Copyright © 2006 Albuquerque Journal; Journal Staff Writer
A former Calvary Chapel board member says supporters of founder Skip
Heitzig forced him out more than a year ago because he raised questions
about Heitzig's plans to use the Albuquerque megachurch to build a
Greg Zanetti said he was asked to step down from the
board after sending a letter to church officials in November 2004,
complaining that Senior Pastor Pete Nelson was not allowed to exercise
the full duties of his position as promised.
In his letter, Zanetti wrote that the board was
controlled by non-Albuquerque members more loyal to Heitzig than the
church. He mentioned a generous severance package for Heitzig and
questioned the legality of Heitzig's attempts to transfer the church's
radio station's assets to a separate corporation.
Turmoil within the church came to a head Feb. 19
when Nelson stunned the congregation by announcing his resignation. In
a draft of his resignation letter, Nelson cited a struggle for control
of Calvary between himself and Heitzig. His letter echoed many of the
concerns raised in Zanetti's letter written more than a year earlier.
On Thursday, several church members met with
Calvary's board of directors in an attempt to reconcile a rift that has
been growing for more than two years, Zanetti said in an interview.
Neither side issued a statement after the meeting.
Zanetti said he did not attend the meeting but spoke
to others who did. One was John Ackerman, former president of PNM. He
could not be reached for comment.
Zanetti is an Albuquerque-based financial adviser, a
brigadier general in the N.M. National Guard and former chairman of the
Bernalillo County Republican Party.
Areas of concern
Zanetti's letter focused on three areas of concern:
"accountability, disclosure and local governance"— all issues Zanetti
said remain within the church and were raised at Thursday's meeting.
In his letter, Zanetti wrote:
package to ensure he had a warm send off" when he left Albuquerque in
early 2004 to lead Ocean Hills Community Church in California. He also
received cars, office furniture and radio station equipment.
members who did not live in Albuquerque and did not attend church at
Calvary. He contended those members remained loyal to Heitzig, not
Calvary, after Heitzig left.
spelled out in the church's bylaws. Further, he was not allowed to
execute his duties as senior pastor, "as Skip had promised."
transfer Calvary's two multimillion-dollar radio stations to a
corporation run by the two of them.
fund Connection Ministries— Heitzig's daily half-hour radio program—
despite the venture having cost the church nearly $7 million between
1994 and 2004.
"The bottom line is if we continue to pursue the
radical changes Skip and Paul are proposing, all board members will be
exposed legally and financially," Zanetti wrote. "If word of these
proposed changes gets out to the flock, it could be very damaging to
Skip's reputation and could grievously harm the body. I know none of
you wants that to happen. Nor do I."
A Calvary spokesman
commented on a couple points in Zanetti's letter earlier this week but
did not return phone calls Thursday seeking comment on other points.
Concerning the equipment Heitzig received, Associate Pastor Chip Lusko
said the equipment was a gift from Calvary to Ocean Hills.
Church leaders have praised Nelson's work as pastor
and said they hoped to resolve any conflicts using biblical steps.
Calvary leaders during the past week and a half have tried to ease
concerns within the congregation. Heitzig, Saber and former board
member Franklin Graham— son of evangelist Billy Graham— have said there
has been no financial misconduct within the church.
On Sunday, Graham expressed support for Heitzig and said perhaps God will lead the
church founder back to Calvary Albuquerque.
In addition to his monetary severance, Heitzig received two cars and
office furniture, as well as equipment used in the radio ministries
worth about $166,000.
And though he accepted the severance, Zanetti said,
Heitzig maintained control over Calvary.
"Skip's initial plan was to turn the whole church operation over to
Pete and walk away ... (board members) Franklin Graham, Raul Ries, Greg
Laurie and Paul Saber would stay on a year to help Pete, but then we
would be on our own," he wrote.
Those board members did not live in New Mexico.
In his letter, Zanetti wrote that an "absentee" board of directors
loyal to Heitzig rather than Calvary Albuquerque was not in the
church's best interest.
"I believe it is clear the absentee board members are more loyal to Skip as an individual than they are to
Calvary Albuquerque as an organization," he wrote. "They do not attend
church here. They do not tithe here. They only visit when asked by
Lusko said "nobody can say whether they gave
financially to the church in Albuquerque."
Of that group, Ries and Saber remain on the board,
and a majority of the board still resides outside New Mexico.
Zanetti wrote that Saber's interests, in particular, lay with Heitzig.
He wrote that Saber helped negotiate Heitzig's move to California—
without the knowledge of Calvary's members.
"According to my attorney, this was likely a breach of his fiduciary responsibility to
Calvary Albuquerque," the letter said.
Attempts to reach Saber were unsuccessful.
Zanetti also rejected the idea that Heitzig could
effectively run Calvary and Ocean Hills at the same time.
"... the idea that Skip will always be part of Calvary Chapel
Albuquerque is certainly accepted on a spiritual level," he wrote. "No
one disputes the amazing work that God, Skip, and the congregation did
during his tenure here. With that said, however, in a practical,
day-to-day sense, Skip cannot reasonably be a part of Calvary
Albuquerque's operation from 850 miles away."
Calvary leaders' unwillingness to inform the congregation of their intentions or plans
for the church's future was also problematic, Zanetti wrote.
At a March 2004 meeting, "Skip and all of the absentee board members voted
to transfer the radio station assets and operations to an entity that
Skip and Paul would control," Zanetti wrote. "The absentee board
members did not disclose in their voting that they were also members of
the Ocean Hills board, a fact that was only later revealed.
"... Franklin Graham even made a statement along the
lines of, 'God told me He had given those radio stations to Skip.'
"... The absentee board members voted to pursue the
Zanetti said in an interview that the transfer never
Also troubling, Zanetti wrote, was that Calvary Albuquerque members
were funding Heitzig's daily radio program, "The Connection," though
they did not know the show was hemorrhaging money.
By the end of 2004, Calvary had pumped nearly $7
million into funding the show.
"I do not believe this is good stewardship of God's money," Zanetti
wrote. "My understanding upon Skip's departure was, however, that once
the transition period was over (again, one year) Skip's new church
would decide whether to pick up the cost since he is their senior
"... Furthermore, I believe that if the Calvary
Albuquerque congregation knew that we continued to fund this ministry
at this level for the senior pastor of Calvary Ocean Hills, it would
not be received well."