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Houston’s All Saints Anglican tears apart

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From a comprehensive assessment, the parish is facing severe consequences from a battle between the Board of Trustees (BOT) and the Parochial Church Council (PCC) over control, accountability, and style of governance.

There was no special event on Sunday the 6th of March except a regular Sunday mass at the All Saints Anglican Church that sits on Renn Street at the intersection with Eldridge. With vehicles all over the parking lot and harmonious hymns heard from afar, there is no doubt the service was spiritually cordial. Preaching by the associate pastor Rev James Ohaju was pleasant and reflected peace and togetherness. But an unusual event happened at the very end of this service officiated by Parish Priest Venerable Augustine Iboodinma Ogbunugwu.

When the last prayer session was being observed, a member quietly handed a letter to the Venerable Ogbunugwu in an astonishingly queer manner. This letter turned out to be a notice adopted by the parish Board of Trustees and signed by its secretary Emeka Uyamadu asking Venerable Ogbunugwu to proceed to a 30-day administrative leave. The memo read in part, “The Board resolved to put you on 30 days administrative leave with pay beginning Sunday march 06th 2011. During this period, you are not to officiate on Sunday, any other worship, prayer, and other services and activities.”

This is just piece of a surmounting catastrophe that has been eating up peace and congeniality for almost 18 months now at All Saints. The church, which identifies itself as a “Church within the Worldwide Anglican Communion,” resumed worship in December 2000. On June 16, 2001, it was formally inducted into the Anglican Mission in America.

In its own classification, All Saints Anglican, just like most Christian churches, believes the Holy Scriptures of the Old and New Testaments to be the Word of God and to contain all things necessary to Salvation. Distinctively, the church by its testimony, “Affirms the Catholic Creeds, the dogmatic definitions of the General Councils of the undivided Church, the Book of Common Prayer and the Ordinal1662, the 39 articles of Religion, and the Church of England.”

However, these values have been compromised to make room for a complicated warfare among the church leadership in an apparently pitiful show of power, arrogance, and dishonest practices that have not only undermined respect for the congregation, but also have been threatening the continuity of the entire parish. It became so intricate that a member said, “There may not be All Saints tomorrow if this continues in same manner.”

From a comprehensive assessment, the parish is facing severe consequences from a battle between the Board of Trustees (BOT) and the Parochial Church Council (PCC) over control, accountability, and style of governance. Consequently, the issues at stake are a three-fold letter bomb: no legal justification of their current and proposed governance, a lack of transparency in church finances, and bastardization of the core Anglican values and traditions over a trendy Pentecostal worship of show.

The fight for control of church affairs seems to have reached its climax. International Guardian investigations reveal the church has technically split into two groups: one led by key board members, including Ken Okorie and Board chairman Foster Duru, while the other is led by most members of the PCC who also are solidly behind the estranged parish priest Venerable Ogbunugwu.

Furthermore, this fight seems to be undermining the Parish By-Laws which are crystal clear on governance. The 5-member BOT, constituted to be consistent with requirements of an incorporated entity in the State of Texas, has a limited function – “To set policy, approve capital development and other major projects, protect the church and its assets, and mediate issues within the PCC.” The PCC, however, is accorded the rest of church management, including a total control of all rents, collections, church money, and general expenses. To add more weight to its responsibility, the by-laws charge that “No Church, Chapel or Parsonage House shall be erected, taken down, or altered externally, nor shall any internal alterations be made in any Church or Chapel until plans have been submitted to, and approved by the Parochial Church Committee.”

With these functions clearly specified in Sections 21 and 22 of these by-laws, why are there so many complications and such impending destructive issues? Sheer undermining of their own regulations may have cost the parish a mandated sanity. The board was elected in 2001 at a general meeting and allowed only a five-year term by the by-laws, but until this date of 2011, the same board is still sitting with unwarranted longevity. Secretary of the Board Emeka Uyamadu told International Guardian that a reelection had occurred in 2006 when all board members were returned unopposed, but church member, a committee member who opted of anonymity countered that there had been no election, insisting the board members have overstayed their tenure and may be operating illegally.

Requests by International Guardian for a copy of the minutes when this election occurred have not been granted at press time. Nonetheless, if accusations of refusal to relinquish office are duly established, the BOT of the All Saints Anglican Church may have been presiding under a muddy cloud of illegalities. For instance, decisions made during an expired tenure might be challanged. International Guardian reliably gathered that some key members of the church have retained a high profile attorney proficient in church governance and litigation to seek the BOT’s removal. A member who opted for strict anonymity told our newsroom that “It’s either we have All Saints, or we shut it down. Time was when people got frustrated and left their parish – this time around, the people who are causing this trouble should leave because the congregation will take it no more.”

