Minden Press-Herald

Wednesday
Oct 01st

Evergreen church, lodge tied up in suit

Hurt feelings and wounded relationships have formed into a civil matter which entered into Honorable Judge Ford E. Stinson Jr.'s courtroom Wednesday.

The suits are tearing at the Evergreen Community, involving Evergreen Union Church and Dorcheat Masonic Lodge.

Attorneys Travis Holley and Tom Thompson, who are both Masons, are representing Dorcheat Masonic Lodge, led by Bill Frazier, who is Master of the lodge.

In his opening statement, Holley asserted the tension between the organizations was caused by a personal vendetta between James Pruitt and the Masons.

"Isn't it true this happened because your card was pulled?" Holley asked Pruitt after a line of questioning that built the foundation of Pruitt's experience with the Masonic Lodge.

"I've been a Mason for almost 50 years," Pruitt said. "My dad and grand-dad were also members ... So yes, it is fair to say the lodge means a whole lot to me."

Pruitt testified he asked to join the lodge when he was 21, which was the minimum age required at the time. After graduating from LSU and spending approximately two years in the U.S. military, Pruitt returned to the Evergreen Community where he was an active member until earlier this year.

"When I returned, the lodge was not very active," Pruitt said. "I like to think I did a lot to help get interest up and get things going again."

When asked why Pruitt was no longer an active member, Pruitt explained he "demitted" from Dorcheat lodge earlier this year, because he was in disagreement with how an election issue in 2011 was handled.

Holley attempted to prove the church's actions happened after Pruitt was kicked out, starting a chain of reactions and retaliations.

The lodge changed the locks to the second room floor and did not provide a key to church members.

According testimony, throughout their histories, the church and lodge had men with dual membership, often in leadership positions.

However, today there are no members of the lodge that are also members of the church.

After the church filed a suit against the lodge, the Masons responded with their own lawsuit and locked the doors on Givins Hall, a fellowship hall separate from the church but located on the same property.

According to testimony, the letter assumed Dorcheat Lodge was owner of Givins Hall and noted the church's property in the hall would be placed in storage until the courts rendered a verdict.

Attorneys William Ledbetter and David Newell, both of Bossier City are representing Evergreen Union Church, whose representative is R.O. Machen.

Ledbetter attempted to prove the church's ownership of the property, where the lodge was allowed to use the second floor room with an understanding, or verbal lease.

He asked Machen a series of questions which attempted to show documented support of financial responsibility.

"Evergreen Baptist and Evergreen Methodist are separate churches which contribute to Evergreen Union Church and Sunday school, which is its own incorporation," Machen said, noting the incorporation was obtained in 2002. "We did this for the purpose of partitioning the property with Evergreen Cemetery, which is also its own incorporation."

Machen said during the partitioning of the property, Masons who were also church members at that time, were likely aware of the church's actions.

Machen also testified the church has held contracts with insurance companies, oil and gas leases, and right-of-way agreements.

"They dealt with the church," he said. "The lodge was never consulted in lease agreements, just the church."

However testimony from Machen and others did acknowledge financial contributions from the lodge.

"After a 220 plug was installed and they put an AC unit up there, they had their own meter installed and they pay for that bill," Machen said. "For a time, they paid us eight to 12 dollars a month for insuring the content of the room – the Masons' property in there. But it just got to be too tedious to keep up with so, we (the church) pay for all the insurance now."

The property, which is 1.2 acres, was deeded in 1914 from the Lewis family, then in 1922 from the Lewis family to the Andersons, who left it to the cemetery and the Evergreen Community.

Testimony given supported the current church building was constructed by a community effort in the 1940's, when several males had dual membership in the church and lodge.

Givens Hall, which was completed in the early 1980's, is named after its largest benefactor, who was both a Mason and a church member.

Pruitt, denying a personal vendetta against the lodge, said he did not vote in meetings where the topic was an issue.

"I was a moderator in those meetings," he said. "But if I would have voted, I would have voted for them to leave. They have not been acting as they have in the past. That is why we asked them to go."

Pruitt said his reasons for feeling the Masons' actions had changed stem from accusations of the lodge being left in disarray after meetings, use of church supplies and destruction of a nativity scene.

"We no longer felt they were doing their part," he said. "When the lodge started, it was a community lodge. Now there are no members that live in the community, and it is not acting like a part of the community."

 

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