Dispute forces pastor out of Nashua church

NASHUA – A judge has given the Rev. Candido Garcia until April 10 to pack up and get out of the Iglesia Pentecostal y Misionera, court records show.

The Pentacostal Missionary Church at 58 Elm St. is owned by the Iglesia Pentecostal y Misionera Inc., of Puerto Rico, and the governing board of the larger church moved to oust the Nashua pastor as a result of an internal political dispute playing out in Puerto Rico, lawyers for both sides said Wednesday.

“There are two factions wrestling for control of this church in Puerto Rico,” said Garcia’s lawyer, Michael Merra of Nashua.

Merra and the church’s lawyer, Randall Wilbert of Nashua, said the dispute arose from a schism within the church, and a consequent legal dispute in Puerto Rico. Merra said the dispute arose when the church’s governing board overruled the results of an election by church delegates for the position of church president. The dispute is centered on the church constitution, and whether church pastors may also serve as officers of the church, Wilbert said.

“It’s adherence to the constitution,” Wilbert said.

Arrangements have been made for services at the Nashua church to continue uninterrupted, Wilbert said.

Local church leaders planned to meet Wednesday night to discuss the situation, but they believe the church’s action against their pastor is illegal, a man who interpreted for Garcia said by telephone Wednesday.

“I feel hurt,” Garcia said Wednesday evening before the meeting. “Not just for myself but for the congregation.”

Merra said the case in Puerto Rico has yet to run its course.

“There’s been extensive litigation in Puerto Rico regarding control of the church, and the ultimate outcome here in New Hampshire will be dependent on what occurs in Puerto Rico,” Merra said. “It’s my understanding that there is an appeal being taken this week to the Supreme Court in Puerto Rico that will ultimately decide control over the church.”

The church was founded in Puerto Rico and has more than a dozen churches in the United States, including six in New England, Wilbert said. The church has moved against other pastors in Puerto Rico, Merra said, but Garcia was the only one targeted in the United States.

The church’s district supervisor, the Rev. Luis Rosario of the Pentacostal Missionary Church in Haverhill, Mass., filed a petition to freeze the Nashua church’s assets March 26 in Hillsborough County Superior Court, court records show. Rosario cited the legal dispute in Puerto Rico, saying Garcia was removed as a result of a dispute with the Governing Board of the Church Council. He included a copy of a Sept. 25, 2008, letter from the church Executive Secretary Arelis Gandia, notifying Garcia that he was suspended from all church duties for violations of various church regulations.

Churches with “The Movement,” as members call it, are required to tithe to the main organization, and the Nashua church stopped sending payments in September of last year, Rosario charged. The Nashua church had reported income of $142,207.67 in the previous fiscal year, so the church suspected that “money is being misappropriated or misdirected,” he wrote.

Judge James Barry granted the petition to attach the church’s assets, and at first ordered Garcia and his family to vacate the church apartment “forthwith.”

After a hearing Tuesday, Barry declined to lift the freeze on the church’s bank account, but gave Garcia until noon April 10 to move out.

Andrew Wolfe can be reached at 594-6410 or awolfe@nashuatelegraph.com.