Phenix City church may vote on pastor's dismissal Sunday

A group of members from First Baptist Church of Phenix City failed to get a court injunction Friday to block a possible vote Sunday on its pastor's employment.

Judge Steve Perryman of Tallapoosa County heard the case Friday in Circuit Court at the Russell County Courthouse.

At their most recent meeting, the church’s 14 active deacons voted 9-5 to recommend the dismissal of the Rev. Gene Langner, the church’s pastor who has led the church for nearly 25 years.

Prior to that meeting, the deacons proposed to Langner that if he agreed to leave, he would be paid and have benefits through January 2009.

Langner did not agree to that proposal.

"It's gut-wrenching. We've suffered through gradual declines in attendance. There were more people in the courtroom (Friday) than on Sunday night or Wednesday night," said Randy Lomax, an attorney who's been a member of the church about five years.

He estimated about 40 people came to the courthouse Friday morning. He said Sunday morning attendance has been about 100 people, and much fewer on Sunday nights and Wednesdays.

Langner did not immediately return a message Friday from the Ledger-Enquirer.

However, the chairman of the personnel committee said bylaws have not been followed and that a majority of the personnel committee has given "its full support" to Langner.

"It's a horrible situation," said Gloria Armstrong, a member for 10 years who was a minister of education under Langner in the 1980s before she left and came back to town.

The deacons will present their recommendation to dismiss Langner after the 11 a.m. service Sunday.

It is the church's regular quarterly meeting. After the recommendation is presented, any member of the church can make a motion concerning the matter, and it’s possible a vote on Langner’s employment will then be taken.

"Whatever happens, it can't go well for either side," Lomax said. "I really don't think there can be a winner here."