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Craig S. Williams accepts new call

Craig Williams
Craig Williams

Emmanuel Presbyterian Church in Thousand Oaks, California, has called as its next pastor Craig S. Williams. Williams is one of four former Presbyterian Mission Agency workers who lost their jobs in June 2015 following an ethics investigation involving the 1001 New Worshiping Communities program. The following is a letter that the Designated Pastor Nominating Committee from Emmanuel sent to the congregation explaining some of the background (and which is being posted here with Williams’ permission).

Another of the four involved, Philip Lotspeich, started work in August as the new general presbyter of the Presbytery of Transylvania, in Kentucky.


Part of the DPNC’s process in calling Craig was working through his departure from his previous position with the Presbyterian Mission Agency (PMA). We have thoroughly researched the details and have talked to many people near the situation. We all thought it best to brief the congregation so that everyone will be aware of Craig’s recent history, and be able to move forward and be excited for Craig’s future here at Emmanuel. There are beautiful things to do together in and for God’s Kingdom.

In 2010, Craig was hired as an Associate for 1001|West, a branch of PMA that plants and develops new churches. Craig was tasked with implementing this church growth in the western region, and at his hiring he presented a goal of creating a 501(c) 3 which would help provide resources more efficiently to the new churches and allow independent fundraising. This was communicated to his supervisors on multiple occasions, was among his stated goals, and was even celebrated at national conferences.

Craig’s supervisor at the PMA developed a budget to support the western center, and by the end of 2013 the non-profit was ready and incorporated. The PMA transferred the initial funds to the 501(c) 3 so that this new phase of Craig’s work could launch. It was called Presbyterian Centers for New Church Innovation, Inc. (PCNCI).

Because all of the PCNCI staff members were ordained, Craig sought assistance about how their Board of Pensions (BoP) would be covered. He contacted the BoP representative in Louisville and learned instead that a specific incorporation policy existed within the PMA of which PCNCI was in violation. In creating the PCNCI, they were not made aware of this policy; nor were their supervisors nor anyone else who was knowledgeable of the goal to start the PCNCI. Further, no one attending the national conferences was apparently aware of the policy. In addition, the policy was not mentioned, described, summarized, or listed in any personnel handbooks or guidance documents, or even available online.

Nonetheless, Craig returned the initial funds—none of which had been used—and began the work of dissolving the 501(c) 3. In April the PMA performed an internal audit and Craig and his colleagues were issued an “ethics violation” for not adhering to the policy. The audit involved no vetting or due process, and the results were appealable only to the very committee that executed the audit. In November 2014, an independent investigation was launched by the PMA Board, so Craig and his colleagues were placed on administrative leave during this time. The questionable internal audit was posted online (along with access to Craig’s name and home address) and what followed were several difficult months of gossip and slander against Craig and his colleagues. People accused them of many things under the guise of the inappropriate “ethics violation,” when in reality the misstep was purely procedural—strictly related to the process of forming the approved 501(c) 3.

The Executive Committee of the PMA Board promised accountability and transparency. Craig and his colleagues met extensively with the independent investigators, hopeful that the release of the findings of this investigation would exonerate them and clear their names.

The investigation was completed six months later, but the Executive Committee decided not to release the report.

In Craig’s words:

“I am confident that the Alston and Bird report makes it clear that there was no wrongdoing, deceit or criminal behavior in our work. The PMA has said as much all along, but allowed a narrative to continue that bears little resemblance to the facts.
I discovered through social media that I was no longer an employee of the PMA on June 2, 2015.”

The DPNC sent 16 letters to the PMA Executive Board requesting a copy of the investigation report. None of our requests were granted.

If you connect the dates of Craig’s PMA issue and the DPNC’s tenure, you will see that they align. We rode this public train as well, initially being excited about Craig but subsequently being advised to not pursue his candidacy because of the information coming forward. This matter prompted our investigations—as we continued to receive other applications and evaluate and interview strong candidates—and led us to a position of unanimous confidence in Craig and his testimony concerning this situation. The individuals who initially advised us to wait on pursuing Craig rode out the controversy as well, and ended up strongly encouraging us to resume our discussions with him.

The DPNC has done its homework and prayed unceasingly for God’s direction. We feel confident that we fully understand the unfortunate circumstances surrounding Craig’s PMA experience and feel united in our quest to now call Craig into ministry at our church. Craig is a great fit for Emmanuel, and to let this be an issue for us would simply be a continuation of the unfairness he has suffered over the past year. Yet, all of us, including Craig, wanted you to be informed because, in reality, there is nothing to hide.

In Christ’s Love,

Your Designated Pastor Nominating Committee