Inside the renamed St. Paul Community Church in North Hopewell Township, services went on with gusto Sunday morning.

There was singing, smiling faces and handshakes, and a close-to-full house dressed in their Sunday best. The Rev. Howard Edmondson delivered a spirited sermon on the link between humility and happiness.

But several longtime church members were not present, including Karen Snook of East Hopewell Township. She stayed at home further north on Winterstown Road, as she does every Sunday now. Snook, 46, was baptized at the church and attended there her entire life.

Snook supported the 2007 decision to make Edmondson senior pastor, even though it meant leaving the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America and changing the name from St. Paul Lutheran Church. Edmondson had been the church's musical director, but he did not have the appropriate academic background required by the Lutheran Church to become a pastor.

Snook later served a three-year term on church council. That is when she became disenchanted with Edmondson.

"It's his way or the highway, and . . . he gets rid of anybody who stands in his way," she said. "We hired him, we trusted him and we liked what we thought he stood for."

Outside the church Sunday, Sheila McConville disagreed. The Hopewell Township woman has been attending St. Paul for about four years and said the majority of attendees support Edmondson.

The congregation is growing, she said, and is looking to purchase property to relocate the church a few miles north on Winterstown Road. Problems at the church are the result of changes such as that, which older members are finding hard to accept, McConville added.

"I have sent emails questioning things, and (Edmondson) responds to me every time with love and respect and appreciation for my asking," she said. "In fact, he asked us to confront him every time we had questions."

Snook is among a small group of St. Paul members who raised issues for months and were finally banned from the property by church leaders.

The main issue in Edmondson's desire to control all church business, she said. Another is his salary and benefits, which she estimated at more than $80,000. Edmondson declined comment through the church's attorney.

About two weeks ago, certified letters were mailed to about 10 worshippers, including Snook, informing them they are no longer welcome at St. Paul and that they will be charged with trespassing if they return.

Edmondson "has discarded good Christian people one by one," she said. "He has gotten rid of them."

Church leaders did not return phone calls and declined comment through their attorney, Margaret Driscoll. She said Friday that a letter will be posted on the church website,, regarding the controversy, but as of Sunday evening, nothing had been posted.

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The story so far

Dissension in the St. Paul congregation has been building for months, said Karen Snook, who was asked to leave the church.

In December, the Rev. Robert Harry LaForce, an associate pastor at St. Paul, was cited for harassment after grabbing a congregant's arm during a meeting at the church. The victim was not identified by police in the citation.

According to the citation filed by North Hopewell Township Police Officer Timothy Quinan, LaForce, 60, "grabbed the victim's arms with force and threatened to slap" her. LaForce was found guilty last month, and the church paid his fine. He remains with the church.