And then there was darkness . . .
Pastor retaliates before being fired from church
Erick Johnson | 3/27/2014, 9 a.m.
Last week, The Miami Times ran a detailed story that reported how Gardner took out $523,246.73 in loans against the building and personal loans from members. Members said Gardener has failed to return phone calls and emails about their money and the loans against the church building
Since the story broke in The Times, other new revelations and questions have surfaced about Gardner and the church’s finances.
According to a deed obtained by The Times through public records, last October, Gardner sold the 12,780 square foot lot where they fired Gardner for $45,000. The lot is located at the Northwest corner of 25th Avenue and 103rd Street. A routine check on the property through public records by a member led to the discovery. Members said Gardner declined to tell them the whereabouts of the profits the church made from the sale.
Members recalled rejecting Gardener’s request to sell the property after a church service in August. Last Wednesday, they were shocked upon learning he sold it anyway.
The new owners of the lot, Salameh Properties, LLC, granted the group permission to hold the meeting on the property.
In all, members said the church was debt free before Gardner’s leadership. Now the church is about $568,000 in debt. Members say they trusted Gardner as their pastor and were kicked out of the church before obtaining any documents or records.
Gardner has failed to comment or speak to church members or The Times since the story was first published last week. He publicly dis-fellowed a majority of the members, posting a memo on the front bulletin board with the names of the members who have questioned or spoken out against him.
One man, Hubert Fabio, a financial consultant for Northside and close colleague of Gardner, called the Times last Friday angrily refuting the story and accused The Times of slandering Gardner. Fabio did not know about the personal loans Gardner allegedly borrowed from members when the reporter asked him about it. Fabio also said he did not know about the reporter visiting the church several times to do a story.
Fabio also claimed that outspoken members were never members but could not explain why there was a need to dis-fellow them anyway.
When asked why Gardner allowed questions to swirl without telling him or coming clean on the personal loans. Fabio said he didn’t know. Fabio proceeded to yell into the phone about church bylaws and IRS matters then hung up on the reporter.
The Times verified Fabio’s position with the church’s parent organization.
On two of the church’s most recent Sunday service programs obtained by The Times, members were asked to “sacrifice one free-will paycheck from their earnings and sow it into God’s work.”
The program also reads, “Remember to tithe and give with a smile, because God loves a cheerful giver.”
But this past Sunday, there was no service at the 58-year -old Church. It was empty. The building and the gate to the parking lot were locked.
Meanwhile, one mile away, the 20 dissident members held a worship service at Little River Park next to a basketball court. Members exchanged their fancy church hats and dresses for jeans and sneakers and sat on bleachers and folding chairs under sunny skies.
Away from Northside Church’s stain glass windows, tambourines and drums, members worshipped amid a joyous and unscripted service where there was spontaneous singing and prayers.
Without a church building, members say they are not defeated.
“God is good,” said Paul Nicholson, a member for 12 years who led the service. “The church is not the building, but the body of Christ.”
“We’re going through a test of faith,” said James Eubanks, pastor of a sister church, Community Church of God in Ft. Lauderdale. Go and stand firm.”