First Christian Battle Creek to End Ministry
Embezzlement takes toll on congregation
First was the discovery early in the year that the former treasurer had embezzled all but $3,400 of its funds. Then the realization that her mother, a long time elder and church leader who had not been seen for months, had died several months earlier and been buried by the daughter in the yard beside her house. Both of those issues are being addressed by legal authorities.
Yet, for First Christian, a small congregation, struggling to be a witness in the community, the emotions of guilt, loss, and financial chaos, hit hard. Subsequently it has taken its toll, leading to the decision in recent weeks by church leaders and members to conclude their ministry as a congregation at the end of this year.
We Michigan Disciples and First Christian, part of the Christian Church (Disciples of Christ) Michigan Region, were reminded in recent months what it means to be part of a larger community of churches. Within several weeks of discovering their plight in January, Michigan Disciples congregations and individual members rallied, raising more than $17,000 to help the church continue to pay its bills and allow time for determining its future.
Both Rev. Kingery Clingenpeel, the pastor, and Laura Clingenpeel, instrumentalist, have foregone salaries through the end of the year, allowing the church to meet ongoing operating expenses.
“The Michigan Region's financial support of First Christian has been overwhelming,” said the Rev. Kingery Clingenpeel, pastor. “We will strive to be good stewards of the resources as this chapter of the church's efforts concludes,” noted Laura Clingenpeel, congregational board co-chair. “We thank all who prayed, advised and provided financial support over the past year,” they added.
Prior to the decision to close, congregational and regional church leaders consulted with staff at Disciples Church Extension Fund, Indianapolis, who provided demographic studies of potential prospects for the church to consider. The DCEF report provided by Belinda King, DCEF Vice-President, was followed by discussion and prayer with church leaders and Eugene James, out of which a clear sense of direction became painfully obvious.
It was time to celebrate the congregation’s mission and witness of the past and move toward completing ministry December 31 of this year. The decision was confirmed by the church board August 11 and a congregational meeting August 18.
Michigan Disciples Regional Minister Eugene James commended the church leadership for its strength, noting “the events of the past months have taken a toll on the leadership and the members of the congregation. They have the resources that will allow for a reverent, orderly transition process. Please continue to pray for Pastor Kingery, the leadership, and the members.”
The Michigan Region, which holds title to the Battle Creek church property, has named a Property Task Group that will manage the details in determining future utilization of the church property when the congregation completes its ministry.
Mitzie Hall, Regional Moderator has named the following to the committee: Laura and Kingery Clingenpeel, First Christian co-chair and pastor respectively; Doug Morgan, Lansing First Christian Church, John McCauslin, Central Woodward Christian Church; and Eugene James, ex-officio. Disciples Church Extension Fund will serve as consultants to the Property Task Group, which will report its discoveries, evaluations and recommendations to the Michigan Disciples Regional Board.