position he has held for five years. But for now, members said the termination is a relief and a start to a new era.

The church is located at 2590 NW 103rd Street.

“All in favor say yes,” asked Dr. James Scott, president of the Florida State Association.

“Yes,” the crowd responded before terminating the pastor.

“He didn’t want to give up or be honest,” said Jenell Mashack, a member of 51 years who is considered the church’s matriarch. “It’s not fair to the majority of the church that this continue.”

Gardner’s injunction against the members cast a dark shadow on the meeting. Leaders said a police officer called them hours before the meeting to inform them of the order which was taken out that day. Members were told if they held the meeting on the church grounds, they would be arrested for trespassing.

The church building was closed and locked up to keep out outspoken members, who filed a petition March 9 seeking to remove Gardner.

At the meeting, members, some of them in their 70’s and 80’s were forced to stand in the dark as they signed public statements listing personal loans they said Gardner borrowed from them to pay his personal bills. Members hope the statements will help them take legal action to recoup their alleged losses. They also seek to force Gardner to turn over documents that may explain the status of the church’s financial condition.

Church members said they have filed complaints with the Florida Department of Children and Family Services’ elderly abuse hotline.

In a new development, some members brought financial documents that were mailed to them and showed them to a Miami Times reporter at the meeting. The statements showed their loans to Gardner were now listed as church contributions.