Witnesses gave their testimonies and were cross-examined in a civil court case on Wednesday of a pastor accused of taking control of a church property without permission or proper process after he was invited to hold sermons there.
Crawford County President Judge Anthony Vardaro presided over court proceedings between plaintiff Highway Open Bible Tabernacle, which is a part of the Open Bible Churches system, and defendants Rudolph G. Babcock and Community Bible Church. Officials from Open Bible Churches are seeking to expel Babcock from the group’s Centerville property knwon as Highway Open Bible Tabernacle, located at 37534 state Highway 408, in the latest development in a series of events that date back to 2012.
Ralph Myers, the pastor for Highway Open Bible Tabernacle, had invited Babcock to hold Community Bible Church services at Highway Open Bible Tabernacle in 2012 after finding out his congregation had no building to meet in, instead performing church functions at parks or restaurants.
“I felt sorry for him,” Myers said during his testimony.
However, Babcock would later take several actions in an attempt to drive Myers and his wife, Patty Myers, off the church property where they also lived, according to plaintiff lawyer Jason Reagle. These included removing an electrical box off the Myers home in the middle of the summer, changing the locks on the church building without the Myers’ knowledge and preventing the delivery of oil which would have been used to heat the home.
Reagle, in his opening statements, accused Babcock of being a bully and attempting to seize a property he had no right to have.
“Mr. Babcock was never a member of Highway Open Bible Tabernacle or Highway Gospel Tabernacle,” Reagle said, referring to the original name of the church.
Further, Reagle called into question Ralph Myers ability to invite Babcock to preach at the church in the first place. According to testimony given by Tom Rupli, the former executive director of Open Bible East Churches, Myers did not get permission from the Open Bible East Churches executive board to allow Babcock to preach at the church.
Highway Open Bible Tabernacle had been placed under regional supervision in 2008 due to Ralph Myers’ failing health and a decrease in attendance at the church. The supervision transfers all decision making abilities to the Open Bible East Churches executive board, with Highway Open Bible Tabernacle’s board acting in an advisory capacity. This change in powers was still in effect in 2012, when Babcock was invited to the church.
Rupli said that allowing Babcock to hold services at Highway Open Bible Tabernacle was a decision that should have been considered by the Open Bible East Churches executive board, and not undertaken by Ralph Myers solely.
“Oh, that’s absolutely a major move,” Rupli said.
According to Rupli, difficulties with Babcock began in the summer of 2015. In the wake of Ralph and Patty Myers’ failing health, both of whom are more than 80 years old, Open Bible East Churches made the decision to sell off Highway Open Bible Tabernacle, though they were going to separate off the parsonage that the Myers lived in and allow them to stay there for free. Rupli approached Babcock with an offer to purchase the church, wanting to give him the right of first refusal.
However, Babcock did not take the deal, and according to Rupli, shortly after changed the locks to the church and removed the electrical box, the first in a series of actions that Rupli said was targeted at removing the Myers.
“It saddens me that a couple who have given their lives to the community has suffered such abuse from a usurper, and it saddens the community, too,” Rupli said.
Marie Black, a member of Highway Open Bible Tabernacle’s church board, described Babcock as “manipulative and controlling” multiple times in her testimony. Black said that Babcock would frequently ask her questions about the church and the Myers, often times asking the same question more than once if he didn’t get an answer.
According to Black, many of these questions regarded whether Ralph Myers was going to retire soon or not, and other such personal topics. Black said that, afterwards, she often felt she should not have told Babcock the information she gave.
Babcock, however, painted a different picture during his testimony. He described Highway Open Bible Tabernacle as losing members quickly, to the point that many people in the area didn’t know the church was open due to it lacking signage, according to him.
He said that many of the church’s board members were no longer active in the congregation. According to Babcock, they “begged him to stay” and did not care what he did with the property.
“They weren’t really attending that church, and they hadn’t attended that church in a long time,” Babcock said.
He further alleged that Ralph Myers made a motion to the church board to allow Babcock onto the governing body, and that Myers was later fired by Rupli. However, Rupli denied the claim that he fired Ralph Myers upon being called back up to the stand. He clarified that there was a period in 2015 where Myers wasn’t renewing his accreditation with Open Bible Churches.
“Why would I fire a guy who I love?” Rupli said.
According to Rupli, Ralph Myers had “sided” with Babcock during that time, something which he called a “tragic mistake.” As a result, Ralph Myers had decided not to renew his credentials, though has done so since.
Another part of Babcock’s argument pertained to the incorporation of Highway Open Bible Tabernacle.The church was originally incorporated as Highway Gospel Tabernacle on Sept. 15, 1958. While the church changed its name in 1962 when it joined the Open Bible Churches system, Babcock said its incorporation under the new name was not properly filed. As such, he claims the Open Bible East Churches have no claim to the property.
Under this line of argument, Babcock said the Highway Gospel Tabernacle board is the true administrators to the church. He further claimed that Community Bible Church was invited in 2014 to join Highway Gospel Tabernacle, with Babcock becoming president of the board and effectively taking control of the property.
When asked by Reagle what gave Babcock the right to do things such as change the locks or remove the electrical box from the parsonage, Babcock said that, as president of the Highway Gospel Tabernacle board, he had permission to do what he wanted with the property.
“It’s one piece of property,” Babcock said.
He further claimed that only Ralph Myers’ decisions were under regional supervision, and that the rest of the church board was able to make choices without the approval of Open Bible East Churches.
Reagle’s cross examination of Babcock turned heated, with the two raising their voices and speaking over each other several times until Judge Vardaro stepped in.
Rupli, during his rebuttal, pushed back against Babcock’s claims that the church lacked a sign. He said there was a sign, but accused Babcock of putting duck tape over it and later removing it, replacing the sign with one of his own.
Eugene Shaffer, a member of the Highway Gospel Tabernacle board, testified in support of Babcock, claiming he also thought that the church was closed before Community Bible Church joined in. He also said that he heard Ralph Myers had been fired, though admitted during a cross-examination by Reagle that he was not present at the meeting where he claimed it happened.
A decision on the case was not made at the conclusion of Wednesday’s proceedings. Judge Vardaro gave Babcock’s lawyer, Christopher Ferry, 20 days to submit a written conclusion. Reagle will then be given 20 days to submit a responding conclusion, and then a new hearing date will be set.
This was not the first time Babcock and Highway Open Bible Tabernacle had met in court. Charges were brought against Babcock in 2015 for the alleged theft of the electrical meter, though the case was dropped after he agreed to paid restitution to the Northwestern Rural Electric Cooperative, which owned the meter.
Babcock also previously filed an ejection against the Myers, but the motion was dismissed on Aug. 4, 2015, by Magisterial District Judge Amy Nicols, of Titusville. Nicols said that Babcock lacked a lease showing him as the property’s owner and the Myers as the renters, preventing her from ruling on an eviction notice.
Ray can be reached, by email, at email@example.com.