Copyright © 2006
Skip Heitzig received a severance package of nearly half a
million dollars in cash, equipment and cars when he left Calvary Chapel
in early 2004, according to a former member of the church's board of
Heitzig, founder and longtime senior pastor of the
Albuquerque megachurch, received $300,000 when he left for California,
former board member Greg Zanetti told the Journal on Friday.
In addition, according to a letter Zanetti wrote
church leaders in 2004, Heitzig received two cars and office furniture,
as well as equipment used in his radio ministries worth about $166,000.
Meanwhile, the church's "Pastoral Staff" issued a
letter to the congregation and board of directors on Friday addressing
recent conflict in the church stemming from last month's resignation of
Senior Pastor Pete Nelson. The letter urged those parties involved to
seek biblical reconciliation.
"We the pastoral staff are deeply grieved that
recent conflicts in our church have made their way in to the court of
public opinion," the letter said.
Nelson shocked the 14,000-member congregation Feb.
19 when he announced he was stepping down as senior pastor.
At the time, neither Nelson nor church leaders
mentioned any conflict as a reason for his resignation.
But in his resignation letter, Nelson detailed a
longstanding power struggle with Heitzig over control and leadership of
Calvary and expressed concern that Heitzig was using Calvary
Albuquerque's assets to build a national ministry.
A story in last Sunday's Journal described Nelson's
Zanetti wrote a letter to the board a year earlier
voicing many of the same concerns.
That letter has also become public.
The church letter released Friday states that the
staff "... believe strongly that the current methods being used to
resolve this conflict are not in accordance with biblical mandates and
are contributing to an atmosphere of divisiveness in this community of
"Therefore we ask you, our brothers and sisters, in
the name of Christ to stand with us. Our prayer is that the parties who
have up until now refused to come together, drop all unbiblical methods
of resolving this conflict and seek biblical reconciliation and
restoration to the body of Christ."
Several church members, including John Ackerman,
former president of Public Service Company of New Mexico, met with the
board Thursday to ask for sweeping changes at Calvary, said Zanetti,
who did not attend the meeting.
He said he did not have details of what Ackerman's
group was seeking.
Zanetti, in an interview Friday, said Nelson's
letter outlines many of the same concerns that he, Zanetti, raised in
his 2004 letter.
Zanetti said the Calvary board would have kept his
letter "buried" if it had not been for Nelson's letter.
"The problem is, there have been a series of lies
and half-truths coming from the pulpit that have impugned the character
of good men and women," Zanetti said. "Since these men and women do not
control the pulpit, their side can never be told.
"But if they tell their side in the paper, it is
labeled un-biblical. That is rather hypocritical," he said.
Telephone calls to Ackerman and church leaders were
not returned Friday.
The letter also called "for a time of church prayer
and fasting while we wait for God's direction." It announced a prayer
meeting will be held Sunday from 7 to 8 p.m.
As for Heitzig's severance, Zanetti said Friday that
Albuquerque-based board members "thought the severance was very, very
"... We were thankful to get away with only paying
the money and equipment because Skip had all the votes," he said.
At the time, board member Paul Saber proposed that
Calvary Albuquerque pay for Heitzig's home in California, where he went
to lead Ocean Hills Community Church, Zanetti said.
He said Calvary did not pay for Heitzig's
Albuquerque homes and the board voted down the idea of buying a home
for him in California.
Saber could not be reached for comment Friday, and
Calvary Associate Pastor Chip Lusko, a church spokesman, has not
returned telephone calls for two days.
Most Calvary board members live outside New Mexico,
which has been an ongoing point of contention. Zanetti, in his 2004
letter, contended that the out-of-state board members were more loyal
to Heitzig than to Calvary Albuquerque.
Zanetti was forced to leave the board soon after
sending his letter to church leaders in November 2004.
Currently, four of the six board members do not live
in New Mexico.
Zanetti said Friday that the Albuquerque board
members were concerned about some of the church's spending.
In December 2003, shortly before Heitzig resigned,
he called a board meeting in California to discuss his plans and
Calvary's future, Zanetti said.
Albuquerque-based board members wanted the meeting
to be held at Calvary Albuquerque, he said, but Heitzig insisted on
"The meeting was held at a five-star hotel in
Huntington Beach, Calif.," Zanetti said. "Room rates were $400 to $600
a night. In protest, Albuquerque board members flew to California that
morning, paid for their own lunch and flew back after the meeting that
"After that, it was difficult to see little old men
and women put their tithe checks into the box knowing how it was being