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Ex-pastor of First AME Church can't return to helm -- for now

February 1, 2013 |  1:11 pm

Rev. John J. Hunter
The judicial body of the African Methodist Episcopal church has denied the petition of Rev. John J. Hunter, former leader of First AME in Los Angeles, to return to the helm of the storied black church.

Hunter, who was abruptly moved from First AME in October, challenged his reassignment to Bethel San Francisco after that congregation rejected him.  He maintains that his rights as a minister were violated when Bishop Larry T. Kirkland moved him to a smaller church without the proper 90-day notice and without reason.  

The church's governing book states that a "new appointment, when available, shall be comparable to or better than the previous one."  First AME has a congregation of 19,000; Bethel AME has 650.

In its decision, handed down on Thursday, the nine-person council -- the denomination's equivalent of the Supreme Court -- ruled that Hunter skipped steps in the judicial process by petitioning them first.  They denied his appeal based on grounds that Hunter did not follow the proper chain of command. 

The ruling left the door open for Hunter to pursue further action in his bid to be reinstated at the church he pastored for eight years.

"The judicial council, further, holds that it lacks jurisdiction, since the matter lacks ripeness for disposition before this body," according to the ruling.

Hunter was advised to file a formal complaint against the bishop and follow the lengthy "judicial machinery," which is similar to the U.S. court system. 

Hunter's spokeswoman, Jasmyne Cannick, said he plans to exhaust the judicial process.

“Reverend John Hunter intends to continue to vigorously pursue the matter of the violations of his Minister’s Bill of Rights through the judicial processes laid out for him by the Judicial Council of the AME Church,” Cannick said in the statement.

The church has sued Hunter, his wife, and  some church leaders for alleged financial mismanagement. Hunter, meanwhile, has sued Bethel AME for alleged assault and emotional distress after church officials physically blocked him from taking the pulpit last fall. 

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-- Angel Jennings

Photo: Rev. John J. Hunter  Credit: Rick Loomis

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