Subscribe for 99¢
Deaconess Anne House

Jillian Smith, 22, with the Episcopal Service Corps, teaches guitar lessons to sisters Camryn Moore, 10, Cayleigh Moore, 7, and Camille Moore, 8, (not pictured) at All Saints Episcopal Church in St. Louis on Thursday, Dec. 12, 2013. Photo By David Carson, dcarson@post-dispatch.com

ST. LOUIS • Members of an Episcopal church in St. Louis have filed suit claiming its leaders have locked them out and absconded with more than $360,000 in church funds as part of a pending merger.

Four longtime members of the All Saints Episcopal Church filed suit late Tuesday night asking a judge to stop the merger, return $360,000 from the church’s endowment and keep the doors open “to allow parishioners the free will [to] worship God in their home church.

“Plaintiffs are currently barred from the church, the locks have been changed and the plaintiffs lack unfettered access to information, records and documentation due to the administrative office being removed,” the suit says.

In their petition for a restraining order, church members Sallie Simmons, 89, Sandra Murdock, 78, Darren Pearson, 56, and William C. Harris Jr., 51, describe themselves as “faithful and strong financial supporters” of the church. They claim the Rev. Michael Dunnington, priest-in-charge, and Michael Griffin, a church warden, broke bylaws by depleting All Saints’ bank accounts and announcing plans to close and merge with Ascension Church at 4520 Lucas and Hunt Road in Northwoods without parishioners’ consent. The plaintiffs say Ascension is “small and inferior” to All Saints.

Dunnington and Griffin could not be reached for comment Wednesday.

The plaintiffs’ attorney, Sheila R. Stuart, would not discuss the petition but said the plaintiffs had been members for more than 50 years and were “upstanding individuals who love the church like they love a child.”

Church leaders moved All Saints’ administrative offices to Ascension “in order to cover up the criminal activities of absconding the church’s funds of more than $360,000,” the suit says.

The members claim the church leaders will profit from the sale of the church at Kingshighway and Terry and “never have to answer to the missing monies in the church endowment fund.” They say the church is financially sustainable and claim to have a plan “to yield innovation and growth.”

A hearing is set for 11 a.m. Tuesday in St. Louis Circuit Judge Joan L. Moriarty’s courtroom.

Get high-interest news alerts delivered promptly to your inbox.