Friday, November 23, 2007

Report Examines Calvary Dispute; Heitzig Calls Claims Inaccurate

Albuquerque Journal (New Mexico)

June 27, 2006 Tuesday

Report Examines Calvary Dispute; Heitzig Calls Claims Inaccurate

BYLINE: Copyright © 2006 Albuquerque Journal BY JEFF PROCTOR Journal Staff Writer


LENGTH: 1018 words

A Denver pastor contends Calvary Chapel Albuquerque founder Skip Heitzig had "buyer's remorse" after moving to California and became reluctant to turn over the reins at Calvary to his hand-picked successor.

That triggered a power struggle that led to the surprise resignation of Pastor Pete Nelson on Feb. 19, according to a report by Pastor Tom Stipe of Crossroads Church in Denver.

Stipe also writes that Heitzig had financial motives and that he and other board members tried to "recast" the circumstances under which Heitzig left Calvary for Ocean Hills Community Church in San Juan Capistrano.

Heitzig shot back Monday, saying Stipe got only one side of the story, mischaracterized Heitzig's motivations and should not have released the report.

Stipe could not be reached for comment Monday.

Heitzig addressed widespread speculation that he would return as senior pastor of Calvary - which he founded in the mid-1980s and served in the top spot until early 2004.

"I know the rumor has been swirling around, but I have never been given an invitation," Heitzig said in a telephone interview with the Journal from California.

"I love (Calvary;) I love Albuquerque and the people of Albuquerque. I want the best for it, and I'm glad to be part of the church.

"If (Calvary's board of directors) invites me to return permanently, that's something I will have to prayerfully consider with my wife and with the people I love and who hold me accountable."

A power struggle

When he left Calvary, Heitzig recruited Nelson from Crossroads in Denver, where Nelson had served as associate pastor under Stipe for three years.

Heitzig remained as chairman of the Calvary board of directors - a post Stipe's report says he planned to keep for a year. But the report notes that Heitzig was later appointed a " 'perpetual' board member and chairman of the board."

After presiding over growth in attendance and tithes for two years at Calvary, Nelson stunned the congregation with his resignation. Neither he nor other Calvary leaders would say why he was leaving.

But a power struggle became evident when a copy of Nelson's resignation letter emerged. It outlined a list of grievances by Nelson against Heitzig and the board.

In March, the controversy bubbled over when a group of congregants asked Heitzig and other out-of-state board members to resign. The group also sought more transparency in financial and personnel dealings.

Since then, Heitzig and two other out-of-state directors - Paul Saber and Raul Ries - have stepped down. Gino Geraci, who also lives out of state, remains on the board.

According to Stipe's report, after Heitzig's departure as senior pastor, he and the board attempted to recharacterize Heitzig's departure from " 'leaving' to 'having been sent out as a missionary.' ''

And, according to the report, Heitzig and the out-of-state board members relegated Nelson's role in the church to "custodial pastor" and stymied his efforts to choose his own directors.

Heitzig has denied interfering with Nelson's duties as senior pastor. And on Monday, he said that "my hope is still that I can meet with Pete. I love him deeply and consider him a brother."

Stipe contends Heitzig wanted to remain in control of Calvary for financial reasons and "buyers remorse."

"Things (at Ocean Hills) clearly had not gone as Skip had hoped," Stipe wrote. "The continued success of (Calvary) when compared to the issues at Ocean Hills must have given rise to Skip questioning his decision to leave.

"It was about the finances. Without financial support from (Calvary) Skip's national radio ministry, 'The Connection,' could not continue in its present form. There is also evidence that the operation of Ocean Hills is at least partially dependent upon contributions from (Calvary.)"

Heitzig denied that Ocean Hills is in trouble.

"The church is healthy financially and in its operations," he said. "In fact, it has more than tripled in size."

Heitzig said that, to the best of his knowledge, The Connection has been "breaking even - paying for itself." Calvary financial statements, show that The Connection lost $378,349 in 2005, and $600,810 in 2004.


of tithes

Stipe's report also says there is an "underground move by many former (Calvary) members to demand a reimbursement of their past tithes and offerings."

Heitzig said he's heard of no such thing.

"I've spoken to thousands of people when I was in Albuquerque, and I didn't hear anything like that at all," he said. "I wouldn't call that an underground movement; I'd call it two people."

During two recent trips to Albuquerque, Heitzig conducted three services at Calvary. On Saturday, he apologized to the congregation, saying: "If my leadership style has hurt any of you or pained any of you, I deeply apologize."

Heitzig said Stipe's report was one of three done by pastors affiliated with Calvary Chapel Outreach Fellowship (CCOF), which, among other duties, "provides materials that will define the Calvary Chapel philosophy to individual fellowships."

Stipe's report was based largely on board minutes but also included information from Calvary sermons, financial statements and letters written by former board members, Heitzig and Nelson.

The other two were done by pastors from Las Vegas, Nev., Heitzig said.

Those reports were not made available to the Journal, but an overview of the three reports by CCOF leader Paul Smith, was.

"We find no evidence of sin or wrongdoing on the part of the board of directors, Skip Heitzig or Pete Nelson which would preclude you continuing friendship and fellowship with CCOF," the letter states.

Heitzig said the two Las Vegas pastors interviewed him and other "key players." He said Stipe never attempted to contact him.

He said all three reports were to be given to Smith - not made public.

The Stipe report was posted on a Web log,

"This is church business, and the board is trying to do things with due process and with an open hand," Heitzig said. "It's just discouraging that this has to be dragged through the public arena again. I think the good people of Calvary Albuquerque are tired of it being in the media."

LOAD-DATE: June 27, 2006



Copyright 2006 Albuquerque Journal

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