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Church Rebukes Pastor Over Site Sale

Assembly of God sues and suspends Barry Weddle for allegedly failing to account for $4 million from his Garden Grove facility.

June 05, 2003|David Reyes | Times Staff Writer

Southern California Assembly of God officials have suspended a pastor and sued him for allegedly failing to account for more than $4 million that was supposed to have been used to buy land in Irvine for a new church.

But Pastor Barry Weddle said he can account for all the money and plans to keep preaching to his congregation, which is now holding Sunday services and Tuesday Bible classes at the Irvine Marriott.

"They haven't given me a hearing or a trial, and they haven't asked any of our members about any of this," he said. "It's a hierarchy that's out of touch with its members, and their only concern is for the assets."

According to the lawsuit, filed Friday, Weddle breached his fiduciary responsibilities when he sold his church's 5.2-acre property in Garden Grove and then failed to explain what happened to the proceeds.

Weddle, the senior pastor of Century Life Church of Garden Grove, said that the money is invested in land in Irvine and that although the real estate venture soured, the money will be recouped once the property is sold.

Further, Weddle said he intends to countersue the Southern California District Council of the Assemblies of God, which filed the lawsuit and suspended him. The council is a regional Pentecostal authority that claims more than 120,000 members in Southern California.

During a telephone interview, Weddle said he had not been notified of his suspension or of the lawsuit. He said he learned about the district council's actions only after church employees couldn't cash their paychecks because the bank accounts were frozen.

Weddle said that when he took over the Garden Grove church in 1998, its membership was mostly elderly and declining. Unable to recruit members and stuck in a section of town slated for redevelopment, Weddle said, he decided to sell the land and move the church to Irvine.

With approval from his congregation, Weddle said he sold the property to a developer who planned to build homes. But the real estate deal in Irvine, where Weddle hoped to grow his congregation, became complicated.

According to the lawsuit, Weddle brokered a merger with an existing congregation in Irvine called Embassy Church, operated by Roberts Liardon Ministries. The two churches agreed to buy a 46,000-square-foot, $10-million building on Fitch, where they planned to merge the congregations -- 200 members from Weddle's church and 600 congregants from Embassy.

But according to the lawsuit, the finances never added up and it was unclear whether money had been invested in the property or lent without the district council's permission to Embassy Church.

District officials said that although they have asked for documentation, Weddle has yet to show them a trust deed or other land records that would back up his statements. "Our problem is the story that is in the lawsuit is the story that Pastor Barry told us when he came to us," said the Rev. David Gable, a district council spokesman. "And then we find out the building is for sale and he is not the owner."

Weddle conceded that the real estate deal has been burdened with problems, but he said the money can be accounted for. After Embassy's pastor left suddenly and the church's congregation quickly dwindled, Weddle said, the lender would not give the church a loan and he lent Embassy $1.8 million to complete the deal.

He said that his church will recoup the money once the Irvine property is sold and that he and his congregation will then look for another building.

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