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Pastor Defends Use of Funds and Land Deal

Cleric was suspended by Assembly of God. But his Irvine congregation still supports him.

June 09, 2003|David Haldane and David Reyes | Times Staff Writers

A beleaguered Irvine pastor fulfilled his promise Sunday to continue preaching, despite having been sued over alleged financial misdeeds and suspended by the Southern California Assembly of God.

"God didn't just let this happen -- he orchestrated it," Pastor Barry Weddle told about 75 congregants at the Irvine Marriott. "It's a setup. You may go through the fire, but God has his hand on the thermostat."

Weddle was senior pastor of Century Life Church, which changed its name to Legacy of Faith International Church when the congregation moved from Garden Grove to Irvine two months ago. Since then, the church has held services at the Marriott.

Weddle was suspended and sued last week by Assembly of God officials who allege he failed to account for $4 million that was to have been used to buy land in Irvine for a new church.

Weddle has said he bought land in Irvine and can account for the money. Though the real estate venture soured, he has said, the funds will be recouped once the property is sold.

An assistant pastor on Sunday read a letter to the congregation from Weddle's attorney strongly supporting that interpretation.

"Pastor Barry has done nothing wrong," attorney Douglass S. Davert wrote. "At all times, Pastor Barry has acted properly and has been a good and faithful steward of the church assets.... All money is accounted for.... The lawsuit is simply a disagreement as to corporate structure and governance."

Others besides Assembly of God officials disagree with the pastor's financial decisions and management style.

Some parents said Weddle closed the church's thriving school and preschool, firing both principals and 18 school employees before the move to Irvine.

Pam French, president of the school's fund-raising organization, said she and Weddle had several confrontations over the finances of the school, which was independent of the church.

She said Weddle insisted he needed to approve all spending. When she refused to turn over control of the fund to Weddle, French said, he dissolved it.

"He would not account for any money being spent, saying he didn't have to and it was no one's business," French said.

Other parents said that before Weddle's arrival, both schools were solvent and self-sufficient, but Weddle took out a loan on the property to remodel the church.

Weddle denied the allegations, characterizing them as the complaints of non-church members. "These are just people who didn't get their way, and they're angry," the pastor said. The funds raised by French's organization, he said, "were always spent on what they raised it for." The school was closed when the property was sold. And the much-needed church remodeling, Weddle said, did not get the church in financial trouble.

On Sunday, congregants had nothing but praise for Weddle.

"I know Pastor Barry," said Brent Wickham, 31. "There's never anything secret. He's an honest man, and I know he wouldn't do anything wrong."

Sandra Witkowski of Corona del Mar said it made her sad to see critics sully Weddle's reputation. "It's unfortunate for this to be happening in the body of Christ," she said. The pastor "has the love of God."

Jannis Scott of Costa Mesa was confident the issue would soon be resolved. "He's a man of high integrity," she said. "I feel confident in my heart that the truth will be known."

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