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Strong Arm Tactics Of "Scorched Earth" Church Policy Drives Other Pastor To Another Denomination



Rev. Luiz S. Lemos
2222 Peaceful Garden Way
Rescue, CA 95672-9400

AN OPEN LETTER

June 26, 2000

The Rev. David L. Bennett,
Delta District Superintendent
Cal/Nev Conference - UMC
PO Box 980250
West Sacramento, CA 95798-0250

Dear Dave:

Grace and Peace to you.

I was astonished and deeply saddened by your letter dated June 13, 2000 regarding my recent alleged actions as spiritual leader of Foothills United Methodist Church (FUMC). It would appear that the pattern of condemnation and censure based upon innuendo, which I have endured for months without the proper support of my District and Conference leaders, continues unabated.

Ecclesiastes 3:1 states: "There is a time for everything, and a season for every activity under heaven:" After maintaining my silence throughout this ordeal, I believe now the time has come to speak out.

Let me first express my frustration that your letter speaks for the "Cabinet". Unfortunately, all of the information going to the Cabinet is based upon your interpretation of misinformation that I have not been afforded an opportunity to refute. Thus, I feel that I have not been fairly represented to the Cabinet.

It is evident that your letter endeavors to put on record that I am solely to blame for the situation at Foothills. Nothing could be further from reality. Many of the spurious allegations upon which you have based your decisions are simply without foundation. I have set forth below a brief description of the past year's events at FUMC.

You assert that I have stood by silently while others ".took actions which have produced a deep split and profound pain in the congregation." Actually, the division at FUMC was quite evident when I first arrived. This divisiveness mainly resulted from the "same sex union" issue that has affected the entire UMC, nationally as well as locally. As you know, I had absolutely no involvement in that matter. Nevertheless, I strove continuously from the day of my arrival at Foothills to promote peace and harmony among our congregation. Attendance increased steadily. I diligently tried to communicate a message of inclusiveness and love for everyone while remaining within the teachings of the Bible and our Book of Discipline.

Unfortunately, one person, who rejected my efforts, began to undermine my work through a campaign of misinformation via e-mails and other means. She was successful in convincing a small number of people to support her position. However, the vast majority of the congregation had completed the transition to a new pastor and was responding very positively to our ministry.

Regrettably, the announcement of the decision of the Conference Committee on Investigation (dismissing the complaint against the 68 clergy who participated in the same sex union on January 16, 1999) aggravated a large number of FUMC members. Tensions within the overall congregation then escalated. Some of the dissatisfied members expressed their intention to bring a motion before the FUMC Administrative Board on February 15, 2000 to withhold our apportionments in protest of the Conference position on the above matter.

However, upon learning of their intention, I urged calm and continued support for our Conference. I succeeded in persuading them to abandon their intention regarding the motion. Nevertheless, the matter was still a topic of very tense discussion at the Board meeting. Again, the tension was diffused and the issue was tabled until the subsequent Board meeting. However, I was unable to keep a number of members from expressing their opinions directly to the Conference and District leadership.

Prior to the Board meeting on March 20, 2000, I worked diligently to craft a conciliatory statement (see attachment) intended to unify our people that the Board approved. Regrettably, some still left our congregation in spite of my best efforts, because they felt strongly that the Conference had violated the Book of Discipline and therefore should not receive the Foothills apportionments. In spite of all this turmoil, the apportionments were paid in full through April 2000.

After the March 20th Board meeting, it was clear that we had entered a period of harmony and healing.

As you know, I had previously received your summons to appear before the Cabinet on March 23, 2000 for the first and only time in 34 years. I was surprised that you had chosen to have me appear before the Cabinet without having first, as my superintendent, sat with me to discuss the situation at Foothills in a collegial, supportive manner. Instead, I was subjected to the intimidating experience of having to appear before the Cabinet without being allowed to take anyone. You will recall that both Ray Leonard, Chairperson of the SPRC, and Susan Sutherland, Administrative Board Chair, wanted to accompany me to the meeting, which you did not permit. You refused to allow even my wife to come with me.

It was readily apparent that you intended the meeting to be one of embarrassment and chastisement for me, although others seemed to want a fair meeting of fact finding and discussion. However, following a second meeting with you and Ardith Allread the next day; I believed that all matters had been clarified and that we would move forward positively with the ministry at Foothills. Thus, I was stunned when you phoned just before leaving for the General Conference to tell me there was still "a possibility" that I might be moved.

