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AME defrocks pastor in molestation case

By Gene C. Johnson Jr.
Special to the NNPA from Wave Community Newspapapers

LOS ANGELES (NNPA) — After being accused of sexual advances toward an underage member of his congregation, Rev. Sylvester Laudermill Jr. has been permanently removed as senior pastor of Ward AME Church.

An attorney representing the African Methodist Episcopal Church, Joseph Stanley Sanders, said Laudermill has been “in effect, defrocked” following a minor’s complaint about the minister’s alleged improper behavior during “late February or early March” of this year.

Neither Laudermill nor his attorney, Leonard Levine, returned phone calls seeking comment.

Sanders, who refused to directly discuss the gender of the minor or the details of the alleged sexual attack, may have inadvertently revealed the child’s gender in an interview. The alleged victim first reported the incident to “his” parents, who then went to the church’s presiding elder, the Rev. Norman Copeland, Sanders said. Copeland, in turn, lodged a complaint with Bishop John R. Bryant, presiding prelate of the AME Church’s Fifth Episcopal District, which includes California and Missouri.

A hearing was held April 27 in Pasadena by the AME Church’s Ministerial Efficiency Committee, which consists of five pastors from different AME churches in California “to take testimony from the accused and from witnesses,” Sanders said. The 2004 edition of the “Doctrine and Discipline of African Methodist Episcopal Church,” “If the accused has been convicted of a crime or complaint has been sustained for child sexual abuse, rape or sexual assault, the bishop must demand the immediate and permanent surrender of the accused pastor’s ministerial responsibilities and credentials.”

Sanders said Laudermill faces no punitive or criminal charges because of the Ministerial Efficiency Committee’s decision.

After being announced at a Sunday church service as well as via “word of mouth,” a meeting was held recently at Ward AME. Bryant then informed the church’s parishioners there that Laudermill was no longer their pastor.“A new pastor should be in place by June 1,” Sanders said.

While Laudermill has been removed from his post at Ward AME, he still faces an investigation by the St. Louis Circuit Attorney’s Office on a similar charge of child sexual abuse.

Those accusations include an alleged seven-year sexual relationship with a male that began when the boy was 14 and Laudermill was pastor of St. Peter AME Church.

Laudermill served at that church from 1994 to 2004 before leaving for Los Angeles on Nov. 8, 2004, to pastor Ward AME Church.

“The only comment I have right now is that I cannot comment. It’s a pending investigation right now,” said Ed Postawako, a spokesman with the St. Louis Circuit Attorney’s Office. “That’s pretty much all I am able to say at this time.”

Sanders said Bryant was not aware of the alleged relationship in St. Louis when he transferred Laudermill to Los Angeles in 2004.

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