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Why I sued my church

Published July 06. 2013 09:03AM

Letter to the Editor:

Many rumors have been circulating about my suing my church and the minister has used the pulpit to put out their side of the story. I've earned a good reputation throughout my lifetime and it grieves me that some would want to negate my life's works. I wanted a chance to give my side of the story, which is what I'm trying to do with this Letter to the Editor.

I spent almost a year researching and writing a book for Zion Lutheran Church in Tamaqua, gathering the info from cabinets, various files, and from fellow members.

I arranged for the publishing of the book and offered to pay for the 90 books that were initially ordered, but Head of Church Council insisted that the Church pay for them, telling me that there was a built-in accountability because the price was set and the number of books ordered.

Within less than 2 weeks, money from the sale of the books was turned in by me which covered the initial purchase of the books plus more. I sold the books at various places besides the church. I told my church that I would donate the proceeds to the church to help fix up the exterior which was crumbling.

A few weeks after selling the books at church, the Financial Secretary approached me to buy one; later that day, she called my home and asked where the check was that she had given me. As had been my practice, I brought home all cash and checks, updated my spreadsheet, and then a few days later turned in the checks and the cash converted to one check to the church secretary; I explained that to her. She insisted that all money received at the church must stay in the church; I explained that I alone was responsible for it, and told her I would be turning in her check and the other checks from the most recent sales within a few days.

I also pointed out that food sales tickets and other fund-raising monies were currently being collected at the church and that money was being taken home and later accounted for.

She then informed me she would take the matter up with the Finance Committee. I also assured her that all checks were made out to Zion and that I was selling books elsewhere so all the money wasn't immediately collected inside the church, and I reminded her that 90 books were being sold, that after I was done turning in money and if the math didn't add up, that was the time to question me.

I then contacted the heads of Church Council and the Finance Comm., both of whom agreed that this was not your typical fundraiser and that they had my back.

Over the course of the next several weeks, I found out that they did NOT have my back. Rumors began about missing checks, the book had to be rewritten because it was poorly written, some "friends" no longer acted like friends, the Fin. Sec. commented, "I don't care who you are or what you've done, you have to follow the rules," and finally a special meeting was held to admonish my husband, son, and I because we had dared challenge the treatment we were given, along with other families who had previously left that church for the way they had been treated.

Although the special meeting was a "private" admonishment, there were 17 people in attendance, some of whom did not belong there and I was not allowed to attend to defend myself.

All the while, I continued to make sure that the money from the sale of the books went to Zion, as I had promised; in all, they received over $2,000.

My son continued to attend church and be subjected to sermons which were clearly about us. We contacted the Bishop and asked that he intervene and make the threats and witch hunt stop; he did nothing.

He did not care that we had been strong financial supporters of our church and headed many church community projectsflood buckets, water bottle distribution to fire companies and others, running the rummage sale, working in the kitchen, heading Outreach, Church Council member, Cemetery Committee, Call Committee member, Mutual Ministry member, etc. During the course of research on the book, I had prepared 5 large binders containing historical church documents for display and to preserve them (all at my expense).

My son wanted me to continue to go to church in order to tell my side of the story, to defend myself; I finally explained to him that when you go to church, it isn't for the purpose of having to defend yourself.

I prayed long and hard before I came to the painful conclusion that I couldn't just walk away and let others be subjected to the abuse we had been subjected to (and continued to be subjected to), so I made the painful decision to sue my church.

The interim minister's answer to that, while on the pulpit, while my son and granddaughter sat in amongst the congregation, was to tell everyone not to worry that God was on THEIR side and they would win the lawsuit. In essence, what I "won" from the lawsuit (less what my lawyer received) was equivalent to what my husband and I would typically have donated to our church over the course of one year.

Over the course of many months since I took that action, the church's insurance company asked me what I wanted; my request was simple, enough money to pay back my lawyer and for the church to give my family a proper apology.

Earlier, before the lawsuit, a sincere apology would've sufficed. Once again, the church refused. Recently, after almost a year, I was offered some money because the church and the insurance company really didn't want to take this to court, and I was told an apology would never be forthcoming. I accepted the offer.

I paid my lawyer first, and I am currently giving away all the money to some very good causes including charities that I have supported for decadesthe ACS, various veterans groups, and others.

It was NEVER about the money; it was about standing up against the mistreatment of good people, about not letting the power hungry continue with their path of destruction directed towards people who don't think like they do. Years ago, churches rallied around its members and people stuck together. Not so any more.

Now, I am no longer comfortable going to church; this is not to say I've lost sight of God; He will always be with me, but I doubt that any church will be in my near future, thanks to what happened to my family and me at Zion.

I am a Christian and will continue the good works that resulted in my being named Citizen of the Year in 2012.

I also know that there will be a Judgment Day; if I have committed any wrongdoing here, I will have to own up to that just as they will. It's up to God to decide, not the minister.

Frances L. Stahl


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