Prior to the Cabinet meeting of May 17-19, 2000, Ray Leonard drove to your office specifically to reiterate his opinion that the vast majority of the Foothills congregation supported my continued assignment there and that to reassign me to another location would be devastating to our church. Afterward, we heard nothing from you. As a result, Ray Leonard attempted repeatedly to contact you to determine if the matter had been resolved. Although I was with you on May 24th for a District Committee on Ordained Ministry meeting, you chose to say nothing to me in reference to my appointment.

Finally, you phoned on May 26th to tell me that I had been reassigned. Foreseeing the devastating impact of your decision upon the church, my family and my career; I made every possible effort to change your mind. I explained that every church I have served during my entire ministry has been left in better condition than when I arrived. I feared that this might not be the case at FUMC if you persisted in your decision. As you remained inflexible, I told you: "Dave, I don't want to be held responsible for the consequences of your decision." You responded: "Don't worry. I'll take the responsibility for that. You can blame it all on me." I understand you said the same thing to Ray Leonard after he learned of your decision. Therefore, it is you, not I, who should accept full responsibility, as you firmly stated you would, for your decision and its attendant consequences.

Attendance and offering have dropped to 1/3 of normal. It was painful, at the Adm. Board meeting of June 19th, to witness the struggle the church is facing. The church can no longer afford to make its loan or apportionment payments. There was a discussion as when to stop paying staff salaries. Some wanted do so as early as July 1st. Finally, a motion passed that we continue to pay the staff until the next board meeting. Borrowing from the Conference was also mentioned in order to keep the church financially solvent. From a strong and giving congregation, Foothills has become a potential recipient of help and is thrown into limbo and uncertainty. Although I am deeply grieved by what has happened to FUMC, my conscience is clear. I did all that I could within my power to avoid the present situation at Foothills.

Surely you must realize how devastating this news was to my family and me. You and I both know that this is atypical and did not conform to the consultation process specified in the Book of Discipline. Thus, I can only conclude that this was done as a punitive measure. This begs the question: For what am I being punished?

Additionally, you were aware that a notice of such short duration did not provide time for me to prepare my family emotionally, sell my house, or obtain court permission to relocate my foster children. I was also given no opportunity to express any preference regarding location or the type of ministry in which I would like to be involved as I near the end of my career.

For the first time in our 31 years of marriage, my wife refused to move with me to a new assignment. In order to accept the only appointment you offered, I would have to leave my family behind and commute approximately 5.5 hours each way to Lindsey. I understand that the current pastor at Lindsey is leaving because his family did not move there with him. Although that congregation required more of the pastor's presence in town, he was unable to provide more time on site due to his family being elsewhere. It would not be fair to force upon that congregation the same predicament with a new pastor.

Finally, it is distressing to realize that my entire record during 34 years as a Methodist minister seems to have been totally ignored in reaching your conclusions. Is it not curious that after 34 years without incident that I would suddenly attempt "to alienate a significant number of people within the congregation"?

Can it be so soon forgotten that in my last assignment in San Jose membership doubled in four years, and apportionments and askings were paid in full for the first time in 16 years? The La Trinidad church, which had been receiving equitable compensation from the Conference from its inception, no longer needed it at the end of our four-year term as its pastor. We started making payments on outstanding loans toward which not a penny of principal had previously been paid. This was accomplished during a harmonious working relationship with then District Superintendent Ardith Allread, whom I highly respect and whose full support I received. Unfortunately, I do not believe that I ever had the opportunity to establish such a relationship with you. It seemed that I was already "convicted" from the beginning of our tenure. Yet I never really knew why, and therefore I was never able to address your concerns

I am very distressed and disturbed by the treatment received by a substantial majority of the FUMC congregation, my family and I. As a result, I had no other alternative but to request a leave of absence to give me time to determine future plans for my family and me. After careful and prayerful consideration, I have requested that my ministerial credentials be transferred to another denomination. I would appreciate your assistance in expediting completion of this transfer.

In summary, I am deeply aggrieved that a brother in Christ would speak and act with so little apparent regard for my record, my career, my family, my integrity, my feelings and the opinion of 85% of the FUMC congregation.

I understand that this is a long letter, but my heart would remain heavy if I did not fully explain my perception of what actually happened.

