Sunday, March 26, 2006

Calvary Chapel hires public relations man

Calvary Chapel hires public relations man

By Susie Gran
Tribune Reporter

March 18, 2006

New Mexico's largest megachurch, Calvary Chapel, has retained Tom Garrity, an Albuquerque public relations man who specializes in crisis communications.

Calvary Chapel has been in turmoil since the February resignation of Senior Pastor Pete Nelson and the March 10 announcement by its founder, Skip Heitzig, that he was stepping down as Calvary board chairman.

Garrity picks up the 14,000-member church as a client in time to manage whatever news emerges from Tuesday's board meeting, when Heitzig's resignation letter will be discussed.

"The board has to act on the letter," Garrity said.

Meanwhile, a group of church members who submitted a petition with 1,805 names seeking Nelson's return as senior pastor called a meeting Thursday to pray for guidance and discuss their demands. They want the Calvary board to respond to the petition and to their request that local members be appointed to the board.

Last week, the Calvary pastoral staff contacted Garrity and retained his services Saturday to handle communications with the congregation and the community, Garrity said.

"It's not really unusual to have PR (public relations) firms," he said of megachurches.

But typically, "they have somebody in-house" who handles public relations.

Calvary Assistant Pastor Chip Lusko has been handling media relations. The staff especially wanted Garrity's help during the Easter season, he said.

On Thursday, the church posted a collection of documents at calvaryabq.org, including statements by Heitzig about the conflict, Heitzig's answers to a host of questions and letters between Heitzig and Nelson dating back to 2004.

It's not the first time Garrity has managed public relations for a church. He worked for Calvary Chapel about six years ago. Hoffmantown Church, another megachurch, also was one of his clients.

The 42-year-old Garrity, who served as one of four superintendents for Albuquerque Public Schools in 2003, is a member of Hoffmantown West, Hoffmantown's sister church on the West Side.

Garrity also worked for Furr's during the supermarket's bankruptcy proceedings and the Albuquerque International Balloon Fiesta. His client list includes the New Mexico Senate Democrats.

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