Ebenezer A.M.E. Church - Evanston: "Church Members Sue Over Pastor - Evanston Leader's Expenses Quered"

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Church members sue over pastor Evanston leader's expenses queried By Lisa Black Tribune staff reporter

August 10, 2004

Six members of an Evanston church have filed a civil lawsuit complaining that their pastor failed to properly account for nearly $300,000 allegedly spent on items ranging from evangelism seminars and lawyers' fees to donkey rental on Palm Sunday.

The members are demanding that Ebenezer African Methodist Episcopal Church, 1109 Emerson St., produce records itemizing how Rev. James Wade spent a $294,000 check that he deposited into a bank account around March 2003, according to the lawsuit.

The church has been embroiled in the controversy over the pastor's handling of finances in recent months. A few longtime members said they left the church because they disagreed with the pastor's autocratic administrative style.

"There are a number of open issues that need to be resolved," said Horace Graves, 63, who along with his wife and four other members filed the lawsuit.

"Unfortunately, there is a faction within the church," said Graves, who attended Sunday's service. "There are divided feelings."

The $294,000 check came as a reimbursement from the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development for senior citizen apartments sponsored by the church, a HUD spokeswoman confirmed.

According to the lawsuit, Wade did not tell church leaders about the money until he was pressed to do so, in January. Wade had sole authority to make withdrawals from the bank account, according to court records.

The lawsuit, filed July 26 in Cook County Circuit Court's chancery division in Chicago, also asks for financial documents detailing how $16 million was spent on construction of the church's two senior apartment buildings, Ebenezer-Primm Towers and Jacob Blake Manor in Evanston.

Both housing complexes also are named in the lawsuit, which has been assigned to Judge Richard Billik, with a Dec. 14 court date.

"They're not satisfied with regard to the way the financial management of the church is operated," said attorney Sheldon Belofsky, representing the six church members. "If there was some egregious activity, the judge would appoint a third party to oversee the finances of the church."

Wade, who has served as pastor for 11 years, could not be reached. A manager at Jacob Blake Manor declined to comment. The Chicago attorney who helped secure the HUD loan, Clarence Crooks, also declined to discuss the lawsuit.

Graves was a trustee and treasurer for the church until Wade removed him from the post in February, Graves said. He and others had repeatedly asked the pastor for information about the HUD check over the last year, he said.

In January, Wade provided the church's board of stewards, including Graves, with an itemized list of expenditures that he said showed how the money was spent.

The list included reimbursements to Wade for airfare and lodging, $40,400 for taxes on the Jacob Blake Manor, $25,000 as payment to Crooks for work done in 1994 and $200 for a birthday gift to AME Bishop Philip Cousin, according to court records.

The list included no supporting documentation, such as receipts or ticket stubs. The lawsuit alleges the church has run afoul of state laws pertaining to the not-for-profit senior housing corporations.

The church members want information, not money, and do not want to "dissolve the church," Belofsky said.

According to the lawsuit, the church leaders "state that there are no formal books of account maintained by the church with respect to income and disbursement."

Ebenezer AME Church opened in October 1882, according to church literature.

Copyright 2004, Chicago Tribune

-- Anonymous, August 19, 2004

Answers

The love of money is the root of all evil. The spirituality of many can be tested by arelatively small sum of money. It seems that both sides are lusting after the money.

Be Blessed al paris

-- Anonymous, August 20, 2004


I cannot believe a church that size has no formal books when they receive income from senior housing. This is incredible! It just goes to show that it is imperative to have competent leadership. I am totally disgusted when the flock has to herd a shepherd and make him accountable. Totally unacceptable.

-- Anonymous, August 20, 2004

What's amazing is that this incident is happening too many times and yet the leadership continues to look the other way. Unfortunatly, I too have left one church because of this same issue. The Pastor is not the only one to blame in this kind of situation, the stewards and trustees are also responsible. They have a fidicuary responsiblity to the members and to God and have apparently looked the other way. Maybe not all of them, but enough where the Pastor can feel comfortable in doing the wrong thing. When will we start to do the "GOD" thing?

-- Anonymous, August 20, 2004

Is this the same person that was elected Director of Church Growth and Development at the GC 2004 ?