Sincerely,

Luiz S. Lemos

From: Dennis Trepanier <dmtrep@jps.net>
To: Luiz S. Lemos <lclemos@juno.com>
Cc:jwarrene@surfsouth.com
Date: Thursday, June 29, 2000 3:33 AM
Subject: Open letter to Dave Bennett, D.S. of Cal-Nev Conference

Dear Pastor Lemos

All I can say is,  "Ye shall know the truth, and the truth shall set you free!"

Thanks for the TREMENDOUS courage that you have shown so many in letting us, the "smart ones", know the truth. The Conference would have us know otherwise.

Jesus died for what was right, even though so many "socially conscious people" crucified him, . . . the ONLY perfect man.

God will reward you for your putting His Eternal Word FIRST, above social opinions and experiments, which have all been tried before and FAILED.  God's way is the RIGHT WAY!

5000 years of Biblical history, validated by the Dead Sea Scrolls has proven this. You are on the right track.  All 20 - 30 of the western civilizations in history are gone. Only the Bible STILL stands.  A fool would not recognize this.

You follow God's word.  The UMC (it appears) has chosen to depart  God's Word to follow the ways of fallible man.  They look to society(?) for their enlightenment instead of God's proven word, which contains the results of ALL the social experiments in the last 5000 years.

Some in the UMC apparently feel that "man" is smarter than God, that they don't even mention His Word in the Bible.  What else in the world is the church for??   It is the ONLY place that man can go to learn God's Word!!!!

Thanks for this "eye opening" letter below [above], into the truth about how this conference has treated you, not only as a Methodist pastor and Brazilian missionary of 30+ years, but as a hispanic minority - to remove you from the predominately Caucasian church here in Cameron Park/Rescue, CA and transfer you into the church at Linsay, CA.  I am outraged and disgusted. Especially since it is AGAINST the DOCUMENTED will, SIGNED PETITIONS of over 80% of the congregation at FUMC.  I am STILL waiting for a good explanation from the Conference leadership.  They have none... (it appears that there is possible discrimination) . The UMC that is not able to enforce justice in their own denomination.  It appears they claim to espouse "tolerance, and diversity", but they seem to have total INTOLERANCE for those that disagree with their definition of tolerance!! What a PARADOX of HYPOCRISY!!  I understand and support your move totally, and follow you. Thanks for your Great Letter below to Dave Bennett, the D. S.   I support you always, Luis.

Dennis Trepanier, LCDR US Navy, Ret.
U.S. Nuclear Submarine Force

ATTACHMENT

Cameron Park Foothills United Methodist Church
April 2000 Newsletter
From the pastor
Resurrection and Healing

The controversy of same sex unions has affected the United Methodist Church in all of its levels: nationally, conference wise and locally. In every instance it has proven to be highly divisive. The subject about the Conference Committee on Investigation decision regarding the sixty-seven clergy, who participated in a same sex ceremony in Sacramento in January 16, 1999, was brought to our Administrative Board meeting of February 15. The Committee's decision has generated protest and disappointment on one side and approval and support on the other. This issue has also polarized our congregation. After much reflection, prayer and fasting, both, the Staff Parish Relations Committee at its March 14 meeting, and the Administrative Board at its March 20 meeting, have decided to call our people to focus on healing. We should lay aside the few issues that pull us apart and concentrate on the multitude of issues that bring us close together. At the FUMC, we have always been a happy family. Of course, as a family, we have our differences and conflicting ways to respond to different issues. Nevertheless, we are a family. Our combined effort must be on HEALING. It was mentioned at the Adm. Board meeting that we should stop trying to convince each other of our personal viewpoint and let God do the "convincing". So, let's refrain from imposing our opinion on each other. Let us use the wonders of modern communication technology, and all other means available, to build and to cherish each other and the body of Christ. The guideline for this process is spelled in the resolution approved by the Administrative Board meeting of March 20, 2000:

"The Foothills United Methodist Church has always been, is, and will continue to be a loving, open, accepting church. We recognize that we are all different and that we project our differences when dealing with past and current issues. Diversity is part of our rich heritage. Our main concern at this juncture is to bring understanding, love and healing among ourselves. We support the Book of Discipline of the United Methodist Church and as a Methodist Church we are committed to following the Word of God and the teachings of Jesus, above all else."

I believe our church is just about over a "Good Friday," a time of uncertainty, fear, confusion, pain, tears and disappointment. Let's keep in mind what happens after "Good Friday." The Resurrection! It is a time for light to shine, time for joy, time for miracles, time for healing, time for affirmation and confirmation, a time for victory!

Happy Easter to everyone!

Pastor Lemos

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