Saturday, January 25, 2020

Bob Malm: Club Protest Membership Countdown


By virtue of trying to shutdown criticism by going to court with his facially false claims that he had been threatened, pseudo-priest Bob Malm and Grace Episcopal signed up for the two-year membership at Club Protest. No refunds, late payments result in an extension of membership. And his decision to include Mike in his vendetta, his multiple lies in court, and his efforts to subpoena a dying woman, all mean Bob gets the special VIP add-on package — my online presence will continue ad infinitum. That’s right, Dysfunctional Bob gets the lifetime virtual membership. Hey, Bob always did think he was special. Well, he’s right.

So, this countdown timer doesn’t mark the countdown to an end to open hostilities. But it does mark the payout of Dysfunctional Bob’s basic Club Protest membership.That said, I have always believed in under-promise, over-deliver, so I will no doubt extend Bob’s basic membership well beyond his original contract. And Grace Episcopal gets in on the action, for free.

Hey, if he behaves, maybe we can even spot Bob some core body fitness tips. Heaven knows he’s been looking rather well-fed in recent years. And it fits — Grace Church aka St. Dysfunction is looking a whole lot leaner and meaner these days.

See you at Dysfunction Junction aka Malm Square(d)!

Friday, January 24, 2020

A Must-Watch: The Rev. Wade Mullen Describes Planet Malm Perfectly

Check out Twitter buddy Wade Mullen’s excellent video presentation on spiritual abuse. Well worth a look and possibly enlightening for members of Planet Malm and the diocese who approach with an open mind. And yes, I find many of the forms of manipulation described here to be an accurate description of Bob Malm’s conduct.

Also, check out the excellent part on supplication (institutional protection of abusers) at 32:28. Bob Malm and the Episcopal Diocese of Virginia, writ large.

Lastly, take a look at Wade’s description of how his former church moved to healing by admitting specifically the ways in which it had engaged in spiritual abuse. You won’t see anything like that from Grace Church or the Diocese of Virginia; both are organizational narcissists and believe their conduct to be beyond reproach.



Wednesday, December 4, 2019

A Shout Out To St. Gabriel’s, Marion Massachusetts



If you are a member or friend of St. Gabriel’s parish in Massachusetts and you are reading this, good for you. While I can’t guarantee that you’ll agree with the opinions in this post, my hope is that they will be helpful to you.

If you’ve come across this blog, you may be wondering where to start, and what this blog means.

Before we go further, let’s acknowledge something: Bob Malm can turn on the charm when he chooses to. He is intelligent, he can be engaging, he is articulate. He’s adept at telling people at what they would like to hear. Indeed, has has said that he would have chosen to be a politician if he had not become a priest, and he has many of the attributes needed to be successful as a politician.

At the same time, I believe you have a problem on your hands, one that places your church at risk. Far too often, churchgoers conflate friendly with faithful, but the two are not coterminous. Indeed, they may be opposites, and therein lies the danger.

Right behind Bob’s engaging demeanor exists a very different reality, which is that Bob is a priest in name only. In the past, he has lied under oath, attempted to drag my mother, dying of COPD, into court, lied to parishioners and his vestry, and more, all in the name of trying to shut down public criticism of his misfeasance and nonfeasance during his time as rector of Grace Episcopal Church, his last job. 

Apropos his lies to his parish, he falsely stated that I left the church on my own. That is a lie, as evinced by the email, which you can find on this site, in which he directed my husband Mike and me to find a new church. You also will find a copy of my confirmatory email to Mike Jones, a fellow parishioner, in which Mike confirmed that Bob had contacted him to direct him to exclude me from the life of the parish. And Bob acknowledged during a meeting with bishop Shannon Johnston in Fredericksburg Virginia that this was a lie saying, “I don’t know what planet you live on, but when someone does something to me, I do something to them.” Also present in the room was Canon Pat Wingo.

Bob was also largely indifferent to the wellbeing of Grace Church. During his time as rector, the church office and business records were a shambles. Cash went AWOL without explanation, with thousands of dollars in loose cash and stale checks found in the parish administrator’s office after she left; she was a hoarder, and her space could best be described as a death trap. Additionally, church staff bullied parishioners, including me, Deborah Crabtree, and others, while Bob consistently turned a blind eye. Nor was Bob compliant with church canons—during my years at the church, the parish did not have a church finance manual as required by canon. And yet Bob claims no one shirked their responsibility.

Behind the scenes, Bob also causes unhealthy church dynamics, referring to parishioners as “assholes,” and “spies,” and other disparaging comments. In short, Bob models a lack of respect for the baptismal covenant that has caused more than one person to say, “I would never belong to your church, and it’s because of the way people talk to each other.”

