Showing posts with label Bob Malm. Show all posts
Showing posts with label Bob Malm. Show all posts

Monday, August 26, 2019

Financial Reporting and Cash Management Problems at Grace Episcopal Alexandria

I’ve written on this topic before, including the fact that the $500,000 loan from the parish to Bob Malm was recorded off the books for many years.

Here, in bulleted format, are some of the other problems with cash management and financial reporting during Bob Malm’s 30-year reign.

Before you join the church, make a pledge of financial support, serve on the vestry, or revise your will, it behooves you to ensure that these issues have been addressed to your satisfaction.








Friday, August 23, 2019

Sugarland — Bob Malm’s Fantasy Life

Here’s a repost of another great window into the spiritual life of Grace Episcopal, Jeff Chiow, and Bob Malm.

In this request for admission, Jeff Chiow and Bob Malm reference a non-existent shooting the fictional city (one word, if you please) of “Sugarland” Texas. They also invoke the hashtag “clearthepews,” which I have never used.

Of course, as an attorney, Jeff Chiow submits pleadings with the express understanding that they are true to the best of his knowledge and belief, and after making reasonable effort to ensure same.

So where did Jeff come up with a non-existent city? Either he’s spectacularly oblivious to the need to proof his work and to act with integrity as an officer of the court, or he’s a liar. I leave it to readers to decide which. Same for his client, Bob Malm.

And if Jeff really believes the church is threatened by terrorists, why does he continue to bring his kids to church? Wouldn’t that be placing them in harm’s way? Or are Jeff’s pleadings and actions dishonest and unethical?

You decide.






Grace Episcopal Still Doesn’t Get Why It’s Imploding



See for Yourself: Vestry Talking Points Demonstrate Questionable Veracity

When you elect people to a church vestry or board, you expect them to be honest and diligent, right? Well, in the case of the Grace Church vestry, you’d have just cause to ask tough questions about the former.

Attached is the vestry talking points document circulated about this conflict. In it are several questionable assertions:
  1. The document asserts that I left on my own. If that’s the case, why did Bob Malm feel the need to send an email to me and Mike, telling us we are unwelcome? And by did he instruct church staff and volunteers to exclude us? For the record, I didn’t transfer my membership until 2017. And it was not until 2018 that Mike and I asked to have our names removed from all Episcopal church records.
  2. If there is no truth to my concerns, why then do I have messages like the one that follows, from Peter Barnes, then senior warden, which was sent after one of Bob’s spates of inappropriate behavior. In it, Peter is very clear: “It’s Bob, not you.”
  3. As discussed elsewhere, at no point have I threatened anyone at Grace Church, and Bob knows it. Indeed, his actions, in which he tries to use his role as clergy to discredit me, claim that I am mentally ill, and stoke fears within the church prove the accuracy of my underlying contentions. 
  4. The use of inflammatory, prejudicial rhetoric in his pleadings, including his references to a non-existent church shooting in the equally non-existent town of “Sugarland Texas,” together with his treating this as a personal vendetta, underscores Jeff Chiow’s questionable ethics.
And, while I’m engaged in what Jeff  “Sugarland” Chiow delicately refers to as “ranting and raving,” for the love of the almighty, the header doesn’t get a question mark. Just because it references a question doesn’t make the clause a question. Sheesh.

#fakechristians









Thursday, August 22, 2019

Webs of Deception: How abusers weave threads to capture the truth.

The following, used with the permission of the Rev. Wade Mullen, is an excellent piece on how abusers weave webs of deceit to hide their actions. I believe it well describes Bob Malm’s smear campaigns directed at me, as well as his efforts to convince people that they are threatened by “domestic terrorism,” — a phrase directly from Bob’s pleadings to the Venango County Court of Common Pleas in Pennsylvania. The pleading was filed in conjunction with his effort, in contravention of state law, to drag my mother, dying of COPD, into court.




A primary goal of the exposed abuser is to capture the truth in a web of deception. It’s a highly deceptive process intended to control your perceptions so you see only what the deceiver wants you to see. 

The ability to weave a web of deception is never put on display as much as it is when the deceiver is confronted or exposed. I’ve seen abusive individuals deftly spin a web of deception around the truth in a matter of minutes. They do this by weaving threads between themselves and issues or people indirectly related to the central truths. These tactics of deception are similar to what is described in the field of sociology as “impression management by association.” I see these associations made all the time by abusers in my advocacy and research.

Using the metaphor of a spider web, here are 8 hard to recognize threads:

