Out of prison, Lyons gets back into pulpit at Tampa church

Associated Press/March 27, 2004

Tampa, Fla. -- The Rev. Henry J. Lyons, the scandalized former leader of the National Baptist Convention USA, is back in the pulpit.

He's also getting remarried, nearly six years after his then-wife sparked his downfall by setting fire to the waterfront mansion he secretly owned with his mistress.

After the blaze touched off an investigation into his finances, Lyons was convicted in 1999 of grand theft and racketeering and he was sentenced to five years in prison.

Released in November, Lyons, 62, is now the interim pastor of the New Salem Missionary Baptist Church in Tampa. He met Thursday with his new congregation, which has been split over the departure of a previous pastor, and helped mediate the dispute.

"He was not the moderator, but he gave good advice and he showed remorse for his situation, for his downfall from the past and was trying to get the church to be forgiving on both sides," former deacon Sanford Ross said.

Lyons and Willie Beatrice Thomas applied for a marriage license Wednesday in Polk County, where she owns a home, according to public records.

Thomas, a former member of his congregation at St. Petersburg's Bethel Metropolitan Baptist Church, bought a house in a Lakeland subdivision in July 2002 while Lyons was serving his sentence in that same county.

Lyons divorced his former wife early last year, and Deborah Lyons now is suing for breach of contract.

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