Montgomery Church Board: Old Elam Minister Resigned, Took Everything

A long running Montgomery church battle is escalating again and this time, it's church members calling for police.

Old Elam Baptist Church members have fought over finances for almost three years, a battle that included the minister barring people from services.

Now the minister himself is gone, but what he's left behind is causing a lot of heartburn.

For more than two years, members of one of Montgomery's oldest black Baptist churches waged a war with their minister, John Gilchrist, over one very secular concern.

"They committed the cardinal sin of asking about finances," said Board of Trustees president Thomas Simon.

The fight  led Gilchrist to toss out more than a hundred members, who protested and asked for an investigation.

Things changed in mid-December when Gilchrist told another Baptist minister he resigned, which was a surprise to the congregation, since it had never heard from the pastor.

When Tom Simon and others came back to their spiritual home, they were heartbroken at what they found.

"This is the finance office of the church, and as you can see, everything is gone, it's cleared out," Simon said.

Simon says not only did Gilchrist take the furnishings and files but also the sanctuary's musical instruments - and the office computers that should document his financial activities. He left one computer behind, but...

"They wiped the computers clean," Simon said.

Upstairs, in the church's one time finance office, a safe sits open with shavings around the lock.  The board had a locksmith break it open, only to find...nothing inside.

"We're finding credit cards going to the pastor's house, unlimited expense accounts, raised his own salary just a couple months ago," said Simon.

The church board says it's also discovered what it calls fraud, and money laundering, and worst of all, a failure to pay federal employment withholding taxes.

"A lot of the things we were told were false, and it was done with malice and intent to defraud the church body," said the board president.

Tom Simon says he's working with the IRS about the failure to pay taxes.

But Simon says there's more - that Gilchrist used church credit cards after his mid-December resignation. He's sent the former pastor a letter asking Gilchrist for reimbursment.

And as for the other thefts, Montgomery Police say they are investigating and Simon says he's also contacting the FBI.

Former pastor Gilchrist did not return our calls asking for his side of the story.