Apropos these comments, Bob tells people that I am mentally ill, that I threatened him, and a whole bunch of other hogwash, all of which is part of a larger smear campaign on his part. Yet there is ample documentation of his misconduct on this site.

Most telling is the fact that during the last 5 years of Bob Malm’s tenure at Grace Church, the parish shed one-third of its pledging units, going from 317 units in 2014 to 208 last year.

Bob can lie and try to diminish criticism all he wants, but if Grace was such a slice of paradise under Bob Malm, why are people leaving?

I’d also note that, to my knowledge, Bob has no formal interim training. That is troubling, because a good transition minister has some very specific tasks ahead of her or him. I do not believe Bob is capable of achieving these goals.

Please do yourself a favor: Do your utmost not to let Bob Malm trash your parish. He’ll smile, give you hugs, and tell you that your church is a holy place, but behind the scenes he may well cause profound damage to the church.


Monday, December 2, 2019

Lisa Medley Proves Grace Church is Toxic

One of the ironic things about Grace Episcopal is that, as Lisa Medley and others attempt to demonstrate that the church is not toxic, they engage in the very behavior that makes it toxic.

Below are comments from Lisa Medley aka the Princess Porcine, in which she claims that bullying and shunning have never occurred at Grace Church. Yet she and her buddy Alison Campbell were two of the parishioners to engage in the most egregious misconduct.

Moreover, Bob’s decision, confirmed via his email to me, my confirmation email to Jeff Aaron (who denied us access to the church building), and the email from Jones (in which he confirmed that Bob had been in touch to tell him to remove me from participation in parish activities) all confirm that Bob did direct a campaign of shunning and harassment directed at me and Mike. And just like children who try to say, “I didn’t do it,” despite the fact they clearly broke the window, left a mess, etc., Lisa and her ilk don’t have the maturity to recognize that lying and denying don’t make the underlying issue go away.

Meanwhile, nothing in Lisa’s post, or other communication from the church, suggests any genuine concern for me, Mike, or my mother.  Indeed, I have some great film footage of Lisa and others making obscene gestures at me—a wonderful testimony to the depth of their Christian faith.

And for the record, others have had similar experiences, as evinced by John Cunningham’s confirmation below. Even one Episcopal priest, well familiar with the situation at Grace Church, has said gently, “They have a lot of work to do.”

In her comments at The Wartburg Watch, Lisa Medley, aka the Princess Porcine, shows what she and Grace Church are really about.



See for Yourself: Perjuring Priest Bob Malm’s Original Request for a Protective Order Shows the Real Grace Church

This one is great. In it, we see Bob’s facially inadequate claims of threats,  which have, thus far, enjoyed Jeff “Sugarland” Chiow’s professional support. In addition, more of Bobs intimations of mental illness (including multiple personalities, a disorder closely associated with severe abuse), as well as his facially irrelevant letter from the bishop and his references to blogging. Note too that Bob lies in his chronology about the meeting in Fredericksburg; at no time was there any discussion about “following the bishop’s guidance.” To the contrary, Bob agreed to stop his bullying. It’s also noteworthy that Bob lied in front of the bishop, falsely stating, “Having resigned from the vestry, you were no longer eligible to serve as a trustee.” To which I replied, “Why then, are none of your current trustees vestry members?” Bob had no response to that.

Check it out.

Meanwhile, as interim pastor Michael Guy talks about preaching the Gospel, this is how Grace Church preaches the gospel in real life. As in, “by their fruits you shall know them.”

Pastor Guy, welcome to Grace Episcopal, the clergy perjury parish.


















Saturday, November 30, 2019

Reflections on Friendly Versus Faithful


One of the things I learned from my experiences with perjuring priest Bob Malm and toxic Grace Episcopal church is that many people conflate friendly with faithful. As in, “Bob’s a good guy,” or “you’ll be welcomed with open arms.” Yes, Bob Malm is an ostensibly friendly guy. Yes, Grace Episcopal is a seemingly friendly church. But right behind both exist layers of toxic behavior that are contrary to the real meaning of Christianity.

It’s interesting: From friendly, people attribute ethical qualities. As one chucklehead at Christ Church said, “Why would you say that about a good man like Bob Malm?” referring to my assertion that Bob Malm committed perjury. Yet it doesn’t take much interaction at all to discover that Bob is a man who lies under oath, tries to drag the dying into court, deliberately misuses funds, directs church staff to exclude others, and goes after innocent family members in pursuit of his vendettas. In short, he is the antithesis of what one should expect of a priest.

