Pastor admits he plagiarized sermons

Monday, November 12, 2001

CLAYTON, Mo. -- A Presbyterian church that lost a senior pastor to suicide about six years ago is digesting news that another one has left the pulpit, this time by resigning after admitting he plagiarized sermons.

The Rev. W. Barnwell "Barney" Heyward Jr. made the confession in late October in a statement he read to his 1,800-member Central Presbyterian Church of Clayton congregation, said Eric Schmidt, the church's executive administrator.

The church's governing board of elders received Heyward's resignation in the week before he told the congregation at the church in this St. Louis suburb, Schmidt said.

Schmidt said Heyward initially was confronted after preaching an Easter sermon that others recognized as the words of the Rev. Tim Keller, a nationally renowned Presbyterian pastor in New York City. Heyward recently was confronted again for other plagiarism incidents, Schmidt said.

Schmidt then resigned and "did the honorable thing," Schmidt said. "Members of staff and the congregation realized he had preached sermons of other people."

This week, Heyward told the St. Louis Post-Dispatch he wouldn't publicly discuss his actions.

"The church has my love and the session has my support," he said.

Central Presbyterian has suffered from a series of pastoral troubles, including the July 1995 suicide of the Rev. Timothy Brewer, the church's senior pastor. The church, which belongs to the Evangelical Presbyterian Church, spent three years searching for Brewer's successor.

In 1998, the church hired Heyward, a Greenville, S.C., native who received his master's degree in divinity at Covenant Seminary in Creve Coeur, another St. Louis suburb. When hired, Heyward told the Post-Dispatch he considered himself an "average" preacher in a church that prided itself on strong preaching.

Not shaken by resignation

Bob Busse, a church elder, said Central Presbyterian members were "not shaken" that Heyward resigned, though "they were shaken when the discovery came out that he had done this."

Preacher plagiarism problems are not new -- or on the wane. In a profession known for its high attrition rates and tough time demands, online sermon archives and Web sites such as desperatepreacher.com make it easy for pastors to cut corners on originality.

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