Editor’s note: Pastors Jeff and Ellen Schulz have released the following response to the presbytery’s allegations:
We were saddened by Seattle Presbytery’s report, and by the lawsuit filed against us and other members of the First Presbyterian Church Board of Trustees. As this is such a new development, we don’t have any substantive response to share at this point. …
We can at least say this: We are deeply disappointed in Presbytery’s attempt at a hostile takeover of our church through litigation, months after we chose to disaffiliate from the PCUSA. Presbytery’s allegations in its report and lawsuit are false, inflammatory and disturbing. We are not alone, as other churches across the country have endured similar tactics of aggression and intimidation. Like other churches, we will vigorously defend ourselves, always seeking to do so with truth and grace.
In the meantime, we will not be distracted from our purpose. We remain as fully committed as ever to fulfilling our mission of loving God, one another and our neighbors here in the heart of the city at 8th and Madison.
Jeff and Ellen
By Nina Shapiro, The Seattle Times.
The regional governing body of the Presbyterian Church (USA) is ordering two pastors to vacate a historic downtown church that sits on a $20 million property. The directive comes as a commission appointed by the Seattle Presbytery released a report finding that Seattle First Presbyterian’s pastors and other leaders engaged in a “pattern of duplicity” as they sought to unilaterally separate from the denomination.
The Feb. 16 report also alleges financial improprieties, including unauthorized payments to co-pastors Jeff and Ellen Schulz, the use of church money for the married pastors’ home and tampering with the books.
The Schulzes, in an email to The Seattle Times, called the allegations “false, inflammatory and disturbing” and characterized the presbytery’s actions as an attempted “hostile takeover.”
In a separate email to the congregation, they and other church leaders said this maneuver was aimed at taking “control of our property for their own gain.” But they asserted that the presbytery has no authority over them given a November vote by members of the congregation to break away from the denomination.
Sadly, this is yet another case headed for civil court.
This is clearly a desperate land grab by the presbytery, and you can bet the louisville sluggers have a hand in this as well. They know exactly what that property is worth, and there is no way in hades they are going to let it go.
Disagree – this is a land grab by the co-pastors and their clique of inner circle friends – did you even read the AC report? If one fifth of that stuff is true, this was an out of control group of leaders desiring the removal of accountability that comes with being a “community church.”
Oh, come on, James, why so cynical? I’m sure if this were a little church on a piece of fly-over land in a distant corner of the presbytery, the actions would be the same. It’s the principle of the matter, not the money, right?
Let’s be careful not to always blame Louisville. If the 25 allegations listed on this website are accurate (or even if 4 are) there are serious leadership issues, and this would be the case when a presbytery should step in.
Furthermore, if people in the city have the perception that these pastors were known for turning on sprinklers on the homeless then Jellen need to be reprimanded.
At the risk of offending their fans, I really do see this Seattle Presbytery vs. Seattle First Presbyterian Church contest as something very much like a football game between Alabama and L.S.U.(or, if you prefer, between Notre Dame and Penn State). I realize that when all is said and done, one of the teams is going to win, but I really wish that there were some way for both of them to lose.
If either side of this conflict were really concerned about serving the people of the city of Seattle, they’d agree to sell the property, divide up a small amount of the proceeds between them, and then donate the bulk of the money to the city of Seattle (or some charitable organization) for the construction of a shelter for abused women or homeless people, or some other worthy project.
But, of course, neither side of this conflict seems to be particularly concerned about serving the people of the city of Seattle. They only seem to be concerned about serving themselves to the local congregation’s $20 million in real estate assets. Here’s hoping that somehow, someway, both sides manage to lose.
Virtually none of the allegations are true. The AC has cast the most innocent things in the darkest light possible.
So if they have voted to leave, again by a super majority, they should tell Presbytery to go fly a kite.
Once again, they should go to the county court house and see if presbytery’s name is on the deed. If it is not, presbytery should be liable for legal costs plus punitive and exemplary damage for being so lawless.
Hey, Seattle, if a fraction of the allegations are true? I certainly hope people don’t judge your life and work with those standards. And if some amorphous blob of city dwellers have perceptions, accurate or not, means what? You know, many people have perceptions of you, and they’re not good. Do you see where this is going? Just the facts, ma’am, just the facts.