-- Anonymous, August 31, 2004

The August 16 edition of the Christian Recorder lists him as "Rev James Wade, Executive Director, Department of Church Growth and Development, formerly Pastor of Ebenezer A.M.E. Church, Evanston, IL" No Comment Bro Bob

-- Anonymous, September 01, 2004


How sad it is when we feed into the automatic guilt of someone without getting all or even a part of the other side. Some key words that one should consider before taking the side of slandering someone's character and they are reimbursement and alledged. First and foremost, this wonderful man of God along with the Board of Trustees of the HUD project at the church must have satisfied whatever the government regulated for the HUD project since there was a "reimbursement." Those of us who have worked on such projects in our churches are clear to how any of that works. Yet, when we hear that there may be some improprieties concerning government money, we automatically assume that the "flock has to herd in the shepherd."

Second, these are alledged. Look at who is bringing the lawsuit, six members. Two of these are obviously disgruntled at the pastor's leadership style. And we all know that there are many people who, especially if they grew up in a particular church, think that the pastor should not make a move without their consent.

My hope is, that before we rush to judgement, that we would lift this pastor and congregation up in prayer. And if this brother is guilty, the Lord will deal with him. But as believers in the Gospel of Jesus Christ, we are to restore any brother or sister who has been found in a situation like this, especially to those who are of the "household of faith."

-- Anonymous, September 02, 2004


And what is the motive of placing this article on this BB. Is it so that we will pray for him or prey on leadership? Go figure!

-- Anonymous, September 02, 2004

Bro Wallace, This is a BBS that is available for all to use as long as they remain within the limits of decorum. The topics are not censored. Therefore, if something is on one's mind they are free to begin a POST. If anyone else is interested they can comment, agree, disagree, or whatever. You are free to request prayer and of course pray for anyone but some folk don't believe in prayer. Be Blessed

-- Anonymous, September 02, 2004

I am not taking the members' side but...people generally don't risk a countersuit for libel/slander by bringin up false charges.

As to the coments about posting the issue: This was in the NEWS. This wasn't someone saying, "Did you hear about Rev. so-and-so? I heard...."

Anyway, Here are the problems with this issue:

A pastor who, as I read the Discipline, should not have sole control over the bank account, has sole control over the bank account. Even our own government has checks and balances against this sort of thing.

A refund check that could have and should have gone to other needs in the church apparently did not.

A pastor who had to be asked repeatedly about the check. An honorable person would have been forthcoming.

The fact that people had to sue a pastor to make them respond. This thing should have been handled internally and should not have gone public.

Now the church does not belong to the pastor; it belongs to the members. If the members are not happy, the pastor is supposed to listen. The Bible says that you are to approach someone in private about wrongdoing, then bring others if the person won't confess/repent, then bring the elders.

If the members tried this, and the pastor was still reticent about divulging the disbursement of the funds, I stand behind them in suing him to find out where the money went. I'd want to know, ESPECIALLY if the puplit is calling for additional tithes and offerings.

Pastors are not above the law; they are as human as Ken Lay and the Enron bunch. The only difference is that when they misappropriate God's money or his annointed, they have to deal with Him. Do we need to quote the scripture about Ananias and Sapphira?

-- Anonymous, September 02, 2004


Let me fully address my issue concerning something that none of us are trully privy to. We don't know exactly what has happened. Just because something is printed in print media or projected by any other media, does not make it so. That is the very reason why a writer can speak to our emotions on a certain topic without being exact by using words like "alledged." My concerns are with those of us who are rushing to this wonderful man's guilt as if we know all about it. Papers are in the business of selling their product and if that means going out and projecting and pushing the envelope against a religious leader, especially one of ours, then so be it. It does not mean that the emotions that they are being provoked line up with truth.

In response to the postings of this being a forum that is not censored, I was notand am not promoting censoreship. I do, however, question the motive of persons being excited by negative information that comes to this forum incomplete.

Also, I never knew that the Church belongs to the membership. I was always under the naive assumption that the church is God's. But go figure. Furthermore, I find it interesting that scripture to help us in this type of situation is not recieved as would what the Doctrine and Discipline of the African Methodist Episcopal Church would say.

My stance is not to support leadership gone bad, no. My stance is to remember that we all have a responsibility in supporting each other, especially in these particular times. If all of our stuff was exposed, I believe that our approach would be much different. And so I leave you with this passage:

"Dear brothers and sisters, if another Christian is overcome by some sin, you who are godly should gently and humbly help that person back onto the path. And be careful not to fall into the same temptation yourself."

