E. Alabama pastor punched in pulpit, man arrested - WTVM.com-Columbus, GA News Weather & Sports

E. Alabama pastor punched in pulpit, man arrested

Willie James. (Source: Phenix City Police Department. Willie James. (Source: Phenix City Police Department.

PHENIX CITY, AL (WTVM) - A Phenix City church is on edge following a bizarre incident that unfolded during Sunday morning service this past weekend.  

The order of service at Bethel AME Church on Highway 165 was going as planned on Aug. 2, when a man barged through the front doors and aggressively walked up the aisle - straight to the pulpit. 

The man acted out just as Pastor Jesse Grooms was about to read a scripture to the congregation. 

“He punched me and started ranting and raving saying, ‘I told you, I told you,’ and I’m like, ‘what in the world are you talking about?’” Pastor Grooms uttered. 

The church’s chief of security and member Preston Robinson said he was in the choir when Willie James, 57, slammed his Bible on the podium and attacked Grooms. 

“It was unbelievable; it happened so quickly. What was going through my mind [was] is this going to be another Charleston?” Robinson said.

Fear ran through everyone’s minds as children in the pews began to cry and the pastor’s wife, Amanda Grooms, fainted. 

“Sunday was a day that I’ll never forget with all that’s been going on in the world - Charleston and church bombings,” Amanda said.

Even though James does not attend the church and the pastor was not familiar with him, Pastor Grooms said he allowed James to speak to the congregation the previous Sunday, July 26.  

"On that Sunday, he asked if he could have a word and because some of the members knew him and he knew them. I allowed it, but he went off on the people and I was offended by that,” Pastor Grooms said. 

According to the pastor, James told the congregation, "If you mess with me, God will kill you."

James returned the next Sunday on an alleged mission and was removed by the stewards of the church without incident. 

Robinson also used his experience as a former Phenix City police chief to defuse the situation and pat James down. Robinson said no weapons were found on him.  

On Aug. 3, the pastor filed a police report and James was arrested for harassment, a misdemeanor that holds a penalty of $500 and or 30 days in jail.

He is scheduled to appear in Municipal Court on Sept. 9.

James is believed to have been caught on surveillance camera, a system that’s now being upgraded and security beefed up at the church to ensure everyone’s safety. 

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