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Sunday, July 21, 2024 | Back issues
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Pastor’s Family Seeks to Block Memorial

BROOKLYN (CN) - The family of a deceased pastor seeks to block Saturday's fundraising memorial by the church's new leader because such a ceremony flies in the face of their Island traditions and seeks to profit from his demise.

Marjorie E. O'Neal and Eleatha D. O'Neal also seek reimbursement for $500,000 that the deceased pastor loaned to the church during his tenure, and for $17,500 in proceeds earned on leased parking spaces.

The man's widow and daughter sued the Bethel Evangelical Church and its new reverend, Bruce Perryman, in Kings County Supreme Court after the November 2014 death of long-time pastor Bishop John O'Neal.

Plaintiffs say the new bishop plans to hold a memorial for the former bishop is "in violation of plaintiffs' and the decedent's cultural traditions," which is solely staged to "reap economic gain."

"it's a lack of respect or the life and the legacy" of the former pastor, plaintiffs' attorney Gisele M. Kalonzo-Douglas said via telephone Friday morning.

Kalonzo-Douglas said the family already held services for the pastor, and that they were not consulted about the memorial at the church.

Plaintiffs say 475 people attended the bishop's funeral, including Perryman, "who gave a 23 minute soliloquy despite only being slotted for 2-3 minute remarks," according to the complaint.

Plaintiffs also say the church kept money from a parking space lease agreement and $500,000 in loans the former bishop made to the church during his 51-year tenure.

O'Neal has been with the Bethel Gospel Center, which later became the Bethel Evangelical Church, since 1963. He died in November 2014 at the age of 89 after serving the church for 51 years.

With his health waning and the congregation dwindling to only 125 members, plaintiffs say O'Neal assigned Perryman to take on pastoral duties in 2009. Membership has since plummeted to only 20 members, "most of whom are elderly and unable to actively participate in worship services," the complaint says.

"On Sundays, only approximately 15 persons are in attendance" at the church, the lawsuit states.

Perryman sent a letter to congregants last December proclaiming that a memorial would be held for the late bishop tomorrow, but without consulting his family, Kalonzo-Douglas said. Perryman also made a "Save the Date" page on his Facebook page, the complaint says.

With roots in Barbados, West Indies and the Bahamas, O'Neal's family is "opposed to hosting a memorial service because a ceremony memorializing someone is to be done in cases of suicide, when the body is lost or buried at sea, when the body in consumed by a fire and is unrecognizable, when the body has been cremated or when a person is missing or presumed dead," the lawsuit states.

Even then, such a memorial should only be hosted by the family and not a third-party, according to the complaint.

His family wants to follow tradition by hosting a memorial a year after his death.

But Perryman "hastily" called the memorial in an attempt to capitalize on his reputation.

"Defendant Perryman seeks to reap recognition and profits at the expense of plaintiffs' privacy rights and emotional tranquility, with none of the collected funds to be distributed to the plaintiffs, whose permission and authority was not sought and who were not invited to the invent," the lawsuit states.

The deceased bishop owned the property where the church was located, and the church has since collected more than $3,800 a month since September 2014 for leased parking spaces, according to the complaint. But, his family says, that money was not turned over to the rightful heirs, totaling $17,500.

His family seeks unspecified damages for invasion of privacy and intentional infliction of emotional distress, and to block tomorrow's memorial.

A phone message placed with the church was not returned Friday morning.

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