Greater Salem Church will hire Harriet Jinwright as interim pastor until the west Charlotte congregation can make other leadership arrangements, has learned.

The plan was outlined Wednesday by a member of Greater Salem’s board of directors during a routine U.S. bankruptcy court hearing.

Jinwright and her husband, Bishop Anthony Jinwright, were sentenced to federal prison Dec. 9 after being convicted earlier this year on multiple counts related to tax evasion.

The board member, Blease Turner, said the church also continues to pay a salary to Anthony Jinwright, who has been in the Mecklenburg jail since his May 3 conviction.

The church’s bankruptcy attorney, Rick Mitchell, said he opposed further payments to Anthony Jinwright.

“It’s such an emotional issue; they feel it should be presented to the entire congregation,” he said. “We’ve got to make some hard decisions and some painful decisions, but they’ve got to be made.”

Greater Salem filed for Chapter 11 bankruptcy protection in November after a California credit union began foreclosure proceedings on a $5 million loan that had fallen into default.

Bankruptcy records show that Greater Salem paid Anthony Jinwright $271,080 in housing and salary in the 12-month period before the bankruptcy filing. He remains the only full-time employee on the church’s payroll.

Harriet Jinwright received $51,625 during the previous year but is not currently being paid from the church, Turner told the court. Her salary as interim pastor would be “reasonable,” he said.

Greater Salem also holds a cash-value life insurance policy that names Harriet Jinwright as beneficiary. After a $142,000 loan, Turner said, the policy has a current value of $28,000.

Mitchell said he has advised church leaders to either cash in the policy or sell it to Harriet Jinwright.

A federal attorney representing the court noted a “significant drop-off” in the amount Greater Salem has collected this year. Bankruptcy records show that church collections fell from $1,650,546 in 2008 to $1,612,777 in 2009 to $577,450 through November 2010.

“When you don’t have a leader, that’s going to happen in most churches,” Turner told the court.

In other bankruptcy issues related to church:

  • Mitchell told the court that Greater Salem’s reorganization plan involves selling all major properties except for the main building on Salem Church Road.
  • The Catholic Diocese has offered $1.5 million for the Huntersville location, he said.
  • After major assets are sold, the church will work with the California credit union to restructure a deal that would allow Greater Salem to keep the main building.

At the Jinwright’s sentencing hearing, an IRS agent said the couple failed to report more than $2.3 million in income between 1991 and 2008. Witnesses testified during the trial that the Jinwrights routinely collected “love offerings” from Greater Salem members, sometimes taking the cash home in bags.

Much of that money went unreported on tax returns, the government alleged.

Mitchell, the church’s bankruptcy attorney, said none of the money the Jinwrights received from Greater Salem was improperly taken.

“Everyone assumes that the Jinwrights took money from the church that they were not entitled to,” he said. “That did not happen. The members loved them and revered them and showered them..”

Turner agreed, saying all payments to the Jinwrights were approved by church directors.

Anthony Jinwright, 54, was sentenced to eight years and nine months in prison. Harriet Jinwright, 51, was given six years and eight months. Both must serve at least 85 percent of their sentences.

Turner did not indicate Wednesday whether the couple would return to Greater Salem as co-pastors once they are released.

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