When John A. Cherry Sr. decided last year that his congregation needed to break away from the African Methodist Episcopal (AME) Zion denomination, he said the driving issue was the need to respond to God's voice. Today, the pressing issue has become who will keep about $38 million worth of church assets and property that Cherry and his 24,000-member congregation took with them. The disputed assets, which include a Learjet, two sanctuaries, and 150 acres of undeveloped land, are currently in the possession of Cherry's From the Heart Church Ministries. The Temple Hills, Md.-based ministry broke away from the denomination last July. In March a Prince George's County Circuit Court judge ruled that the bulk of the property belonged to AME Zion and would have to be returned. But when sheriff's deputies, acting on the order of the trial-court judge, began seizing the assets, From the Heart won a stay against the seizure, allowing it to keep the property until a final appellate court ruling. The congregation grew out of a 20-person Bible study Cherry started in his home in 1981, which soon affiliated with the AME Zion Church. The affiliation was natural for Cherry, whose father and grandfather had also served as AME Zion ministers. Under the name Full Gospel AME Zion, the church's congregation grew rapidly, becoming the largest congregation in Prince George's County, with over 100 full-time employees, an affiliated Christian school and television broadcasts on 11 stations. In 1995 the church received national attention when President Clinton honored Cherry during a State of the Union address.

God's Voice in the Night

According to Cherry, what ultimately prompted the church's split from the denomination was nothing short of a direct ...

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