  1. The exposed abuser might create a thread between themselves and others people view favorably. They draw attention to another person or group and then boast in their positive connection to them. They will bask in the reflected glory of someone else’s values when their’s are questioned. One of the most common examples of this is seen in the abuser who seeks to highlight a positive connection with God or a spiritual leader.
  2. They will then spin a thread around more serious examples of wrongs and boast in how they are not like such people and have never engaged in such horrible behavior, and that they would even go out of their way to oppose such behavior. You are then led to believe they should not be connected to the less serious actions they are accused of. The individual who abuses verbally and psychologically might draw comparisons to other types of abuse they deem more serious and promote how they are not like such people.
  3. They might thread together their life’s work and their contribution to that work. This is often seen in response to a specific question about a specific behavior. Rather than address the details of their behavior, they spotlight their life in general because it is easier to defend. This tactic subtly diverts attention away from any specific words or actions they know are more difficult to explain.
  4. If they can’t escape addressing the story, they will weave together an effective fiction. This new version is said to provide clarity when in fact it produces confusion. Nobody, even the abuser, seems to possess an accurate recollection of events, so everyone moves on because they grow tired of trying to see through the fog.
  5. Abusers quickly identify who their supporters are and then use flattery, compliments, and expressions of appreciation to thread themselves to their supporters. They will publicly enhance their positive attributes in order to bolster the credibility of their judgement. The more people view with favor the people the abuser is positively connected to, the more likely they are to believe the abuser.
  6. They will quickly identify who their critics are and then thread their criticism to fabricated or exaggerated negative attributes like hatred, bitterness, and revenge. Criticism is then viewed by others as malicious and misguided, and perhaps even evil. The more people view with disfavor the people the abuser is negatively associated with (critics), the more likely they are to believe the abuser.
  7. Abusers may go so far as to add their family members to this portion of the web. By connecting the accusers to the perceived negative effects the allegations are having on their family, the abuser pours more condemnation on their critics & requests more help from supporters. This is a common tactic in which the innocent are used as a shield to protect the abuser. 
  8. If necessary (and only if necessary) an abuser will spin an apology. This apology will not be threaded to the truth of their actions, but to unintended mistakes that resulted in unintended harm. The apology is a deception that seeks to retain legitimacy and avoid shame. The words “I’m sorry” can be used to disarm those who are seeking to free the truth from the web. 

Abusers will keep creating these connections, and will spin so many threads that their supporters will be convinced of their innocence. They then become objects as well that the abuser can attach threads to in an effort to strengthen their claims of innocence. These supporters fail to see they are trapped in the web themselves, having simply conformed to the pattern they were weaved into.

Those who do escape the web walk away bewildered, unsure of how to address an issue that once was as clear as day. To the abuser’s satisfaction, they soon forget that behind all those threads is an entrapped truth, a truth that could have freed others had it remained free itself.

The truth-seeker must have the patience and wisdom to see each thread, understand its purpose, and then detach it from the truth it is seeking to capture. For example, when asking a specific question about a specific behavior, the abuser might respond by saying, “Listen, I’ve always treated people with respect.” That thread needs to be removed by drawing attention back to the specifics. And nothing frustrates the deceiver’s attempt to spin a web more than the person who keeps removing each thread.


Tuesday, August 20, 2019

Upcoming Protests and Leafleting

With Shrine Mont coming up, back to school, and perjuring priest Bob Malm’s upcoming retirement, there’s lots to do in the coming weeks. With that in mind, I’ll be leafletting a few remaining homes in Potomac Yards tomorrow, weather permitting, and protesting in several places this week.

Plans also include protests for the first day of classes at Grace Episcopal School, Dysfunctional Bob’s last Sunday and the bishop’s visit, and more.

Stay tuned!

P.S. Oh, and keep in mind it’s not perjury if Bob Malm didn’t know it was a lie. If he can’t tell the difference between truth and a lie, it’s not perjury!




Thursday, August 15, 2019

Bishop Plans Appearance at Dysfunctional Bob’s Retirement Service



Among the guests at Dysfunctional Bob’s final service at Grace, slated for September 29, is the Episcopal bishop of Virginia. That may be a good sign, but it carries with it enormous risks. It also underscores the diocese’s role in supporting and covering up Bob Malm’s repeated incidents of misconduct, including his perjury.

On the one hand, the presence of the bishop may indicate that the diocese is taking the ungodly mess at Grace seriously. If Grace Church is to become healthy and survive, there’s a tremendous amount of work to be done, and the diocese needs to be a missional partner in making that happen. 

At the same time, the messaging here is both tricky and vital. The bishop cannot be seen to be dissing Dysfunctional Bob, but at the same time must be careful not to praise the many problems within the church, including bickering, shunning, and the utter disregard for the baptismal covenant evinced by many, including Dysfunctional Bob, Sugarland Chiow, and the parish vestry. Indeed, my conclusion is that Grace is not a church, but instead a religion club, with dynamics modeled on a college fraternity or sorority. Thus, the task at hand is not just to recover from the problems of Bob Malm’s tenure—it’s actually to build a church from what is now a social organization.

Complicating matters is the fact that Bob continues to try to tug on people’s heartstrings in order to convince them that his departure is a great loss, on a par with the stages of dying identified by Dr. Elisabeth Kübler-Ross. This, from a priest whose response when people leave the parish due to conflict with him is, “Why should I give a fuck? People transfer all the time.” But the reality is the same goes for clergy, and Bob’s departure is long, long overdue. Moreover, while Bob would not agree with this statement, the years of dysfunction in the parish office, his refusal to supervise staff, his efforts to avoid dealing with staff issues by lying to vestry members, his failure to comply with denominational requirements like having a parish finance manual, his ongoing violation of church canons, and his sense of superiority and entitlement render Bob’s track record as rector sub-par, at best. And to parallel Bob’s statement about departing parishioners, priests transfer all the time, except that in healthy parishes it doesn’t take 30 years for this to happen.

As a result, the bishop can help by providing a vision of the future that focuses on hope, growth, unity, and cooperation. While Bob’s goal may be to pull in every last bit of adulation, the bishop can temper things by pointing people’s focus towards things that matter.

