After three hours of heated debate, Second Baptist Church in Wheaton voted Saturday to oust the Rev. Andre Allen as its pastor.
The decision was sparked by news that Allen, who has been at the helm for 23 years, was arrested late last year on battery and disorderly conduct charges.
"This is a very difficult and emotional time," Deacon Frank Jarrett said after a special church meeting Saturday. "But this evening the people have spoken and made a choice to move on without Pastor Allen. The majority of parishioners wanted him dismissed. We are praying for Pastor Allen. We love Pastor Allen."
Church leaders only learned of Allen's Nov. 2 arrest last month and asked Allen to resign two weeks ago but he refused.
His arrest stemmed from an incident in which two women say he groped them while pretending to be a self-defense instructor at a Lifetime Fitness in Schaumburg.
As part of a plea deal, Allen pleaded guilty to disorderly conduct Jan. 18 for impersonating a health club employee and prosecutors dropped the battery charge. He received one year of court supervision and 80 hours of community service.
Allen has said he was trying to stir up interest in self-defense hoping the health club would hire him. He denies telling the women he was an employee and that there was any contact of a sexual nature.
In order to dismiss him, the church's bylaws stipulate that the full congregation - roughly 275 members - must take a secret-ballot vote.
The vote was conducted during a three-hour, members-only meeting Saturday evening, with police presence from both Wheaton and Glen Ellyn.
About two hours into the meeting, an altercation from within spilled outside onto the church grounds, sending police rushing to break it up and calm church members. No arrests were made.
Allen's wife Denise left the church shortly after, visibly distraught and needing assistance to walk across the street to the family's home. Less than 10 minutes later, paramedics responded to the home but did not take Denise to the hospital. Jarrett later said she had "fallen ill."
Allen also left the church during that time and returned to his home. He did not speak to reporters nearby and did not return calls seeking comment.
The meeting ended less than an hour after Allen's departure. Several church members looked emotional as they pulled out of the parking lot but declined comment, as did family members at Allen's home.
Jarrett said the vote was close but he would not go into detail about the exact numbers or what took place during the meeting.
He said Allen will remain part of the church, just not as its leader.
"He has done a lot of good work in this community and this church and we will not forget that," Jarrett said.
Allen's Nov. 2 arrest was not his first. He was also arrested more than a decade ago for similar charges of touching two women in a provoking or insulting manner at a fitness center in a Holiday Inn in Lisle. He was found guilty of one misdemeanor and placed on court supervision. The conviction was later expunged from his record but three law enforcement officials close to the case have confirmed the details.
Friday, another woman filed a police report saying Allen had touched her inappropriately during a meeting in a church office. But the alleged incident took place in 2001, making it too late to pursue prosecution.
Second Baptist Church leaders will meet within a week or two to decide how to proceed in the wake of Allen's dismissal. In the meantime, they will bring in counselors to assist their members.
Assistant Minister Henry Gordon will preside over services this morning.