The initial sermon, kicking off a string of confessions, was given in mid-September by Juan McFarland, the pastor of Shiloh Missionary Baptist Church, and the elected moderator of the 34-church Alabama Middle District Missionary Baptist Association Inc.
The disclosures from the pulpit dropped the jaws of many longtime Baptist churchgoers, including Nathan Williams Jr., 80, the former chairman of the board of deacons and a Shiloh attendee since he was 9 years old.
Williams said that in the initial sermon, given on Sept. 14, and the next two that followed, McFarland admitted to sex on the grounds of the church, but not in the church's sanctuary ("like that made any difference," Williams adds).
McFarland admitted that some of the women he was having sex with were church members.
McFarland admitted to using illegal drugs, while pastor.
McFarland admitted to taking some of the church's money set aside for his business-related trips -- and sometimes not bothering to go.
And McFarland admitted to having human immunodeficiency virus, better known as HIV, the virus that causes AIDS. He had kept the secret from the church leaders since 2003, Williams said. (It is unclear if McFarland told some of his sexual partners about his HIV status. At least one woman who McFarland had sex with will be seeking an HIV test, according to WSFA of Montgomery.)
Another church member, declining to give her name, confirmed that McFarland had mentioned HIV, and said his disclosure was made as part of a "public acknowledgement."
It was perhaps the remarks about HIV that made church members nervous about talking to the media, although McFarland's overall sermon has inspired many Facebook posts, with some Montgomery residents calling for McFarland to step down as pastor of the predominantly black church, which averages around 160 attendees on Sunday.
Leaders initially opted to cool down. That Sunday in September, the deacons and congregants were stunned, Williams said. But they spoke to McFarland, who said he needed some time off because of illness. The church, led by McFarland since 1990, agreed.
"As Christian people, we wanted him to get well," said Williams, retired after a long career as a retail manager. "I thought of him as one of my sons."
When McFarland returned to preach, his new sermons only convinced deacons to remove him. On Sunday, the shock over the secrets and allegations of misbehavior had turned to dispute over whether McFarland should continue as pastor. The deacons voted to remove McFarland as pastor. Williams said the vote was unanimous.
It was then that the dispute first became a bit more public. One minute before noon on Sunday, Montgomery police were dispatched to 452 Cramer Ave., where the church is located.
"Members were feuding with each other," said Montgomery Police Sgt. Denise Barnes, adding she believed it involved a verbal argument inside the church. "Montgomery police didn't remove anyone from the church."
Barnes said the call was cleared and no report was taken.
Williams believes the police were called on those who had voted McFarland out. He said there was no incident.
AL.com called McFarland on Wednesday morning, but he declined to comment. Later that morning, a man who identified himself as a church official came to the door, and said McFarland did not want to meet and talk.
However, McFarland admitted the details of his speech, including his affairs on the grounds and his HIV diagnosis, to a reporter at WSFA-TV in Montgomery, according to a late-night report by the station on Wednesday.
The schism continues, Williams said, as McFarland and some newly appointed people changed the locks on the church on Monday morning. Williams said the older deacons are talking to lawyers to take control back, and they believe some new appointments violate Baptist procedures.
On Wednesday night, the church was supposed to have Bible study. But only two church vehicles stood in the parking lot.
Williams said he is not sure if McFarland is still the moderator of the 34-church Alabama Middle District Missionary Baptist Association.