The wrinkle in things, of course, is that the diocese still refuses to recognize or address Bob’s multiple incidents of misconduct, including his perjury, but instead insists on covering them up. Thus, no matter how skillfully the diocese handles Bob’s retirement and the subsequent interim period, there remains an elephant in the living room. No one will take Grace Church, the diocese, or the bishop seriously as long as diocesan officials cover up Bob Malm’s perjury. Yes, parishioners may defer to the bishop, but the larger outside world still sees a dysfunctional organization that has lost any claim to ethical relevance.

Meanwhile, the bishop’s presence reinforces the hypocrisy of diocesan officials. Grace Church is important enough to warrant a visit from the bishop at Bob’s farewell, but not important enough to address Bob’s perjury or the other severe problems that lurk right behind the scenes. It’s also fair to point out, as previously discussed, that the diocese’s track record when it comes to clergy transitions is mixed, at best. And when it bollixes things, often due to bad advice from J.P. Causey, the diocese has shown an unparalleled ability to leave a disaster in its wake.

I can also assure all involved that my efforts to publicize Bob’s misconduct and the diocese’s ensuing cover-up will not stop with Bob’s retirement. People need to understand that while the diocese talks a good game, and likes to gas on about the baptismal covenant, there is no substance to any of it, The reality is that even criminal activity such as perjury is okay for Episcopal clergy, as long as they’re not convicted. 

So, the bishop can roll through, pointy hat and crozier in tow, and put on a good show, but it does nothing to correct the underlying moral bankruptcy of the parish, the diocese or The Episcopal Church. These issues cannot be ignored, glossed over, or be treated as matters that hopefully resolve themselves over time. Only when these issues are addressed will there be any hope for the future.

Friday, August 9, 2019

Understanding Interim Ministry

One of the things that looms large for Grace Church is the need for an interim rector. But do folks at the parish understand what interim ministry is, and what it does? More importantly does the diocese understand the importance of interim ministry? The answers are not clear, but one thing is certain: A successful interim ministry is essential for Grace Church’s future.

So what is interim ministry?

Interim ministry grew out of studies by the Alban Institute after years of failed calls and an effort to understand what was happening and why. What they discovered is that there is a natural developmental process that occurs and it can be facilitated and it can be blocked or undermined, accidentally or deliberately.

Not everyone who does interim ministry is trained or has a clue what an interim should be doing. Here are the stages.
  • Coming to terms with history
  • Clarifying identity
  • Raising up new leadership
  • Developing denominational linkages
  • Welcoming a new rector
When a call results in a new rector leaving within 2-3 years, it’s almost always a sign of a failed interim process. Yet for all the change DioVA has experienced in recent years, including the property recovery litigation, the diocese has a very mixed record in this department. For example, the rebuilding of The Falls Church seemingly has gone well, despite the need for the continuing congregation to again learn what it means to be a church. The Church of the Epiphany Herndon got off to a very bumpy start, but has done well under the current rector. St. Thomas’ McLean, which had a clergy disciplinary case a few years ago, was a bloody disaster marked by a clueless diocese that refused to provide meaningful pastoral care to the parish during the transition, redeemed only by the arrival of the current rector, who by all accounts is wonderful and very healing. In the case of St. Thomas,’ there was no real interim ministry, and the damage was lasting.

In the case of Grace, Bob’s legacy is a very troubled parish, with a lot of work to do. Sadly, very few within the parish recognize the extent of the issues, or in many cases, that there’s any issue at all. Thus, it will take a courageous interim to surface these issues, and to create a safe environment to work towards resolution and healing.

To make matters worse, it is not clear that the diocese recognizes the problems at Grace. As I’ve said before, the diocese has an unparalleled ability to mess up even the best situation, and it can be both remarkably clueless and amoral. So there’s a real possibility that the diocese will not recognize the issues at hand until it’s too late. And frankly, the diocese should have recognized long ago the problems at Grace, but it either didn’t, or ignored the problems. But then, this is the diocese that had an ACNA clergy person on the staff at Mayo House, so no suprises there.

So, what can parishioners do to ensure success? My suggestion is to learn as much as possible about the interim process, what it involves, and what the outcomes are supposed to be. And if the diocese blows you off — as it may well do — you need to insist. There simply is no room for failure. 

Similarly, you need parishioners to understand the issue, understand why it’s important, and why the church is headed for very difficult times if the interim period fails. Vestry members and other leaders need to take ownership of these issues, and to help members understand that the parish has no future if members are going to behave as they have during Bob’s time with the parish. There is no excuse for bullying other parishioners, ever. And the vestry needs to resume its rightful role—the notion that the rector appoints the executive committee and otherwise interferes with the functioning of the vestry is bad for the rector, bad for the parish, and bad for church members.

A good starting point is the online resources available from the national church, with one example available here in PDF.

For those interested, here is a diagram of the process:






Thursday, August 8, 2019

Grace Church: What Next?



The coming months will be an interesting time for Grace Church, as Bob Malm’s departure leads the church into what, for many members, will be uncharted waters. That raises several questions, including:
  • Near-term financial implications.
  • Strategic planning.
  • Diocesan role in the transition.
  • Most importantly, whether the parish will survive.
This post explores those issues.

Before going further, it’s important to recognize the context in which these issues occur. Not only did Dysfunctional Bob “serve” (and I use the word advisedly) for more than 30 years, but he brought with him a toxic blend: Ostensibly friendly, Bob was highly manipulative, narcissistic, and indolent. As a result, he believed he was an excellent rector, but the reality is that governance was and is a hot mess. Real leadership in the parish is virtually non-existent, and the way members interact with each other is appalling. Consider: This is a church where it’s okay to urge people to commit suicide. In other words, this is a toxic and seriously ill church.

