The sermon that David Fisher had prepared on a recent Sunday for the congregation he pastors in Prineville was about a topic he said God told him that it needed to hear: forgiveness.
After all, when an international religious organization is suing you, saying you ignored its rules and policies, changed the locks on its building, and illegally took control of one of its churches, there’s bound to be plenty to forgive — or ask forgiveness for.
The emotional burden his congregation at Faithpoint Ministries of Prineville has carried has grown steadily since parting ways with the Oregon District of the United Pentecostal Church International last October. That’s when Fisher became pastor and took control of the Pentecostal church building. In response, the district filed a lawsuit against him, alleging that his selection as pastor was illegitimate, and that he’d illegally taken over the church building. The accusations are not easily forgotten.
“There is hurt, absolutely,” said Fisher, a 38-year-old dental assistant who has the support of the congregation to lead the church. “The people are stressed, and you can see the hurt in their eyes and hearts. How they’ve been treated by the district and their pastors over the last several years — those things hurt. But we just need to look over them and forgive and move forward.”
The district’s bylaws, lack of local support, and poor judgment in who it sent to pastor the church has led the dwindling congregation of about a dozen — down from more than 30 several years ago — to say it has had enough, say Fisher and other church members.
“We get nothing from them — no recognition that we’re alive,” said Bill De Ascentis, who has attended Faithpoint Ministries of Prineville for about 30 years. Former pastors — there have been four over the past 10 years — have resigned without warning, he said, and they have left the church doors locked for months at a time until district leaders sent a replacement.
Meanwhile, Fisher isn’t allowed to be a pastor under the tenets of the church because he divorced his wife, Amanda, earlier this year, and according to church bylaws, licensed ministers can’t be divorced.
“They make up these bylaws, but they’re the rules of men, not the word of God,” De Ascentis said. “We believe in the message of the church, and we believe the Bible about salvation. But nobody that’s left in the church likes what UPCI is doing.”
Unlike the divine encouragement that guides Fisher’s preaching, the United Pentecostal Church hasn’t been as supportive of his actions.
The church’s Oregon district, which is based in Gresham, is suing Fisher to relinquish control of Faithpoint Ministries of Prineville, the only Pentecostal church in Crook County. Church officials say that Fisher and his renegade congregation has unlawfully taken over their church building, and the district leaders want it back.
According to the district, the door Fisher has unlocked every Sunday morning since October 2016 — when he changed the locks to the building — isn’t his to open, just as the congregation he has pastored since a church election the district calls illegitimate made him its preacher isn’t his to lead.
And the church money Fisher uses to pay the bills? It was stolen from the church bank account, district leaders say.
“It just totally violates all the bylaws,” said Rev. Dan Sargeant, who serves as the UPCI district secretary. “If a church is going to leave the organization, there are certain procedures and hoops it has to go through. None of that was done. They just changed the locks and took over. And (Fisher) divorced his wife — he’s living with somebody else. The guy who’s presuming to be the pastor of the church is violating the morals and ethics of the church. It’s a sad situation.”