Guadalupe "Lupe" Davila, a pastor stripped of his ordination, is not letting up his fight to regain control of a small church on the edge of El Mirage. The members, some of whom he fleeced, aren't ready to give up the fight either.
They're now searching for an attorney who will help them sort out in court the muddled paper trail regarding the ownership of the church and who has legal control of it.
In 2012, Davila ruled the roost at Primera Iglesia Bautista Camino al Cielo. But his fast and loose style, including sleeping with and harassing women attending the church, gambling, and not rendering a financial accounting to his flock got him stripped of his ordination, arrested by El Mirage police, and kicked out of the church he was supposed to be shepherding.
The members who kicked him out -- literally to the curb when they gutted the church of his belongings and placed it curbside in bins for him to retrieve -- worked to establish order, oversight, and transparency within the congregation.
They changed the name of the church from Camino al Cielo to Luz del Cielo (essentially from a Pathway to Heaven to Light from Heaven) for a fresh start.
As they worked to establish the nonprofit status of the church and file the appropriate tax paperwork, they had a church in Surprise waiting in the wings to provide financial support to get the utilities back on in the church and begin church services.
None of that seems to matter to Davila, who since has threatened to sue the members who kicked him out and took control of the church building.
Davila tried to take ownership of the church building in June by transferring the building from the church to himself. He fudged the paperwork and tried it again in July.
Maricopa County records show that in October he appeared to try to undo those previous attempts by filing with the county Assessor's Office a deed agreeing to quit any claims to the property.
But that was just on paper. Earlier this week, he busted into the church property, took down a sign put up by his onetime church members displaying the church's new name (Luz del Cielo), and changed the lock on the gate.
It's a disappointing turn of events for the group, including church member Rod Hennig. He worked to get the church in order by establishing a church board, creating bylaws, and securing financial support to re-open the church with Spanish-language Bible studies and Sunday church services.
"The number-one thing is to get this up and running," Hennig tells New Times. "But it's not about taking over the church -- that is an aside for the benefit of the community. The main thing was to expose Davila to the world and to stop him from doing harm to people and taking their money. We want him to be held accountable for his illegal acts."
Hennig and the others haven't given up yet.
The church members hope to sort out who has legal control of the church, which according to state records, belongs to the church. The battle clearly will be over which members constitute "the church."
Davila still has a few followers who are standing by his side.
They aren't concerned that he was arrested on March 22 for ignoring police warnings to stop a campaign of harassing one of his former church lovers.
Or that he was stripped of his ordination a few days later by the church who licensed him to preach the gospel.
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"You are a man in need of real help," a pastor from the church that ordained Davila wrote to him shortly after his arrest.
That pastor noted that Davila and his "ways of deceiving others to get [his] way" hadn't stopped. "I can no longer give you the credentials to be a minister of the gospel . . .Your license and ordination to preach the gospel of Jesus Christ will be revoked immediately."
Or that, according to several longtime and newer churchgoers alike, Davila never shared financial information with parishioners or explained what happened to all the money a swell of new members and volunteers donated.
He cleared out one account with contributions for a children's learning center he was operating at the church. When donors asked about funds, he suggested it was time for them to stop volunteering and part ways with his church.