NASHVILLE, Tenn. — An early retirement package for Jerry Sutton as pastor of Two Rivers Baptist Church in Nashville, Tenn., was approved by the congregation July 27.
The package will include one month's salary for each of Sutton's 22 years as the church's pastor, to be paid over a five and a half-year period.
Church members who voted July 27 approved the retirement package by a 78.8 percent margin, according to a news release from the church later in the day.
The package also includes medical and long-time disability insurance until Sutton, 56, starts a new job or reaches the age of 62.
Sutton, in a July 24 letter to the congregation posted on the church website, told Two Rivers members he hoped they would approve the package
"Over the last 14 months, we have been involved in a conflict which does not appear will go away," Sutton said in the letter. "An incredible amount of energy has been expended and consumed handling the conflict. Although we have won court cases and church votes, the conflict continues. Our people are weary, leaders are tired, and those who love Two Rivers honestly want it to end. I do not believe that will happen as long as I am pastor at Two Rivers.”
Andy Dunning, Two Rivers deacon chairman, said in church news releases July 17 and 27, "Church leadership agreed with Dr. Sutton's view that it is time for the next phase in the life of this church, and in his life as well."
Dunning said Sutton will preach both morning services on Aug. 3 and a reception will be held that afternoon to honor the Sutton family.
The church has been embroiled in controversy over Sutton's leadership since July 2007, when a church trustee was removed from membership. A group of about 50 current or former church members filed suit in September, seeking access to detailed financial records and launched a website listing their grievances against the pastor.
In October, church members voted 1,101 to 286 to affirm Sutton as pastor and in January 2008 a judge dismissed the lawsuit but gave the plaintiffs access to records, including meeting minutes and financial documents. On May 4 of this year, a vote to dismiss 71 church members fell four votes shy of passage but that vote was reversed May 11 when the congregation voted to disallow ballots cast by the members who were the subject of that ouster motion.
Sutton has served the 45-year-old congregation church since 1986.