Board announces departure of employees from 1001 New Worshipping Communities program

As of June 1, none of the four men who have been involved with a Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.) investigation involving the 1001 New Worshipping Communities program still works for the denomination.

Marilyn Gamm, chair of the Presbyterian Mission Agency Board, announced during a late afternoon news conference on June 1 that the four men are no longer employed by the denomination. Gamm declined to characterize the nature of those departures – whether the employees resigned, were terminated, or some other arrangement was made – describing that as a “private personnel matter.”

One of those leaving is Roger Dermody, the PC(USA)’s deputy executive director for mission – who had been one of two deputy directors serving directly under Valentine, and who on May 29 filed a defamation lawsuit against the denomination.

The four were involved in an investigation initiated after it was discovered that in December 2013, an unauthorized corporation called the Presbyterian Centers for New Church Development Inc. was set up in California, and that later $100,000 of PC(USA) grant money was sent to that corporation. All of the money was later returned, and Linda Valentine, executive director of the Presbyterian Mission Agency, has said none of those involved were acting for personal gain.

Gamm did say that the four employees were not given severance packages and that the amount paid since they were put on administrative leave on Nov. 15, 2014 was about $242,000.

She also said that, to date, the PC(USA) has spent about $850,000 in legal fees to pay for the investigation – and that doesn’t include all the fees owed to John Sheller, a Louisville lawyer who’s represented the board in trying to resolve employment matters with the four men.

“I would agree that it was an expensive way go about it,” Gamm said in response to a question asking about spending more than $850,000 in legal fees in an investigation of a $100,000 grant that had been repaid. The board felt, however, that “it was an obligation” to have a review of the internal reports on the matter and an independent verification of how church funds were used, she said.

The money for the fees is being taken from Presbyterian Mission Program Fund – the PC(USA)’s unrestricted reserve fund, Gamm said.

Members of the board’s finance and audit committees have voiced concern in recent months at how close to the required minimum the reserve fund is already running. By the end of 2015, it had already been projected that the unrestricted reserve would fall to less than $1 million over the required minimum. The legal fees will erode the reserves even more – and Gamm said the lack of reserves upon which to draw could have an impact on future PC(USA) mission budgets starting in 2016.

Those who have left the PC(USA)’s national staff in conjunction with the 1001 investigation are:

  • Dermody, the former executive pastor of Bel Air Presbyterian Church in California and the PC(USA)’s deputy executive director for mission since June 2010. Dermody is one of two deputy directors who serve directly under Linda Valentine, the executive director of the Presbyterian Mission Agency, also known as PMA;
  • Eric Hoey, director of Evangelism and Church Growth;
  • Philip Lotspeich, then-coordinator for church growth, with responsibility for overseeing the 1001 initiative; and
  • Craig S. Williams, staff person for the western regional office of the Presbyterian Centers for New Church Development, based in California.

Asked how the 1001 staffing configuration might change with these departures or how she will replace those who have left, Valentine said the 1001 program has already been under temporary leadership while the investigation was proceeding, and those decisions will be made over the next several weeks. “We’re very much committed to it,” she said of the 1001 program.

Of the investigation, Valentine said: “Obviously it’s been a difficult matter for all concerned,” and she expressed her appreciation “to all the staff that has stepped in and carried on. . . . We’ll figure out what we do organizationally” in the weeks to come.

Here’s the text of a statement Gamm made at the news conference on behalf of the Presbyterian Mission Agency Board:

At its April meeting, the Presbyterian Mission Agency Board empowered attorney John Sheller to work with the Executive Committee and Executive Director to take appropriate steps to resolve employment issues with four staff following the 2013 creation of an independent corporation related to the Presbyterian Centers for New Church Innovations, Inc. The four employees are no longer with the Presbyterian Mission Agency. Because this is a private personnel matter, we cannot provide any other details. These four individuals have made significant contributions to the Presbyterian Mission Agency and to the wider denomination over the years. They have been and continue to be faithful servants of the church.