Since its founding in 1942, Fellowship Baptist Church and its congregation was an active part of the Chickamauga community.
But that recently changed. The church's sign has been taken down and its doors locked, after 15 members were ousted after questioning financial decisions made by its former minister.
Troubles began in 2016 after a $42,000 bequest from the late Mary Dengler, a longtime member of Fellowship, was received.
According to the dismissed members, preacher Tim Owens, of Journey On Ministries, told the congregation during a May 10 service that God had come to him in a "vision" on how to spend Dengler's money and that the "Lord was leading him" on what to do with it.
Owens had been minister for the three years.
Owens' announcement alarmed some of the congregation — many of whom had attended Fellowship since childhood — to question their minister's recent financial transactions.
Don't ask questions?
Fellowship Baptist had about 60 members when the recent ruckus began.
According to the (at that time) church financial director and former school teacher Leann Mize, Owens received a salary of about $3,000 per month, which included his family's housing.
The church had three separate bank accounts: a general account, a designated account and a reserve account. Dengler's money was placed in the reserve account.
The designated account was designed to pay for mission trips, Vacation Bible School and other church programs.
The reserve account was established to fund any unforeseen problems with church facilities such as wear-and-tear on the building, air-conditioning repairs and so on.
Mize said the church operated with a line-item budget that detailed how the money was spent. But, she said, Owens told her that the utilities did not need to be itemized any more and to just leave a total sum of the utility expenses.
On April 30, Owens turned in his resignation, effective May 14 (Mother's Day), and preached only once during May. He had a guest speaker for the next Wednesday service and canceled the Mother's Day service, instead advising the congregation to stay home with their mothers.
Owens' reasoning for resigning, according to those 15 dismissed members, was that he did not want to cause another church split, similar to what had occurred in the
1990s and, more recently, a few years ago as well. Instead, he said he was going back into his music ministry, Old Time Preachers Quartet.
Once questions arose regarding church finances, the majority of members voted to "de-church" about a dozen members on May 10, saying (in a petition) they were bringing an "unhealthy, divisive and destructive atmosphere" to the church. At the same time, they petitioned Owens to remain as pastor.
Those ousted say this was a way to keep Owens as minister. The reasoning and the list of names were presented during a church meeting.
The church did not have elders and deacons overseeing the minister and church.
Since that time, the remaining members of the church have changed the locks on the doors, taken down the sign, and closed services. Owens" supporters continue to meet in the church gymnasium.
"What have we done to deserve this?" Mize said.
Here comes the money
After the members were voted out, three checks made out to Owens were discovered, including a severance package, even though Owens resigned from the church.
On May 17, $2,000 was paid to Owens out of the reserve account and listed as "missions" for a trip Owens and his wife made to Israel in February. Owens posted pictures of the trip on the church's Facebook page
Mize said this was the second mission trip to Israel for Owens, noting that he did not conduct any mission work in Israel but went "sight seeing" with his wife and that this was not a mission trip.
The church's remaining members previously tried to pay Owens the $2,000 for the trip, but the ousted members did not feel he was owed the money, so he was not paid. But once they were kicked out, Fellowship's remaining members paid Owens the
On May 28, a severance package check for $11,280.99 was made to Owens - from the reserve account - and was marked for Owens' housing allowance. But, Mize said, Owens already received housing allowances in his monthly pay.
The church's minister job description and application dated Aug. 3, 2014 - when Owens was hired - reads, "If the senior pastor is dismissed, for any reason other than moral failure, the church agrees to pay three months severance."
Mize said that since the minister resigned and was not fired - based on his own application - he would not be entitled to this money.
A third check - once again out of the reserve account - for more housing allowances was issued June 4 in the amount of $1,526.21.
On June 30, the church wrote a check to the Journey On ministry for $20,094.33 from the missions account, which dropped the reserve balance to zero.
On that same day, the church wrote a $24,254.74 check to the' Journey On ministry from the general account, which depleted that account.
These checks, when totaled, show Owens was paid just under $60,000 from the church coffers in a matter of a few months, not including his monthly salary.
And these checks to Owens were earmarked for Journey On Ministries, meaning they were tax-exempt.
Mary Dengler died before Owens became pastor at the church.
The ousted members feel this was not how Dengler would want her bequest treated and claim the remaining members are acting like a "cult" that has taken over the church and has blind allegiance to Owens.
The former members claim Owens did not like being questioned and they did not like the church being run by "one family."
Johanna Williams, who remained with the former Fellowship Baptist Church and who also works for the Northwest Georgia Baptist Association, was contacted but declined to comment. Williams was among those who signed off on the
Eddy Rushing, director of missions for the Northwest Georgia Baptist Association, declined comment, but did confirm that Fellowship Baptist is no more and its remaining members will "restart" a new church called Grace Baptist Church.