Doubt it?  

Just look at the various emails I’ve posted in which parishioners and clergy discuss me. Lots of Jesus-babble, but no genuine concern at all. Layer Bob Malm’s perjury on top, Chiow’s treatment in court of our conflict as a personal vendetta, and the level of discourse between Bob Malm and the diocese, and this is one ugly, ugly place.

So it’s fair to say both that whoever comes next will have her or his hands full. At the same time, many of the resiliency traits of a healthy church are utterly missing in Grace Church. As a result, transition issues loom large, and there is very little room for error.

Financial Issues

Apropos near-term financial issues, it is common for parishes to see a decline in giving and participation in the midst of a transition. In the case of Holy Comforter in Vienna, for example, finances took a serious hit following the retirement of the rector a few years ago, declining at one point by almost a third. With Grace’s budget now perilously thin, it has little room to absorb a decline. Even a small decrease will necessitate eliminating staff, as most of the remaining costs are structural.

In this regard, the decision to replace the HVAC system in the school is problematic. Entirely tactical in nature, it utterly ignored the larger issue, which is that cost sharing with the school is increasingly untenable and a difficult case to make for parishioners. While it may have made sense in the 1950’s to build a complex now valued at more than $12 million dollars, it imposes huge burdens in a day and age when attending church no longer is normative. The building is huge, spectacularly energy inefficient, and little has been done to reduce energy costs. Even just the HID lights in the parking lot and auditorium are wildly expensive to operate, yet with all the hundreds of thousands being pored into HVAC, no one seems to have to foresight to fund the relatively minor costs to address these matters.

At the same time, asking a parish with fewer than 200 pledging units to share costs with the much larger school is a difficult sell. This is compounded by the Chris Byrne years, with her empire-building and other shenanigans. Chris’ short-sighted approach, and her indifference to the good of the entire organization, has caused lingering issues in some circles within the church.

So, it is likely that there will be a decline in revenue, especially since Dysfunctional Bob’s departure falls only weeks before the annual pledge season. That said, in this area, the parish is lucky, in that the remaining pledging units have proved highly reliable and willing to give sacrificially. And Bob’s compensation package (which also involved demolishing the rectory, a stupid move if there ever was one), was so spectacularly generous that there is some wiggle room, even for a highly qualified interim.

Of course, right behind this is the demographic reality: The Berrys, the Reeds, June Huber and Brad Bergmann, and the other generous long-time donors are all reaching ages where their current levels of giving won’t continue for too many more years. Meanwhile, younger families often find they cannot give at the levels older families can, particularly in light of the high cost of housing in the area and the cost of college for their children.

And, lest we ignore the elephant in the room, the years of conflict in the parish, including my dust-up with Dysfunctional Bob and Sugarland Chiow, are a powerful disincentive to young people joining the church. If nothing else, who wants to give to a church if the rector can unilaterally force you out? No one I know. So membership levels, both near- and long-term, are likely to decline.

No matter how all this plays out, near-term financial issues could quickly get hairy and will surely garner a lot of attention.

Governance and leadership

Another major challenge will be governance and leadership. There are very few real leaders left in the parish, and even those with otherwise good leadership instincts have been co-opted by Bob. Indeed, with Bob having interfered with vestry operations for many years, few even know how a vestry is supposed to work. Additionally, folks Bob has placed in leadership positions often have pursued their own interests and petty jealousies/animosities, versus serving the greater good. 

As a result, folks in the parish will have to learn how to be leaders. At the same time, some who now regard themselves as leaders will have to either change their ways or wind up on the sidelines if the parish is to become healthy. Given 30 years’ of entrenched interests, the latter will take a miracle on the order of the parting of the Red Sea.

It should be particularly interesting to observe the vestry as it gears up for the January annual meeting. A real election of vestry officers, without Dysfunctional Bob making the decisions? Imagine that. And basic requirements of The Episcopal Church, like a finance manual, were still not in place last time I checked, even after 30 years of Bob Malm, so there will plenty to do for upcoming vestries.

Of longer-term importance will be the need for strategic planning. While I urged Bob repeatedly to begin that process, he neither understood what it meant, nor was in any way supportive. But if you don’t know where you plan to be in 20 years, you surely will get there, and Grace Church doesn’t even plan tactically, let alone strategically.

Of course, these changes will prove off-putting for many, so I think there is little doubt that some parishioners will fly the coop.

Diocesan Role

Here’s where things get interesting. Traditionally, Episcopal parishes have an interim, whose job it is to help the transition to a new priest. Many question whether this is sensible, or whether it works, with some, including my fellow Episcopal Cafe contributor George Clifford, urging a more corporate approach.

On the one hand, Grace probably needs a good interim. Given the hot mess that Dysfunctional Bob leaves behind, and the fact that almost no one at the church realizes what a mess it is, someone with excellent change management and transitional skills is needed. Indeed, more than one wag has pointed out that the primary job of an interim at Grace will be to exorcise the baleful specter of Bob Malm. And more than one highly qualified interim has said that s/he wouldn’t touch Grace with a 20-foot pole.

That said, I suspect the only interim who could survive Grace Church would be a retired bishop. In that regard, the church’s endemic clericalism will provide some much-needed armor to members of the Pointy Hats Club. In addition, a bishop with knowledge of Episcopal norms, including governance practices and conflict resolution, could really stabilize things.

