Congregants Locked Out
“We found out the locks had been changed,” Elder Diane Hathaway said. “The bishop (George Benbow) said it is his church and he had every right to cancel the services.”
Hathaway said about 50 people arrived for services with a police standby because church officials had changed locks at the Johnston Avenue church the night before. Benbow apparently had a locksmith change them again, she said. A sign inside the front door window said services would resume next Sunday. Police took no action, deeming it a civil matter to be worked out in the courts, Hathaway said.
A phone number for Benbow at his George Street residence near the church had been disconnected and he could not be reached for comment.
Finding the church locked, about 50 people formed a circle outside.
“We prayed and sang a song and everyone just fellowshipped,” Hathaway said after most of the group had dispersed.
Benbow was arrested on Sept. 17 and charged with four counts of second degree assault on a minor less than 13 years old and two counts of third degree endangering the welfare of a minor under the age of 16, Union County Prosecutor Theodore J. Romankow said in a press release on that date.
Hathaway said many church members drifted away from the church after the arrest, but the congregation had been rebuilding under interim Pastor Cedric Miller.
“He has been so instrumental in trying to heal,” she said.
Church officials planned to meet Sunday afternoon to decide what to do next. The non-denominational church marks its 27th year this month.
Arthur Mayes, a member for 25 years, said Sunday, “It’s sad for me to see something like this.”
Mayes said the Benbow family has been involved in church work for 70 years and recalled the bishop’s mother’s care for children. More recently, the church conducted a camp where, he said, “All the children had such a beautiful time.”
Mayes said Benbow’s arrest left him in tears because of the alleged abuse of children.
“That’s what really breaks my heart,” he said.
Mayes was at a loss to know what could have led to the arrest.
“The devil, he don’t never stop,” he said.
Mayes said he supports Benbow as a friend, but added, “I believe in justice.”
He said his watchword in the current situation is the Biblical verse, “Let justice run down as water and righteousness as a mighty stream.”