“It has gotten that far,” said another church member. “The last four weeks have been hell in the church, with wives of some board members openly abusing the pastor at meetings. One actually got up and called him a liar. Two weeks ago, the pastor had to walk out of the general meeting after so much insult, and the board passed a vote of no confidence in him – And as soon as they read that memo, almost a third of the members walked away, and that was when I left.”

Board Secretary Uyamadu confirmed that the vote of no confidence was passed against the Venerable Ogbunugwu but also told International Guardian that a meeting of the board has been scheduled to determine the next move. This was exactly a week before the board finally handed the priest a letter of forced administrative leave.

Consequently, a snub of this suspension letter by Venerable Ogbunugwu and most congregation members rather renders the BOT’s powers most innocuous. International Guardian visited the church a few days after the BOT’s suspension of the parish priest and witnessed the same priest officiating an Ash-Wednesday mass before a great turnout of the congregation.

A church member, whose identity is protected by request, claimed the board’s painstaking plot to remove the parish priest was personal. “I know that Ken Okorie has been seeking the pastor’s removal ever since the pastor asked members of the church who owed money, including pledges, to step up.” Did Okorie owe the church at that time? The member replied, “I can’t say for sure, but I know that some members wrote bounced checks to the church, and Ken was one of them. I am aware of a couple of bounced checks from him alone.” Through a frustrated congregation member, International Guardian recovered a check written by Okorie on an insufficient account. But was this enough to trigger a destructive conflict that is eating up the church’s credibility?

A few congregation members have accused board member Ken Okorie of stylishly trying to impose himself as the church administrator, while board chairman Foster Duru equally is being accused of systematically holding on to power to cover a tank full of account inconsistencies. An internal memo recovered for our newsroom by a PCC member validates this suspicion. While the spiritual aspect of the church has progressed in slow motion, operations have been totally grounded with few stakeholders holding onto specific interests to further intensify this uncertainty.

An internal memo expressed concern over the incongruity of having the same person – Foster Duru — as both the board chairman and head of the finance committee. While a transparent accountability of about $1.6 million in building revenue is at stake with contract inconsistencies yet to be cleared, congregation members are totally fed with confusing fallacies. To contradict issues, Guardian learnt that Durek Investment, the sole company handling the bonds associated with the church building, is owned by board chairman and finance committee head Duru. Another memo accused Durek of using his company’s credit card to process the $1.6 million church building investments, the credit potentials, thereby denying the parish a guaranteed credit-line rating of capabilities.

Interview memo with questions regarding these allegations were sent to Duru, and some other board members,but there was no response as at press time. Okorie however responded on behalf of the Board, and promised to address every issue with Guardian at a meeting yet to be finalized.

But oversights by parishioners on this huge building investment may be costing them, as details of the church’s fiscal mismanagement remains an absurdity. For instance, most members who have donated thousands in a pew construction program are complaining that names were not imprinted on the pews as promised. While some claim impropriety by board chairman Duru in awarding the contract on this project, others beleived the processing committee collected more money from parishioners than projected, and yet are unable to make good on their promise.

Documents reviewed so far by our newsroom of All Saints financial governance reveal unintelligible multiple transaction inaccuracies that seemingly canonize 2001 Enron woes as a practice just short of operational ethicality, monetary uprightness, and much needed intelligibility. These claims are corroborated by application for hurricane reimbursement funds by just a few members of the church without the blessing of the parish.

HURRICANE WOES

When a check for $139. 638.23 arrived at the church, some community members were alarmed, suspecting manna from heaven. But the check came from a law firm from far away Florida. It was a hurricane reimbursement check paid to the church by one Evan R. Wolf, PA. The firm categorically denied the parish access to the original check, and would not respond to questions about details of the settlement, claiming it could only be answerable to their client Foster Duru. But why was this claim filed in Florida? International Guardian gathered that the church had initially given up plans to file hurricane damage claims after it found out it had a $25,000 deductible – apparently, an amount that equally might have been able fixed the roof damage sustained during the storm.

How and when board member Duru filed a hurricane claim remains a mystery to most parishioners, who were furnished with another surprise after much pressure from some PCC members. Members went wild after the original check for the settlement came out to $257,313.67. After an unprecedented demand for disbursement figures from Duru, there were shabbily delivered figures showing payments made to companies and individuals unknown to the church.

But why would an insurance claim be filed in the State of Florida, for a parish in a southwest Houston neighborhood in Texas? Attorney Wolfe may have a record of impropriety regarding natural disasters, it was gathered. While International Guardian was preparing a request for public information of All Saints fiscal entity, a systematic assessment of Attorney Wolfe’s credibility uncovered a history of professional decadence regarding similar claims. For instance, in 1998, Wolfe was suspended from the practice of law in Florida for one year, to be followed by a three-year probationary period for a sting related to tornado reimbursement. The case further revealed that Wolfe has a long-term addiction to cocaine, but was at the time in the Florida Lawyers Assistance, Inc., (FLA) drug rehabilitation program, (Florida Bar Vs. Evan Robert Wolfe, March 30, 2000).

