Controversy is roiling the Living Water Assembly in Mistissini, where the board of directors of the local Pentecostal church has taken former pastor Joseph Blacksmith to court. The members of the board state that in the past year Blacksmith has assumed control of their church building on 304 Amisk Street, withheld access to church assets and documents, created confusion amongst the church community and obliged them to hold separate church meetings at the Mistissini Lodge.
According to litigation filed by Living Water board members Tony Neeposh, Charlie Mianscum, Helen Petawabano, Virginia Coonishish, Sarah Taylor and Pastor Johnny Dixon, Blacksmith has retained possession of the church vehicle, incorporated a Canadian non-profit organization under the identical name “Living Water Assembly” and even attempted to access the church bank accounts, which prompted the Board to contact Mistissini police. Blacksmith has moved to disaffiliate Living Water Assembly from the Pentecostal Assemblies of Canada (PAOC), which the church has belonged to since its inception in the 1970s.
The plaintiff’s lawyer, Benoit Amuyot, told the Nation that Blacksmith’s actions amount to an “illegal takeover”.
“When we received their defense we understood that they were not just trying to create another religious organization,” said Amuyot, “but rather to take control of the previously existing Living Water Assembly. [Blacksmith did all of this] without following the local church constitution and bylaws.”
Documents obtained from Amuyot’s law firm, Cain Lamarre Casgrain and Welles, state that Living Water Assembly’s board of directors filed suit against Blacksmith, Jeremiah Abel Mianscum and Roger Gingras (directors of the newly incorporated non-profit) only as a last resort after a number of unsuccessful attempts at dialogue with the defendant and an ongoing controversy over the name “Living Water Assembly”.
Since moving to disaffiliate the Mistissini Pentecostal community from the PAOC in January, Blacksmith has been holding meetings at the Living Water Assembly with members of the local Pentecostal community and another church, the Perch River Fellowship. Interestingly enough, the Perch River Fellowship was formed in 1990 when Henry Mianscum, then pastor of the Living Water Assembly, decided to break away from the congregation and form a new religious affiliation separate from any provincial or national religious organization.
Blacksmith was originally instated as head pastor of Living Water Assembly on April 7, 2013, replacing long-term leader Pastor Dixon. However, Dixon was re-designated as pastor in December of the same year after health issues lead to Blacksmith’s hospitalization.
The lawsuit claims that Blacksmith returned to the church in January 2014 and called a public meeting to seek community support for his “new vision” of the church’s future. Following a second meeting on February 1, Blacksmith allegedly had the locks of the church building on Amisk Street changed, subsequently occupying the location and operating the facilities under the pre-existing name without support from the church’s members, its established board of directors or Pastor Dixon.
The plaintiff argues that Blacksmith used his authority as pastor to call the January 20 and February 1 meetings without informing or notifying any of the board members, and states that at the first meeting, “accusations were made against Pastor Johnny Dixon, the Board of Directors of the Mistissini Pentecostal Church and PAOC District of Quebec and allusions were made to disaffiliation.”
According to the same documents, the meeting on February 1 aimed to “validate the decision to disaffiliate by encouraging members of the public to follow the new ‘vision’ of Pastor Joseph Blacksmith,” and “…had the effect of creating confusion amongst the members of the Living Water Assembly and the public in general leading them to believe that such group was the official Living Water Assembly.”
Dixon contacted the Nation to provide his views on the dispute. “There’s nothing personal here, no revenge or anything like that,” he said. “They tried to take our identity, that’s basically what we’re fighting for, to get our name back and have our assets properly recognized.”
Both Amuyot and Dixon stressed the fact that the plaintiff is not directly opposed to disaffiliation; they simply want to ensure that the proper procedures are followed and that everyone who is legitimately part of the church is involved. They would like to clear up confusion amongst the church community regarding the name Living Water Assembly, make the public aware of what has been going on and put the question of disaffiliation to a congregational vote with a representative of the PAOC present.
“In the meetings earlier this year, Blacksmith brought in the other group [Perch River Fellowship] and members of the general public,” Dixon added. “Members of Living Waters Assembly were not included. It was the pastor who disaffiliated and not the people.”
Dixon says the views of the Living Water Assembly congregation must be heard, with a clear distinction between the church’s original members, members of the Perch River Fellowship and members of the general public who do not regularly attend church meetings.
Despite the ongoing conflict, Dixon remains optimistic. “One of the things I hope for the future,” he said, “is regardless of what decisions are made in that court, I hope that we can all work together as believers whether we’re under the same roof or not. We need to start working together, and I hope that one day there will be a reconciliation.”
He and members of the board of Living Water Assembly continue to hold Sunday church meetings at the Mistissini Lodge and are actively searching for a vacant building where they would be able to conduct other church activities such as programs for youth and children.
Following a lengthy first court hearing on November 11 in Mistissini, court proceedings have been postponed to February 16. Amuyot indicated the suit would likely require at least another two days of proceedings as the defendants have yet to present their case.
Neither Blacksmith nor his lawyer, Michel Grenier, were available for comment at the time of publishing.