July 28, 2008

Church Votes to Keep Pastor

By Allison Kennedy, Columbus Ledger-Enquirer, Ga.

Jul. 28--Members of First Baptist Church of Phenix City voted 112-98 Sunday to keep their pastor, the Rev. Gene Langner, after a move to oust him proved unsuccessful.

Church deacons had voted 9-5 earlier in the month to remove Langner, who has led the congregation for nearly 25 years.

Some have complained of dwindling attendance and resources as the primary reasons the pastor needed to go, while supporters said he can't shoulder all of that blame, adding that Langner has poured his heart and soul into First Baptist.

On Friday, representatives from both sides, including the pastor, met in the Russell County Courthouse, as a motion to block the anticipated vote was denied by Circuit Court Judge Steve Perryman of Tallapoosa County.

Langner could not be reached for comment Sunday.

The Rev. Wayne Burns, director of missions for the Russell Baptist Association, said in a statement Sunday that it is a sad time when a church finds itself divided.

"Baptists are unique and special people," Burns said. "We vote on things and people as a congregation. Most votes are usually 100 percent in favor, but when divisions come and, in a close vote, it can create so many problems."

Burns, like all Baptist mission directors, has no ruling authority over the churches; however, he urged First Baptist to try to work through the issues now that a vote has been taken.

"I have said many times to folks over the years that Baptists very seldom vote in the majority to remove a pastor," Burns said. "I hope our community of churches will continue to pray for First Baptist Church of Phenix City and Dr. Langner."

Before the deacons took their vote, Langner was given the opportunity to resign or to announce his retirement. He declined to do so.

"Whatever happens, it can't go well for either side," church member and deacon Randy Lomax said Friday. He was among those who wanted Langner to resign. "I really don't think there can be a winner here."

Gloria Armstrong, chairwoman of the personnel committee, said Sunday, "We're very grateful." She and the majority of her committee supported Langner all along, she said.

Lomax could be reached for comment Sunday.


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