On the other hand, the diocese’s ability to screw things up is unparalleled. Even Canon Mary Thorpe, who has handled the diocese’s transition issues in the past, can be spectacularly clueless. Indeed, I well remember when she told one parish, traumatized by clergy misconduct, that no one wanted to apply to be rector because they were “damaged goods.” 

Moreover, I very much doubt that the diocese fully understands just how screwed up Grace Church is. So I think it as likely as not that the diocese will simply make things worse. After all, this is a diocese that thinks it’s okay for clergy to commit criminal offenses so long as they aren’t convicted. Why would anyone conclude that the diocese won’t bollix these transition issues?

Long-Term Issues and Parish Survival

If by now you’ve concluded that I am dubious that the parish will survive, you’re spot on. My belief is that the odds are slightly in favor of survival, but not by much.

The problems and risks are myriad. As I mentioned above, while the diocese has had some real successes in transition, including at the Falls Church and Epiphany Herndon, overall it has shown itself to be both spectacularly incompetent and utterly lacking in ethics when it is challenged. This lack of leadership at the diocesan level creates a high risk of failure at Grace Church.

Additionally, Grace has been wallowing in its beautiful but toxic stained glass cesspool for many years. Whether members have the introspection and the courage to change is doubtful.

Compounding things is the damage of more than 4 years of conflict with yours truly. This has occurred very much in the public sphere, and it’s probably fair to say that the reputation of all involved has been irreparably damaged—an outcome that experts warn is almost a given in a badly handled Title IV clergy disciplinary case. And there were at least five cases involving Bob, and possibly more.

Ironically, things haven’t really changed from our meeting in Fredericksburg. Those angered by Bob’s conduct, that of the parish, and that of the diocese have not changed their views; indeed, Bob’s decision to try to go to court further cemented their hostility. Several are now dead or otherwise out of the picture, including my mother and grandmother, so reconciliation in that sphere is now impossible. And others choose to have nothing further to do with the diocese, including Mike. (BTW, if +Shannon reads this, I’d point out you never did follow-up with a note to Mike, nor with the fall follow-up meeting we discussed. No loss.)

There’s also no way to remove all the negative press that’s out there. I long ago made sure of that, and it’s not unfair. Just as the trauma caused by Bob’s conduct won’t ever entirely go away, neither should the documentation.

The important thing here, though, is to recognize that this sort of conflict is only possible in a toxic parish. Healthy churches don’t sue parishioners, don’t have clergy who engage in perjury, or have church members as attorneys who engage in inflammatory rhetoric or untruthful statements of law and fact in their pleadings. Indeed, the fact that even the church vestry lied to parishioners underscores how spectacularly toxic the parish has become. (I am referring specifically to the “talking points” the vestry prepared that claimed that I left on my own. If that is the case, why then did Bob Malm find it necessary to send us an email telling us we were unwelcome? And why would Bob specifically reference Mike?)

At the end of the day, survival will require a sea change at Grace Church. If the parish tries to cling to the same old, same old, its days indeed are numbered. And given the church’s recent conduct, that would not be a bad thing. Any place where the rector commits perjury with the support of the vestry and subpoenas the dying is hardly a place that reflects the Christian values that it purports to hold.


Wednesday, August 7, 2019

See for Yourself: Jeffery Chiow and Bob Malm Lie in Court Pleadings

Here’s another blast from the past. In this excerpt from a motion filed in the Alexandria Circuit Court, Jeff Chiow flat out lies to the court. Specifically, he claims that he would have proven that I was never licensed to practice law, and that I never served as a police officer. Both are untrue,

To be fair, in the practice of law, there are times one argues for an expansion of the law, or one postures. There also are times when one states in pleadings that, “The evidence strongly suggests...” or, “There is no evidence to support defendant’s claim....” In short, one not only leaves room for error as a way to preserve one’s credibility with the court, but also to avoid proffering false evidence to the court. Avoiding offering false information to the court is an obligation under the professional rules, as signing one’s name to a pleading means that the information presented is believed to be true, based on reasonable efforts by the attorney.

This is illustrated by the old law school tale, perhaps apocryphal, in which defense counsel, a heavyset man, loudly exclaims, “It simply is not possible that the plaintiff’s contentions about my client’s ladder are true. My client, XYC corporation, makes the toughest ladders out there, capable of holding many times the plaintiff’s weight. See for yourself!” Whereupon he scales the ladder, only to have the thing disintegrate under him, leaving him in a heap on the floor, and with a verdict against his client to boot.

Similarly, if one were to assert in pleadings that Bob Malm is a pedophile based solely on the fact that Bob is a priest, and many priests are pedophiles, that would be highly inappropriate and likely grounds for sanctions. I can’t simply show up in court with an unsupported assertion like that and expect smooth sailing. (For the record, I do not claim Bob to be a pedophile and have seen no evidence to support that conclusion.)

So, Jeff Chiow cannot assert his claims that I never practiced law, and never served as a police officer willy-nilly. These claims would need to be supported by research, and would properly be proferred to the court as, “There is no evidence to support the defendant’s claim....”

Moreover, having used multiple attorneys within his firm, as well as resources from another law firm in town, and having expended what he claims was more than $100,000 worth of legal fees, Jeff Chiow knew, or had reason to know, that this was the case. Additionally, it is hardly a great leap of logic for Sugarland, who claims to have done extensive research on the case, to surmise that it would have made sense to check bar records in Pennsylvania. After all, I did undergraduate there and was a state resident in 1986–facts readily ascertainable. Additionally, a Google search readily reveals information on having served as a police officer.