Mize and others said the remaining members will not return their calls.
"I've never been thrown out of my own kitchen, let alone a church," ousted member Eulene Matthews said.
The goal now for the ousted members is to find a new place of worship and - hopefully - stay together, Mize said.
State Rep. Craig Hall of Utah has four redheaded school-age children, lives in the state with the highest rate of melanoma in the country, and buys sunscreen "in the Costco size." He is an unabashed proponent of sun protection.
But when Hall, a Republican, introduced legislation this year to allow kids to bring sunscreen to school — which starts Aug. 21 in his district — he said his fellow state lawmakers were a little less enthusiastic. "My colleagues' first reaction to this bill was mostly, 'Seriously? We need a bill for this?' "
Like ibuprofen or hay fever medication, sunscreen is considered an over-the-counter drug by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration, and therefore by almost all schools. That means kids can't bring it to school without a doctor's note, and even then must see the school nurse in order to use it.
The result: Teachers leading a sunny field trip are free to cover themselves in a thick protective layer of sunscreen. But in most states, children can't follow suit. In Indianapolis, for instance, kids go back to school July 31 — the height of summer — but they must have a doctor's note to bring sunscreen to school, and visit the school nurse to put it on.
That is beginning to change. In the past four months, Alabama, Arizona, Florida, Louisiana, Utah and Washington have enacted laws declaring students may use sunscreen in school
and at after-school activities, no doctor's note required. Those states join California, New York, Oregon and Texas, which already have lifted the ban on sunscreen in school. The laws in Arizona, New York and Washington also stipulate that kids may bring and use sunscreen at summer camps.
The legislation is designed to allow school districts to implement "sun safety" policies that encourage kids to use sunscreen and wear hats and long sleeves in the sun — though in a nod to school dress codes, the legislation allows schools to ban clothes and hats deemed inappropriate.
Sunscreen legislation is also in the works in Massachusetts, Pennsylvania and Rhode Island. A sunscreen bill that cleared the Senate in Mississippi died in a House committee, and a bill introduced in Georgia has stalled.
"Parents, I think, are the best decisionmakers on" their children's sunscreen use, said Republican state Sen. Terry Burton, a co-sponsor of the Mississippi bill. It would have required the state Education Department to write a sun safety policy for districts to follow. "The school should not interfere with that decision that a parent makes to protect their child."
Legislators say they are motivated by angry parents whose children suffered serious sunburns at school events where sunscreen was banned. "If you just Google 'kid sunburned at school,' " Hall said, "some of the stories are horrifying."
In Rhode Island, Democratic state Rep. David Bennett said the state's 2016 law requiring daily school recess makes it more important that kids be allowed to put on sunscreen by themselves. "The kids are impatient. They've got 20 minutes. They're not going to stand in line for 20 minutes'' while a teacher applies sunscreen, said Bennett, whose bill passed the lower house and is now in the Senate. "By the time she gets done with the last kid, the 20 minutes is going to be over."
But Bennett ran into opposition from the Rhode Island association of school nurses, which opposes the bill. Unlike other state sunscreen laws, Rhode Island's legislation has no language to address liability for school employees who may apply sunscreen and for school districts. The school nurses group also believes sunscreen should be kept out of classrooms because of potential allergies among students.
Diane Kowal, president of the Rhode Island Certified School Nurse Teachers Association, said two children in her Coventry school district carry EpiPens because of sunscreen allergies. Parents could be sending their kids to school with sunscreen and a doctor's note, which would allow her to dispense the sunscreen, she said — but they don't.
While she receives doctor's notes from parents to administer ibuprofen and even cough drops, she has not received any to permit sunscreen use, even at annual school field days when she alerts parents to be sure kids are protected from the sun. "They all show up with the hats and water bottles,'' but no sunscreen, Kowal said.
"We're not against sunscreen,'' Kowal said. "There just needs to be language to protect everyone, from the person putting it on to the kids sharing it."
Bruce Brod, political advocacy chair for the Pennsylvania Academy of Dermatology and Dermatologic Surgery, said a serious allergy risk is unlikely. "A kid might be allergic to hair gel. The question is where do you draw the reasonable line?"
Push by dermatologists
Beyond media coverage of kids with lobster-red sunburns, the legislation has been driven by an advocacy campaign from a coalition of medical groups including the American Academy of Dermatology Association and the American Society for Dermatologic Surgery Association, whose members decided in March to push for sunscreen legislation. The dermatologic surgery group wrote model legislation and earmarked $30,000 in grants for state dermatology organizations to lobby for the bill. The dermatology association also provided advocacy grants to state groups.