Galations 6:1-2 (NLT)

-- Anonymous, September 03, 2004



Let me fully address my issue concerning something that none of us are trully privy to. We don't know exactly what has happened. Just because something is printed in print media or projected by any other media, does not make it so. That is the very reason why a writer can speak to our emotions on a certain topic without being exact by using words like "alledged." My concerns are with those of us who are rushing to this wonderful man's guilt as if we know all about it. Papers are in the business of selling their product and if that means going out and projecting and pushing the envelope against a religious leader, especially one of ours, then so be it. It does not mean that the emotions that they are being provoked line up with truth.

In response to the postings of this being a forum that is not censored, I was not and am not promoting censorship. I do, however, question the motive of persons being excited by negative information that comes to this forum incomplete.

Also, I never knew that the Church belongs to the membership. I was always under the naive assumption that the church is God's. But go figure. Furthermore, I find it interesting that scripture to help us in this type of situation is not recieved as would what the Doctrine and Discipline of the African Methodist Episcopal Church would say.

My stance is not to support leadership gone bad, no. My stance is to remember that we all have a responsibility in supporting each other, especially in these particular times. If all of our stuff was exposed, I believe that our approach would be much different. And so I leave you with this passage:

"Dear brothers and sisters, if another Christian is overcome by some sin, you who are godly should gently and humbly help that person back onto the path. And be careful not to fall into the same temptation yourself."

Galations 6:1-2 (NLT)

-- Anonymous, September 03, 2004


Brother Wallace:

"Also, I never knew that the Church belongs to the membership. I was always under the naive assumption that the church is God's. But go figure. Furthermore, I find it interesting that scripture to help us in this type of situation is not recieved as would what the Doctrine and Discipline of the African Methodist Episcopal Church would say."

You KNOW what I mean. The big C church belongs to God. the little c church belongs to the membership. But since you opened the door, the Bible says to avoid the very APPEARANCE of evil. Any pastor with a 6- figure check in hand is going to come under scrutiny. I don't think you need a degree to see that, and as I said before:

IF the members have tried to get the answers by Biblical means (Galatians), and Doctrinal means (the Church has a Judicial Council and rules regarding financial malfeasance), then I stand behind them.

Prudence, wisdom, and plain old common sense say to document everything in case it comes back to bite you, especially when you're handling money. I know this, and I'm not a pastor. The IRS doesn't take your word for what you claim when you're being audited; you have to show paperwork, or you pay. The members sense something is wrong, and, as I understand it (and some of us on this board ARE privy to things you claim we aren't), want an answer. It did not come normally, so they escalated the situation.

"I leave you with this passage:

"Dear brothers and sisters, if another Christian is overcome by some sin, you who are godly should gently and humbly help that person back onto the path. And be careful not to fall into the same temptation yourself."

Galations 6:1-2 (NLT) "

You proved my point. If this pastor had explained where the money went, there would be no need for a lawsuit. This lawsuit should serve as a warning to others who might (read might) try to use God's money for their own purposes.

-- Anonymous, September 03, 2004


Does anybody know if Rev. Wade published a letter to the editors of the Chicago Tribune to express his side of the story? This would be the responsible course of action needed to "clear one's name". QED

-- Anonymous, September 03, 2004

Rev. Harper: You stated, "...some of us on this board ARE privy to things..." If this is the case, maybe someone can fill in some of the gaps in this report. What was the action of the Steward Board and Trustee Board before things got to this point and was the matter ever brought up to the Presiding Elder in Quarterly Conference?

-- Anonymous, September 03, 2004

Bishop Wayman - 1884: "The ministry of the AME Church is in a transition state. Our aim should be high, our purposes one, all our forces concentrated and our unification perfected. The question should be what can we do to perfect our existence?"

Bishop Payne - 1888: "Ruggedness of character is the need of the hour. Men who dare to be true to God and to themselves are in demand by the Church and the State. The fathers builded better than they knew. Their work has been tested; the building has been shaken not by foes without, but by traitors within. The open manly foe has been routed. Place none but true men on guard, and we shall hand down to unborn generations the glorious heritage, unbroken and untarnished, which we received from the fathers. Let each do his duty in his allotted time, sphere, and place, and no combination of hatred, avarice, lust and reproach, but work on as if though we were working not for time only, but eternity. Men do not always see results. Duty is ours, consequences God's......Our leaders must be the uncompromising enemies of wrong in every particular. We cannot afford to place bad men in the field. We may do it, but we shall reap the harvest, which will reflect no credit to us."

