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At odds in a house of God

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The three deacons at Howell Station Baptist Church in northwest Atlanta are suspicious. They don't trust the new young pastor who appears to have taken charge of the sanctuary -- and the church's $100,000 bank account, according to deacon Eddie Webb.

"It's opportunistic," Webb says. "I know why he's doing it. He's trying to get control of the money and the church itself."

So Webb, a 47-year church member, and two other deacons first tried to oust Pastor Barry Leon Tidwell by asking the congregation to vote on whether he stays or goes. Webb says the congregation voted in December against Tidwell; still, the pastor wouldn't leave.

The deacons then filed a restraining order in Fulton County Superior Court that kept Tidwell -- or anyone -- from preaching at the church for most of January.

Tidwell, who became pastor in October, calls the court proceedings hogwash. He says he hasn't misused the church's funds; he claims he only worked to update the church, founded in 1913, by incorporating it as a business and by buying a copy machine and computer. "It's a fiasco," he says.

The court initially ruled that the church suspend all services until the 75-member congregation votes again on whether to keep or boot Tidwell. But Tidwell challenged the order Feb. 1, and the judge lifted the restraint.

Two days later, Tidwell preached for the first time after three weeks of silence. Before the sermon, he was worried that some members of the congregation would try to stop him.

"They have a habit of calling the police on me and trying to have me removed from the church," he says.

Officers were called to the church this past Sunday, Tidwell says. But they left without incident, citing the conflict as a civil and not a criminal matter.

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