In short, Jeff Chiow lied to the courts. And while it does not appear he will face disciplinary charges for his misconduct, his behavior is damaging both to his personal reputation and to that of his client, Grace Church.

When one looks at the situation in the context of Bob Malm’s perjury, one quickly understands how Jesus came to refer to the Scribes and Pharisees as “broods of vipers.”





Sunday, August 4, 2019

Grace Church’s Rhetoric Disrespects Victims of Violence, Promotes Divisive Conduct



Yesterday’s horrific news of active shooters in two American cities underscores both the prevalence of violence in our society, and the trends that encourage borderline or anti-social personalities to engage in acts of bigotry, violence and oppression. And while no one suggests that Bob Malm or Grace church overtly support violence, the rhetoric the church engages in does, I think, contribute in a small way to these larger issues.

Specifically, in recent years we have seen an increase in hate-filled, disrespectful rhetoric across all levels of society. In many instances, this rhetoric is justified based on the desired outcome—an approach that, until now, was considered unacceptable in mainstream society. So whether it’s winning an election, or barring asylum-seekers, or simply getting the upper hand in a dispute, many forms of rhetoric previously off limits are now fair game.

The sad reality, too, is that words matter. Words hurt. Words can cause violence and hatred. Borderline personalities by definition need little to set them off, and the disaffected and marginalized in our society may already feel anger and resentment.

In the case of Grace Church, the rhetoric coming from Bob Malm and Jeff Chiow, with its references to “domestic terrorism” and other inflammatory language, is highly inappropriate. Using language of this sort tells people that this sort of conduct is okay, both within church and within society at large, as it demonstrates disrespect for others. After all, if a priest can try to go after perceived enemies by referring to those individuals as “dysfunctional” and “terrorists,” and “starved for attention,” including in discussions with the church vestry and diocesan staff, then some inevitably will conclude that this sort of rhetoric is an acceptable way to solve problems.

At the same time, using these buzzwords to describe online criticism, and taking words out of context, is disrespectful to the very real human tragedy confronting many Americans. For Bob Malm and Grace Church to claim that they are victims of “domestic terrorism” is a grave injustice to all who have lost loved ones or otherwise been traumatized by violence. The reality is the Bob has lived a privileged life of very little work, and a whole lot of leisure, while those affected by the violence of El Paso and Dayton now face lives of enduring sorrow and pain.

Inflammatory rhetoric of the sort deployed by Grace Church, Bob Malm and Jeff Chiow also demonstrates profound disrespect for the first responders involved in these and other tragedies. When the risk and sacrifice these women and men make is trivialized into nothing more than the rhetoric for a strategic lawsuit against public participation (SLAPP) case, as here, society looks past the very real courage, commitment and bravery that is called upon in situations such as this.

Of course, this sort of conduct also makes a mockery of the baptismal covenant. That said, I long ago realized that the latter means nothing to Bob Malm and Jeff Chiow—it’s just a bunch of empty words that get said on Sundays, with no larger meaning for day-to-day life. Like the Nicene Creed, pretty, quaint words, but nothing more.

Meanwhile, as one of our Supreme Court justices noted, the best defense against misuse of the free speech guaranteed by the First Amendment is more free speech. I therefore will continue to spread word far and wide of the toxic mess that is Grace Church and the Episcopal Diocese of Virginia. In doing so, people can form their own opinions. And ironically enough, Bob’s choice of rhetoric is a lose-lose situation for the church: If true, people will stay away. If false, people will stay away. 

At this point, nothing Bob Malm or Grace Church can do is likely to repair any time soon the harm Bob Malm has inflicted upon this particular faith community. Bob’s rhetoric is hateful and ugly, as are his lies, and there’s simply no avoiding those issues.

Thursday, August 1, 2019

See for Yourself: Grace Episcopal Says it is the Victim of Domestic Terrorism

Just in case you thought Grace Episcopal couldn’t be any more toxic, here is the relevant section of the church’s pleadings in the Venango County (PA) Court of Common Pleas, in which rector Bob Malm and church attorney Jeff Chiow tell the court that the church is the victim of domestic terrorism.

A bit of context: Sugarland Chiow tried to tell the court that the subpoena was “validly-issued” (sic), despite the fact that Pennsylvania law does not permit subpoenas in protection from abuse cases. Yet he claims to have expended more than $100,000 worth of time researching and preparing for the case. Nor is Jeff Chiow aka Sugarland newly admitted to practice law. Indeed, he is a shareholder at Rogers, Joseph, O’Donnell, which styles itself a “boutique litigation firm.”

Anyone get the idea that Sugarland was trying to pull a fast one on the Pennsylvania courts? If nothing else, Sugarland didn’t exactly enhance his credibility.

Of course, no matter how you parse it, the church’s claims are either true, in which case one might conclude that it is best to avoid the church; or they are false, in which case one might conclude that it is best to avoid the church, but for wholly different reasons.


Monday, July 29, 2019

The Burning Question: Will Bob Malm and Jeff Chiow Show Some Integrity as Bob Gears up for Retirement?



As Bob Malm gears up for retirement, and turns the Jesus-babble tap full open, the burning question (as Kemp Williams would put it), is will Bob Malm show some integrity? As in practicing what he preaches, telling the truth, and admitting to the parish that he has committed perjury by lying under oath? And while we’re at it, will Jeff Chiow similarly belly up to the bar and admit his misconduct to parishioners?