Besides a claim application process that had been shielded from the parish, details of a disbursement of this fund created another damaging conflict – to the point where a former financial secretary testified before the general church membership on how he was rendered redundant in his capacity to handle financial matters. He claimed he that he only received reports and briefs of concluded transactions and projects and had been disenfranchised from the decision-making process regarding money issues.

Parish leader, the Venerable Ogbubugwu could not return calls as of press time, and similarly, emails with interview requests were sent to specific members and responses are being awaited.

EXCESSIVE FORCE and INSULTS

Based on documents obtained by our newsroom, including multiple threads of internet attacks, the abuse of the office of the priest emitted another stain in All Saints’quest for tranquility. A congregation member told our newsroom, “Right now, my family and I have decided to stay away from services until we see where we are all headed to.” He claimed, “The entire atmosphere is not good for my kids,” but continued, “I have been Anglican all my life but have never seen where members shout down priests during meetings, and where board members tell the parish priest what to preach. It’s so disappointing, and I don’t want my children to witness such abomination.”

The board’s consistent move for total control may have also affected the spiritual governance of the church. A memo and query acquired by Guardian and written to the parish priest specifically gave the minister six mandatory guidelines to operate his office. The memo, among other issues, ordered the pastor to commit to “development training as may be appropriate and necessary for the need of the church.” It further gave guidelines on the priest’s use of pulpit and sermons.

To make it more complicated, just a few church members knew about this memo through International Guardian, claiming the congregation members had been totally left out of consideration by the board’s offensive against church governance. A middle-aged member who told our reporter, “Just call me Nnamdi,” said that “What they do is call a general meeting after they have concluded on issues and feed us with lies. My brother, I can tell you – I don’t trust anybody at this time. It is difficult – we keep hearing different things at different times, and it does not make sense.”

Consequently, very troubling among conditions imposed by the board is an employment application form handed over to the parish priest to fill out, following a process for him to be managed as an employee of the board. A board member who spoke to International Guardian claimed the application process is in accordance with a proposed new governance initiative, but other church members objected. They claimed that the application process was a ploy to take over the church management to where they could easily hire and fire the priest under the employment-at-will status.

“Employment at Will” is also known as terminable-at-will and is a common-law rule stipulating that an employment contract of indefinite duration can be terminated by either the employer or the employee at any time for any reason. But International Guardian investigations reveal the Anglican Mission of America, under which All Saints Anglican operates, runs a governance style where worship houses are ruled by spiritual values. As one of the mission’s core commitments, it believes and upholds eternal truths revealed by God through His Son and His Word. These truths define values that shape its identity and guide the expressions of its faith - words, actions and worship (theAM).

It was, in fact, gathered that the Bishop Rev. Philip Jones of Affiliated Anglican Mission in the Americas in Dallas, Texas, who heads the mission in his own capacity, is not ruled by an application form, but through spiritual powers accorded by cannon laws that govern the Order. There is a fine line between the church and the state, and managing the pulpit like a cornerstore may have aggravated the current tension between opposing groups at All Saints.

SPIRITUAL INTERVENTION

The Rt. Rev. Philip Jones had to intervene in the All Saint’s crisis after receiving a petition from the board against the parish priest in the on going crisis, and he advised all parties to hold further advances on specific demands until issues were properly resolved. It,however, appears the board ignored the request and went ahead with a push to reshuffle affairs, including a by-law amendment. Snubbing Rt. Rev. Jones, the board proceeded with both the controversial vote of no confidence and a mandatory administrative leave for the parish priest.

Rev. Philip Jones made a remarkable move on Saturday, March 12, when he sent fact-finding peace delegates to meet with the warring groups. “It was supposed to be just a meeting of the delegates and the parish priest on one side and then the board to allow delegates to listen to both sides,” reported our source. But for some reason, it was gathered, hundreds of members from both groups showed up in a rowdy manner that disrupted any peaceful atmosphere. “I was here because I received a text from a board member’s wife to come and support the board, so I called every woman I know in the parish and informed them,” said a lady who claimed to stand solidly behind the pastor but apparently had received this text in error.

To further sustain the peace initiative by Rev. Philip Jones, Venerable Ogbunugwu conducted a Peace Mass the next day on Sunday, March 13, calling out all group members of the church for special reconciliation prayers. International Guardian reporters who visited the church to monitor progress recorded another disappointment. While members were holding prayers and observing the mass for peace and progress, some opposing groups, along with their spouses, stood outside yelling insults and vulgarity. “He must fill out application form as employee whether he likes it or not – if not, no amount of prayers will work,” one of the women yelled repeatedly in some distractingly coercive tone.”

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