- The Washington Times - Monday, July 1, 2002

It was a bittersweet requiem for what was one of the region's fastest growing churches yesterday as almost 300 parishioners of the Gibbons-Resurrection United Methodist Church in Brandywine said goodbye to their pastor and to each other after the church's final service.
"It was a day of great celebration and joy," said the Rev. Rodney T. Smothers after the service. "It was a day of great devastation. It was a great day to talk about the past and about the future."
During the service which included baptism, music and prayer church leaders told parishioners to look to the future and accept the situation as God's will.
But later, church members were lamenting the loss and were bitter about the circumstances that led to the church's end.
"It is so sad," said Ida Norman of Brandywine, tears streaming down her face. "But it was a beautiful service."
Jacqueline Coachman of Alexandria came to support the church on its final day because she said this church had inspired her to return to the church.
"It's such a special place," she said. "What happened is a travesty. Those responsible will eventually be held responsible."
The demise of the 118-year-old church followed an initial boom period in which the church grew from 120 to 4,000 worshippers under the Rev. C. Anthony Muse, who renamed the church the Resurrection Prayer Worship Center in 1984.
Mr. Muse, whose popularity helped him win a seat in the Maryland General Assembly, had disagreements with his bishop in 1999. Soon after, Mr. Muse led all but 300 of the parishioners out of the church and established an independent church in Oxon Hill called the Ark of Safety Christian Church. Now he is running for Prince George's County executive as a Democrat while leading the bulk of the splinter congregation.
The Brandywine church reverted to the Gibbons-Resurrection name that same year. Last year, Mr. Smothers was recruited to try to turn around the church, which sank $6 million into debt because of construction costs during Mr. Muse's pastorship. The Brandywine church was forced to default on the building and 1,200-seat sanctuary. That congregation places the fault for the woes on Mr. Muse.
Neither side in the dispute is commenting because of a lawsuit filed by the regional United Methodists seeking missing financial records from Mr. Muse.
Mr. Muse has blamed the financial problems on corrupt building contractors. He said he decided to leave the Methodist Church because the offer of $1.2 million in aid from a former superior, Bishop Felton May, was not sufficient.
Members of the Brandywine church have been willing to borrow $2.5 million to try to retain the property, which includes a vast sanctuary and two unfinished wings. Mr. Muse's following has made a $3.2 million bid in hopes of moving back in.
Meanwhile, United Methodist pastors from other area congregations attended yesterday's worship service to offer their churches as a next home. Mr. Smothers said he will start a new church, to be called Covenant Point United Methodist Church, next month in nearby Waldorf.
"We wouldn't be human if we didn't have some righteous indignation," said Mr. Smothers. "We worked hard to clean up someone else's mess. But now is the time to look ahead. The best is yet to come."
Many said they would follow Mr. Smothers to his new church.
"It's a sad occasion, but we have to move on to the future," said Claude Waters, 48, who grew up in this church and whose father is a former pastor of the church. "But I still have family and friends. And soon we will have another church."

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