by Max Brantley
No luck so far in a detailed followup on the surprise resignation Sunday of Bishop Steven Arnold from the leadership of St. Mark Baptist Church on 12th Street. Believed to be the state's largest black church, with some 6,700 members, it has grown enormously. (The church's most recent annual report puts membership over 7,000 and a $4.8 million 2010 budget, including $2.1 million in salary and benefits.)
It has begun ground work on a new worship center that one banker said was expected to cost $14 million. A couple of people with knowledge of the situation say that loan was due to close this week, but now will be delayed as both sides regroup after the change in leadership. The church has also worked to develop a land use plan that would allow a hotel development near Fair Park Boulevard and Interstate 630. This application outlines the plans.
Arnold's departure naturally raises questions about future church leadership and continuation of the planned expansion. City officials who've been in touch with church leaders (none has returned our calls) said they are hopeful the building plans will move forward, but said they'll be meeting with church officials to learn more in days ahead.
Arnold reportedly announced his resignation, mentioning unspecified personal "indiscretions," at all three Sunday morning worship services. He was accompanied by his wife, Shanta, an employee of the Arkansas Lottery.
Arnold, a charismatic leader, is expected by some to begin a new church. References to Arnold have been removed from the church website
, including a video of him preaching that once greeted visitors. (That video disappeared for a time but seems to have returned.)
Apart from whatever severance deal may have been arranged, the Arnold family can count on more than his wife's state lottery job for support. He gets about $25,000 a year for a part-time appointment to the Arkansas Claims Commission.
The church moved to 12th Street from the south end of Little Rock in 1994. Arnold had been senior pastor for more than 20 years when he resigned. The church broadcasts services on a number of TV channels, including following Saturday Night Live on KARK. A viewer said Arnold's sermon a week ago was about the perils of sin and the need to change.
Future leadership? Who knows. It might be worth mentioning that a former St. Mark pastor, Maurice Watson, has gone on to lead the dynamic Beulahland Bible Church in Macon, Ga. He's the brother of Little Rock School Superintendent Linda Watson.
UPDATE: Repeated calls to multiple church officials and Arnold have not been returned. An absence of any announcement about transition lends at least some credence to rumors that began circulating this afternoon that Arnold's resignation might be rescinded and he'd be reinstated. Just rumor, mind you, but stay tuned. His loss undoubtedly holds harm to church membership and the expansion plan. So .... Two TV stations, including KARK, which originally reported the resignation and the reason Arnold gave during his sermons, said a church spokesman said a statement could be expected Tuesday afternoon.