The quick results — four state laws in three months — are because "it's an issue that doesn't seem to be politically divisive at all," said Terry Cronin, a Melbourne, Florida, dermatologist and head of the advocacy working group for the dermatologic surgery society. "Everybody sees that kids need to be protected from skin cancer and they should be protected with sunscreen."
The medical groups say they are hopeful that Illinois and Ohio will take up sunscreen legislation next.
Some sunscreen laws specify that schoolchildren may put on their own sunscreen and that school personnel may volunteer to help them. Utah's law, for instance, includes a provision that if a child can't apply her own sunscreen, a teacher or school employee may do so, but only with the written consent of the parents. The school and its personnel are not liable for either a reaction to the sunscreen or for not reapplying it.
"The real difficulty is a lot of the teachers and nurses are uncomfortable having to apply this on children because they don't want to be seen as handling the child," Cronin said. Sunscreen bills which exempt sunscreen from being administered by school personnel — as medications such as ibuprofen must be — mean that teachers can show students how to put on their own sunscreen.
California a leader
Sunscreen legislation is appealing because it doesn't require the state to spend money: simply tell parents they can send sunscreen to school with their children. But as parents may already know, just because kids can wear sunscreen doesn't mean they will. Nor will school districts necessarily get the message.
California was the leader in sunscreen legislation: The state enacted a law in 2002 allowing sunscreen to be used in schools without a doctor's note and requiring schools to let students wear hats and protective clothing when outdoors. "Billy's Bill for Sun Safety" was named for Billy Graham, who died of melanoma at the age of 22; a foundation started by his mother after his death lobbied for the legislation.
While many California school districts updated their sunscreen policies as a result of Billy's Bill, surveys have discovered that "many schools had not changed their practices even though the district had changed its policy," said Jeff Ashley, a Burbank, California, dermatologist and president of Sun Safety For Kids, a nonprofit that advocates for improved school policies and helped write the California School Boards Association sun safety policy.
"From passing the bill to actual student behavior — there are a lot of steps in between," said Julia Berteletti of Klein Buendel, a Colorado health communications firm that is working with Ashley to study California school districts' compliance with the state sun safety policy.
"We're also finding, anecdotally, that even if a district passes a policy, that doesn't always translate into the principal knowing the policy."
Why might schools be slow to adopt the new approach? "This is speculative, but I think schools object a little bit to having to be babysitters. They feel a bit overwhelmed just trying to meet all the educational goals," Ashley said, "even though everyone agrees that sun safety is prudent."
Even if school personnel begin promoting sunscreen use with their students, gauging whether kids are more protected would be tough because there is little information on how often kids use sunscreen now, Berteletti says.
Regardless of difficulties in implementation, the new state laws "send a clear message that this is something we take seriously," said Brod, the Pennsylvania dermatologist. "We know beyond a shadow of a doubt that sunlight is cancer-causing. It sends that message to the parents, to the teachers. It really is something very important."
Schools in Walker and Catoosa counties follow a much more common sense approach to the use of protective sunscreens.
Chickamauga Schools Superintendent Melody Day said, "We do not have a policy concerning the use of sunscreen, nor do we monitor use of sunscreen.
"Older students know if they need it, and we are fine if they do use it.
"If younger students' parents request it be used on their child, they provide the product to the teacher, and we comply. This is not an issue of concern in our system and certainly not one which would involve our school nurse."
Similar comments were made by the superintendents of the countywide systems.
"Walker County Schools does not have a policy regarding the use of sun screen," Superintendent Damon Raines said,"
And Denia Reese, Catoosa County's superintendent, said she has seen no need to regulate sunscreen for students.
Affordable aerial photography is being offered by a recently launched company, SkyVision Drone Service,
As its name suggests, this Rossville-based company can provide still or video images from the perspective of standing atop a 30-story building.
The brain child of Lamar Gillespie, an FAA-licensed drone pilot, SkyVision offers high resolution — 28 mgb still and 4K video — from a remotely controlled four-rotor drone.
Though "we're open to anything," Gillespie said his service focuses on commercial clients needing to advertise or document their work or property within the tri-state area.
With the drone, Gillespie aims to provide visuals for real estate developers, coverage of special events and festivals, construction projects, virtual tours and films to enhance websites.
And while their new undertaking may be "up in the
air," both Lamar and his wife Emily have established roots here in northwest Georgia.
For about eight years, he has taught music fundamentals to youngsters at Battlefield Primary. Before that, he was a music teacher at Westside Elementary and Lakeview Middle schools.
This new endeavor which is just getting off the ground is an adjunct to his teaching and his wife Emily's job of providing in-home elder care. With SkyVision, he acts as pilot/videographer while she acts as editor.
The company can be reached by calling 865-963-7588 or vising the myskyvision.com website.