The short answer to both is, “Not bloody likely.”

In Bob Malm’s case, he’s hard at work, tugging on the heartstrings, trying to convince people that they are about to suffer a great loss, akin to losing someone to death. As discussed previously, the reality is far different. Not only has Bob Malm been a mediocre rector at best, but his behavior in office has caused lasting harm to many, not the least of which is the parish he claims to serve. And clergy come and go, in Bob’s case taking far too long to go, and wearing out his welcome

Intertwined with that is Bob’s narcissism, in which he does his utmost to avoid accountability. Even in the rare cases where he admits to wrongdoing, he either tries to charm his way back, or he apologizes solely in order to shut things down and move on. In those cases, he still does his best to duck things, including offering non-apologies like, “I’m sorry you were upset.” 

Thus, with Dysfunctional Bob soon packing off to Jekyll Island, there is little incentive for him to behave in an ethical manner. Given that his primary motivating factor over time is to obtain adulation, admitting to his misconduct would only serve to cut into his narcissistic supply, while confirming what a number of current and former parishioners have know about Bob for some time, wbich is that he is a hot mess. Lots of fine words, plenty of smiles and friendly behavior to people’s faces, but right behind it all lurks Dysfunctional Bob’s narcissism, lies, gaslighting, and manipulative behavior.

Nor has Dysfunctional Bob learned anything from all of this, as evidenced by his little tantrum along Russell Road. Even now, with Grace continuing to shed members, Bob still foolishly thinks screaming and yelling will accomplish something.

Of course, the best going away gift Dysfunctional Bob could give the church would be to actually lead by example. But even if Bob suddenly decided to actually be a priest, 30 years of his misconduct isn’t going to be undone with a few weeks of Christian behavior.

In Jeff Chiow’s case, there are other factors at work. Having claimed to be representing both Bob Malm and the parish in the role of legal counsel, Sugarland has ethical obligations to both. As a result, one can argue that, absent Bob’s permission, Jeff cannot publicly disclose Bob’s perjury and other malfeasance. But Jeff can and should disclose his own courtroom fabrications, which include false statements of both law and fact. And I suspect that, while few would come right out and say it, the relatively advancing age of the parish leads to a certain unease when it comes to Bob and Jeff’s decision to drag a dying woman into court. Something about what goes around comes around.

Of course, Jeff’s antics have caused tremendous reputational damage to the church. Bob can tell vestry members that I’m a “sad individual, starving for attention,” and otherwise try to discredit me, but the really ugly stuff involving Jeff, including his claims that the church is threatened by “domestic terrorists,” are all in writing and available for all the world to see. 

Moreover, there’s no way Jeff can deny that he tried to subpoena a dying woman, conveniently ignored the relevant rules of civil procedure when he tried to get the Venango County Court of Common Pleas to issue a subpoena not authorized by Pennsylvania law, and more. Not to mention supporting Bob Malm’s facially obvious courtroom fabrications, including taking words out of context in order to support his claim that he has been threatened.

Thus, Sugarland is unlikely to be able to sidestep the fallout from his misconduct. Not only can prospective clients assess for themselves Jeff’s judgment and integrity as an attorney, but he and his family likely will remain part of the Alexandria community for the foreseeable future. In that context, they  will face questions over time as Grace Church faces further challenges due to Jeff’s conduct. And if parishioners are true to form, sooner or later they will blame Jeff for the church’s woes and take their frustrations out on him and his family. Hardly fair to go after his wife and kids, but that is the way Grace rolls, as Mike knows all too well.

Speaking of kids, Jeff also has the issue of the example he sets for his own kids. Does he really think his kids are going to see the online documentation of his actions and learn positive lessons? I doubt Jeff is introspective enough to really parse these issues, but I also don’t think he should be surprised when his kids conclude they have little use for organized religion.

To Jeff’s credit, he is somewhat more cognizant of the damage that Grace is suffering due to Bob’s conduct. But like Bob, he thought he could bully his way through the issue, when what he should have done was to advise Bob that 1) It’s not a great idea to serve as both attorney and parishioner, and 2) Bob is foolish to try to use the a protective order as a Strategic Lawsuit Against Public Participation (SLAPP). (These are lawsuits intended to stop public criticism.) With that, Jeff should have declined representation. That said, Jeff has nowhere near that level of common sense and good judgment, and he undoubtedly faced a lot of manipulation from Bob, who is masterful when it comes to these issues.

At the end of the day, it’s probably a safe bet that neither Dysfunctional Bob nor Sugarland Chiow are going to turn over a new leaf any time soon and show a little integrity, or conduct themselves like Christians. 




Saturday, July 27, 2019

Ain’t it Great to Be Wealthy? Grace Church Pays Bob Malm $100,000 Bonus, Borrows to Keep the HVAC On

When you give to Grace Church, is it with the idea that the parish will pay $100,000 bonuses to Bob Malm? At the same time it’s cutting health insurance benefits to other clergy and employees? Is this social justice?

Does it mater to you that the church is paying bonuses of this sort when it is borrowing to keep the HVAC on in the building?

Does it matter to you that one out of every five dollars the church brings in go to Bob Malm?

When was the last time you got a bonus of $100,000? Or were able to spend a month at the beach?

