CLAIRTON, Pa. (AP) _ A Lutheran church closed since police ended a takeover by supporters of its activist ex-pastor has reopened after 16 months, but the defrocked minister and his backers were barred from attending the service.
D. Douglas Roth, the ousted pastor, and about 50 other supporters of the militant, pro-labor Denominational Ministry Strategy were turned away at the main entrance of Trinity Lutheran Church when they tried to enter just before the Sunday morning service.
″Mr. Roth, you are violating Judge (Emil) Narick’s order,″ Allegheny County Deputy Sheriff Peter DeFazio told the group gathered in front of the church.
Roth maintained that Narick’s November 1984 order prohibiting him from preaching or entering Trinity Lutheran no longer is relevant because the congregation had been disbanded.
″This sounds like Russia to me,″ one Roth supporter, James Wiley, shouted to deputies. ″I fought for this country and now I cannot go to church.″
Roth, 34, who still wears a clerical collar, was removed from the clergy rolls last June for refusing to obey his superiors and give up his pulpit. About half of Trinity Lutherans’ blue-collar congregation had complained to the bishop about Roth’s outspoken support of the Denominational Ministry Strategy and the Network to Save the Mon-Ohio Valley.
The two groups have used confrontational tactics over the past few years, such as disrupting services attended by corporate executives, to publicize the plight of the unemployed. Supporters blame the area’s high blue-collar unemployment on the failure of Pittsburgh corporations to invest in local industry in favor of overseas investments.
Roth was jailed for 3 1/2 months for contempt of court after being arrested at Trinity Lutheran’s altar in November 1984. Bishop Kenneth R. May disbanded the congregation soon afterward.
His supporters barricaded themselves inside the church in protest, and deputies raided the building and arrested them in January 1985. The church had been closed since.
On Sunday, about 40 worshipers, some of whom have belonged to the 65-year- old church for 40 years, attended the service conducted by the Rev. John Schneidmiller, regional director of the Lutheran Church in America’s division for missions in North Africa. A new permanent pastor has not been appointed.
The church’s doors were locked during the service. Afterward, the worshipers emerged, locked the doors again and hung a ″No Trespassing″ sign.
″It’s stupid on their part,″ one worshiper, Wilma Rosche, said, referring to Roth’s group. ″But we’re not going to let that hold us back here.″
The Denominational Ministry supporters left quietly after being turned away, but said they will return every Sunday until they are allowed inside.
Roth has been sentenced by Narick to an additional six to 12 months for disorderly conduct and failure to disperse, but he is appealing that conviction.
He had been conducting Sunday morning services at his Clairton home since Trinity Lutheran was locked.