Although I do not know the Schultz’s personally, I know lots of people who do. They have labored for years sacrificially and in obscurity. They have sought none of this. They could write their own ticket to any large church they want to go to. They have freely stayed at First Presbyterian as a labor of love out of love for the congregation and the city. If it was up to them they would have none of this politicking. Politics is the last thing the Schultz’s want anything to do with and it is not what they are about.
As for the $20 million the most moral thing that could happen is for the PCUSA to get their hands on not one cent of that money. If PCUSA gets their hands on that money it will be misspent. First Presbyterian has a plan to build a smaller church and a plan to reach out to their area of the city. But that can not happen until they get the money from the site redevelopment. As for the comments below, First Presbyterian more than the PCUSA or anyone else will put that money to good work for the furthering of Christ’s Kingdom on earth.
The Layman has long fostered the idea and notion that presbyteries are bad guys and are attacking the innocent local church with over reach and burden. The AC brings a different story. The reason we have presbyteries is for oversight. In this case it seems that there is possible fraud and misuse of power.
Your point is very well taken.
Everyone is concentrating on the property, the money. Many are making statements about the Presbytery and these pastors/congregation without knowing all the facts. I prefer to see this as a desire for ministry and a difference in how that ministry is carried out. What if the motivation is about how Jesus Christ is presented and how we care for the people in need in Seattle. That is something to fight for and to want to keep this property for carrying out ministry in a strategically located church.
Before we cry foul and make accusations, let us be willing to hear more about the intended purpose for use of this property by these two parties.
I think this is more about the Gospel message being carried out than it is about money, and I am willing to guess it is so for these Pastors.
The behavior and reactions of Seattle presbytery is quite easy to predict and expect in that they are one of about 45 Presbyteries that have experienced numerical loss at a far greater per cent-age than the PCUSA as a whole off the 2014 Comparative Stats. ( -10% ) to be precise 2013-14. So FPC becomes not only a resource opportunity but a potential cash-cow.
The sin, dare I say, demonic aspects of the application of the current Property in trust, Gracious Separation policy in the PCUSA, is that it reduces people, flesh and blood beings to a commodity, an object or thing to be either assessed, taxed, or used a tool in legal actions. It takes people and turns them into objects and things. Which by any definition is evil, in and of itself.
One can debate the relative merits of the pastors, fitness for ministry, motivations, lack of leadership, what have you. But the PCUSA owns the system and administers the process under which they labor and seek resolution. Not they or FPC. And the Presbytery cannot pass that ball to anybody else. Is it any wonder people run, flee when able and possible.
The Property in trust is indeed the poison pill, but the object and action of the poison are its masters, defenders and enablers.
Such is the Will of God.
I posted with my real name. I will probably regret posting this from the follow up comments. I don’t know Jeff and Ellen although we all worked at Highland Park Pres at different times. I’m a part of the Seattle a presbytery and actually work at a church (Rose Hill Prrsbyterian) that just left the Seattle Presbytery to ECO. I’m not a called pastor at my church. I have no axe to grind here. I am very conservative and have always felt very comfortable in this Presbytery. The leadership are great people and overall I’ve been so impressed at how they have navigated through this season in the Presbyterian world. This is clearly a sticky situation but I don’t think stones should be thrown in either direction. Anytime $20 million dollars is involved there will be some tough pieces. Instead of condemning First Pres or the Seattle Presbytery how about if we just pray that they resolve this quickly and that people in Seattle come to know Jesus. God don’t let this be yet another reason people think the church has n relevance in their lives.
My comments below reflect some of what you are saying.
There is the money value of the property and then there is the ministry value. It provided for the spiritual needs of many thousands of people over the years!
The fact is, this church is in the heart of down town Seattle and strategically located for ministry of many kinds. Yes, people have fled out of Seattle for various reasons (some having to do with changes in city schools) so their membership reflects that.
However, this church can have a vital ministry today in other ways than it has had in the past. It can help Seattle know Jesus Christ, as you advocate. It can be God’s hands and feet to many in need and be a witness. I don’t know all the facts of each side but I pray for an outcome that will support a flourishing growing ministry what ever direction it goes.
Thank you for posting and encouraging us to pray for this church.