A bishop has been branded a squatter after refusing to leave a historic church for four years because the owners doubled the rent.
Since 2019, Bishop Earnest Smith has been preaching in the 100-year-old chapel, after the leaders of what was known as Allen Temple CME, who had the building since the 1970s, closed the church while they waited to appoint a new minister.
They claim Bishop Smith, who at the time was preaching out of his home, requested to rent the building.
Since then, the trustees from the old congregation say Smith refused to give up the building, having even changing the locks.
Temple member Rekandria Leach claims Smithagreed to rent out the temple for $200 a year for a year before it doubled to $400, but when the time came, Smith rejected the agreement.
In his Sunday service, Smith addressed the issue by saying he's 'not scared' of his opponents and maintained he 'did nothing wrong', to the cheers of his congregation.
"No matter what the enemy throw at me, I'm on my way back… in life we have to understand that we are going to go through some trials and tribulations. The lord does not tell us how we're going to go through" he said.
"We all have gone through things in life, we have been accused of some stuff… the difference of yours and mine is that I was put on national television."
Smith argues that the secretary of the church, Faye Pam, told him that he would be given the building after completing the temporary lease.
"She said, 'We are probably going to give you the building because we're not going to use the building'. I said, 'Thank you' and really got excited," Smith told KATV.
"We've never been squatters. We've been paying all this money to her, and we've got proof that we paid the money to her," he added.
Smith claims the $200 paid in his first year was for insurance on the building rahter than rent.
The bishop has has recently renamed the church 'Temple of Faith Ministries' and has posted a new sign outside it, to replace the one for Allen Temple.
According to Blaze Media, a spokesperson for the national CME church admitted that its historical buildings which are no longer in use do not necessarily retain their CME affiliation.
Leach replied that the church was never abandoned, just in search of a new minister.
When asked whether he has considered finding a different church building, Smith confessed to feeling "tired" but then added that his attorney has advised him to stay and "the Spirit" does not want him to cave in.
"I tell my people all the time. We are going to be talked about. Criticized. They did that to Jesus Christ. We are not exempt," he said.
"But when it hits you hard, it hurts. Especially the people you thought you could trust."