Arnett - 1896: "That the normal and religious leaders and teachers of the people should be trained is self-evident, and is in harmony with the demands of the age-wise statesmanship and churchmanship; for as a disciplined army demands a disciplined commander, so an intelligent and trained pew demands a good, intelligent, and trained ministry. The leaders of the African Methodist Episcopal Church from its beginning recognized the necessity of an intelligent organization, and wise administration of laws, usages, and customs of Methodism; therfore, they have always in greater or less degree encouraged and supported teh education of the people and have been the pioneers of minsterial education....."

Brother Wilson, I pray that when this matter gets to court that Rev. Wade will be fully exonerated. It would be a sad, sad day to find out that in all of our prayers and hopes our zion has come to such ugliness. I am a lifelong AME and because of the excellent AME leadership I have come into contact with I believe in our church. I believe that God has done a wonderful thing through the AME Church. However, too often I have seen our pastor's names in sensational headlines, and in many instances the charges are ugly and proven to be true. I am NOT speaking of Rev. Wade here, but others in my community. This cannot continue. It is imperative that our leadership keep accurate and true records; that is good stewardship.

MAL 2: 5-7- My covenant was with him (Levi) of life and peace; and I gave them to him for the fear wherewith he feared me, and was afraid before my name. The law of truth was in his mouth, and iniquity was not found in his lips; he walked in peace and equity, and did turn many away from iniqutiy. For the priest's lips should keep knowledge, and they should seek the law at his mouth; for he is the messenger of the Lord of Hosts.

-- Anonymous, September 03, 2004



I apologize, I inadverently called Brother Wallace Brother Wilson.

-- Anonymous, September 03, 2004

I think that the Rev. Harper is very equipped, obviously, to share with us his knowledge of what the doctrine of the church is. For that I am truly impressed.

Again, until we know the truth on the matter, there is no need to rush to judgement from posters on this board against this wonderful man of God.

The tenor of most of the posts seems to be just that, a rush to judgement; guilt for that matter. Again, can we just pray for the brother and the congregation so that this matter will not esculate to a point where the Message of Jesus is missed. My advise would be to look at this adversity as an opportunity for the Love of Christ to reign.

With that, I believe that with the kind of approaches to these kind of situations, I am likely to become absent from this board and seek other avenues where issues like grace, love, and responsibilty are more readily received.

Peace and Blessings!

-- Anonymous, September 03, 2004


Bro. Wallace please do not leave the board. We all need constant reminders of God's grace and how we are to encourage one another.

Sis. Jackson who posted the item is in the fourth district where ebeneezer church is. The news story hit all the news wires. So the information is readily available.

As the editor of the ame herald I did not ask the chicago tribune for reprint permission of the article for two reasons, 1.) They charge 2.) And there was no response from Rev. Wade in the article.

Because the story hit the major news wires, the story is also in religious journals and magazines. Right or wrong people including others who are not ame are discussing this matter for it has big implications for ALL churches.

1.) Because a law suit has been brought. The IRS and HUD will be looking at books of ebeneezer and possiblity all ame churches with similar programs.

2.) Because of the allegation involving one of our churches, tithes may decrease in churches in the fourth district and across the connection. We have seen this in the catholic church with their scandals.

3.) Because of the lawsuit that church may have to declare bankruptcy. We saw this last week with a catholic church in oregon.

4.) The IRS could confiscate the church if allegations are true to pay back taxes.

5.) We as a connection might have to help financially.

Bro. Wallace there are consequences to this incident that will have a ripple affect across the connection.

At a time when we are trying to re-accredit Morris Brown College, any negative news regarding the ame church affects all aspects of our denomination. Donors may become hesistant to give money, all ame churches and clergy are lumped into a negative category.

Also as a denomination we work in partnership with the national council of churches and the world council of churches and others. They have read these reports. Our reputation is on the late also.

This incident is a wound that runs deep in our denomination. And in the past when there has been impropriety, Laity has had to bear the burden. We do pray and we trust God.

I cannot speak for sis. Jackson, but since she is in the fourth district and the story hit the international news wire. Perhaps she felt the members of the ame church should not be the last to know.

Let us pray for Rev. Wade, the church, the bishop and the fourth district.

-- Anonymous, September 04, 2004


In the fourth paragraph from the bottom of my post it should read "our reputation is on the LINE...."

-- Anonymous, September 04, 2004

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