A more than 100-year-old church building in Crossett, Arkansas, has become the center of a bitter battle between two congregations, with one accusing a new leader of being a “squatter bishop.” The church, known since the 1970s as Allen Temple CME Church, is now facing a dispute over ownership and the alleged actions of Bishop Earnest Smith.

Background of the Dispute: The conflict traces back to 2019 when Allen Temple CME leaders claim the church had to close its doors for about a year while waiting for another minister. During this time, Bishop Smith, who had recently started his own ministry, approached the church seeking to rent the building.

Allegations of Squatting and Lock Changes: However, what began as a rental arrangement turned into a bitter dispute as Bishop Smith reportedly refused to relinquish control of the building. Former members of Allen Temple CME accuse him of taking advantage of an elderly secretary and changing the locks on the church, effectively locking them out of their historic place of worship.

Lease Agreement Controversy: According to Allen Temple CME members, Bishop Smith initially rented the church for $200 for a year, but when the lease renewal discussions took place, he refused to sign a new agreement. The disagreement escalated, leading to accusations of squatters and the forcible occupation of the cherished church.

Conflicting Narratives: While Allen Temple CME members claim that Bishop Smith owes $400 in rent and has unlawfully taken control of the building, the bishop provides a different version of events. He asserts that the secretary, Faye Pam, gave him the impression that the building would eventually be given to his ministry.

Ownership Dispute: The dispute revolves around conflicting claims about the ownership of the church building. Allen Temple CME members present deeds asserting their ownership, while Bishop Smith argues that the building has no current owner and was not abandoned.

Bishop’s Defense: Bishop Smith denies the allegations of squatting and contends that the payments made to Allen Temple CME were not rent but contributions towards an insurance policy covering the building. He claims that Pam assured him the building would be given to his ministry.

Legal Standoff: As tensions escalate, both parties have sought legal counsel. Bishop Smith indicates that his attorney has advised him to maintain his presence in the church. The former members of Allen Temple CME are determined to reclaim their place of worship and are appealing for justice in the face of what they perceive as a wrongful takeover.