Are you comfortable funding a church where the rector commits perjury? Tries to drag a dying woman into court? Or where the vestry lies to you, falsely telling you that members left the church on their own, when in fact Bob Malm instructed church staff to exclude them? When Bob Malm goes after Mike Smith, who didn’t even arguably do anything to anyone? 

When the Fairfax County Office of Consumer Affairs lists Grace Church as the only church with a successful consumer protection claim filed against it, after the parish deliberately misused memorial donations Mike Smith gave in memory of his mother? And did so on Bob Malm’s instructions?

These are valid questions to ask as you consider your pledge for 2020.







Bob Malm’s Retirement: Why The Five Stages of Grief Don’t (Or Shouldn’t!) Apply

Elisabeth Kübler-Ross



Check out Bob Malm’s sermon from 7/21, found
here. There are several issues with the sermon, one of which is disturbing and highly inappropriate. The latter involves Bob’s invocation of Dr. Elisabeth Kübler-Ross’smodel of the five stages of grief in discussing his retirement.

First, the author of the book “Death and Dying” is not Elizabeth Kubler Ross, as cited in Bob’s sermon. It’s Elisabeth Kübler-Ross. Moreover, given that she wrote the book at a time when women were often treated with disdain by the largely male medical profession, it might be nice to recognize the fact that the author was an MD. That said, Bob has never been one to type his own sermons, so he gets a pass on that one.

Second, Bob’s recollection of the book is inaccurate. Kübler-Ross’s book is not about the reactions of dying children, but rather about dying patients of every age, albeit with most of her subjects being adults. Indeed, in a subsequent book, Kübler-Ross noted that children have some profound differences in their views toward dying, most notably that children below a certain age cannot grasp the concept of the finality of death. This correlates with the differing physiological aspects of terminally ill children, with many becoming more animated as these move into the preactive phase of dying. This differs from adults, who typically become more withdrawn as they enter this phase.

Third, and most significantly, while it is important to care for parishioners at a time of change such as this, the reality is that clergy come and go. In fact, many contend that it is unhealthy for clergy to stay more than 7 to 10 years; when clergy stay longer, they often tend to feel an unhealthy ownership of a church, versus recognizing that they are there to serve the church and its members. But in either case, clergy are there to point members toward God, the divine. They are not there to point members to themselves. Thus, correlating one’s retirement with the grieving process that occurs with death is highly inappropriate.

To be fair, Kübler-Ross herself noted that her model not only applies to death, but to the grief that comes from relationships that end, jobs that end, and other forms of loss. But clergy are never friends, and it is not possible to have a healthy pastoral relationship and be friends with your parishioners. You may be friendly, and that is good, but you may not be friends. Thus, Bob’s retirement is the transition from one professional relationship to another professional relationship.

Moreover, if Grace’s search committee, the diocese, and the church’s members all work together, Bob’s retirement is an opportunity to build a healthier church in which conflict is handled appropriately, in which faith and friendly are not conflated, and in which healthy boundaries within the parish are established and maintained. In that context, members hopefully will learn that there is never a situation in which it is appropriate to urge others to commit suicide, or for clergy to commit perjury, or for a church to try to drag a dying woman into court. Or, for that matter, to bully each other. For any reason. Ever.

Above all, Bob Malm’s retirement is a chance for church members to put their faith into practice. The way people in the church talk to each other, and about each other, is highly inappropriate, contrary to the baptismal covenant, and contrary to Christian values.

Will members of Grace Church ultimately learn from the problems of the Malm era? The answer is that it will depend on their willingness to examine their conduct, their attitudes, their faith, both individually and collectively. Affection for Bob, which in many cases borders on idolatry, makes this a challenging proposition. But without this careful introspection, and specific plans to enact meaningful change, Grace Church will not last much longer.

Yes, Grace Church is inclusive, but if it’s not spiritually sound, why bother? There are far cheaper and less demanding ways to enjoy time with others, and without all the petty nonsense, gossip, and bullying that goes on at Grace Church. And while Bob has improved on his previous feckless management practices, Bob’s conduct and decisions during his tenure as rector have been profoundly damaging to the parish. (Sorry folks, it takes two to tango. Even if you think I am utterly evil in every way, Bob’s handling of our conflict has been stupid and unethical on myriad levels, not the least of which is his decision to engage in perjury. And yet again, just ask Bob for proof that Mom, or someone claiming to be her, ever set up an appointment with him. This was a complete and utter fabrication, made in writing, under oath, and with the advice of legal counsel Jeff Chiow. But more importantly, he’s taught people to disrespect each other, and in doing so to disrespect God.)

Bob Malm will soon be a memory, and for some a positive memory. But real churches are not built around their rector, and healthy churches view change not as a loss, but as opportunity for new and possibly better things.

In the meantime, lose the five stages of death and dying analogies. As Bob himself once said of Peter and Cheryl Barnes leaving (and this is a direct quote), “Why should I give a fuck? People come and go all the time. People transfer in and out of churches.”

And yes, there were witnesses.

Friday, July 19, 2019

Does Your Church Train for a Terrorist Attack?

Here’s a noteworthy item from Grace Church’s 2017 minutes, noted without any additional comment, beyond the fact that this comes from a church that was, for years, indifferent to security. Indeed, the infamous Great Flood of 2013 occurred when the 5:00 PM Sunday officiant didn’t even bother to walk the building. Had he done so, and had he checked the downstairs bathrooms (a very common hiding area for people wishing to spend the night in the building), he would have discovered that one of the toilets was overflowing.

Good old St. Dysfunction: A toxic church if there ever was one.