My advice to anyone sizing up a new church or a new clergyperson: Take your time. Watch their actions. Ignore the flattery, smiles, hugs, and other window dressing.

I’d also point out that Bob’s comments about others are inappropriate for clergy, or anyone for that matter. Referring to Jan Spence as an “asshole,” or Lisa Doelp as “like a little spy,” is wrong. Nor do I believe his comments about Lisa. Nor do these sorts of comments build up others.

Similarly, folks can talk all they want about what a friendly church Grace is. but that doesn’t justify things like the bullying, gossip, and other inappropriate conduct that come from office staff, the choir, and the altar guild. Nor is there ever any excuse for urging people to commit suicide, Alison Campbell’s fun and games, or Lisa Medley’s toxic behavior. The fact that Bob Malm turns a blind eye to this sort of conduct and allows folks like this to serve in leadership positions reveals just how thoroughly broken Grace Church is. Grace, like many spiritually abusive churches, is like a yew, with pretty red berries. Yes, they are beautiful on the surface, but if you partake of them, you will find that they are toxic.

These issues extend to the diocese itself, where there is zero concept of accountability and no clergy discipline, unless the alleged misconduct involves sex. It is sad that The Episcopal Church is locked into a Madmen-era notion of misconduct in which only sex counts.

Lastly, to young people who turn their back on organized religion due to issues like this, I say this: You are spot on. Any church or denomination in which this sort of thing is okay is not one you should support. You won’t find Jesus or God in the midst of these modern-day Scribes and Pharisees.

Friday, November 29, 2019

As Bob Malm Transitions to St. Gabriel’s, An Important Reminder About His Lies

As Bob Malm prepares to settle in as interim rector at St. Gabriel’s, Marion Massachusetts, it’s important to remember that his lies even extend to information he provides church members.

In one instance, Bob and Jeff “Sugarland” Chiow falsely told the congregation and church staff via the talking points below that Mike and I left the church on our own. But if that is the case, why then did he instruct church staff to exclude us, including not publishing our names in church publications, or providing the door access codes? And why did he send us the following email?

Bob Malm and Sugarland Chiow lie to church members

Email from perjuring priest Bob Malm instructing us to find a new parish
Speaking of, having not communicated with Mike, why would Bob include Mike, received into The Episcopal Church 16 months earlier, in his email? Even if I arguably I left on my own, Bob had no reason to include Mike, but one: Spite. And it takes a particularly obnoxious piece of trailer park trash to come after Mike. Not to mention arrogant for assuming (wrongly, as it happens) that Mike would be interested in the Christian church after dealing with Bob Malm and his hypocrisy, as well as the collective hypocrisy of Grace Church.

And while we’re at it, why would Bob contact other volunteers to instruct them to exclude us? How is that Christian? Why would it be necessary if I allegedly had already left on my own? Yet that is what clearly occurred, as evinced by this email exchange with Mike Jones.

Email from Mike Jones


My take on things: Any priest who, like Bob Malm, lies to his own parishioners should no longer be a priest.

Thursday, November 28, 2019

Happy Thanksgiving!


Repost: Wondering Eagle Article

Grace Episcopal Alexandria, the clergy perjury parish


The article in the Wondering Eagle blog covering my situation is particularly well done. In light of the present litigation against the parish, the diocese, and Bishop Goff, it seems appropriate to republish this piece. It also appears on a separate page on this blog.

                                                                       # # #

This is a sad post that I wish I didn’t have to get up. This is actually my first venture into mainstream Protestantism. Most of the time I write about evangelical issues, Acts 29, the Evangelical Free Church of America and other topics such as atheism and doubt. I was approached by Eric Bonetti who told me about his situation with Grace Episcopal Church in Alexandria, Virginia. I became sad to hear about what happened and told Eric that he is free to publish whatever he would like to here at The Wondering Eagle. I write quite a bit about churches in the Washington, D.C. area. So this situation falls into that perspective. This story was first told over at The Wartburg Watch. The original post was taken down, and this post stood in its place. “Good Faith Discussions On Both Side Have Led to a Resolution Between Eric Bonetti and Grace Episcopal Church.”

Eric I am sorry this developed. My hope is that you find peace and closure. Also that your family is spared from harassment. Your story gave me hope that I would find peace one day. My hope is that you will find peace. Perhaps this and other blog posts can help bring the Episcopal Church back to the table. Until that develops this blog is yours to use as you see fit.

Rector Files Possibly False Police Report 


Readers of The Wartburg Watch may remember a story from fall 2016 covering allegations of shunning and other spiritual abuse at Grace Episcopal church in Alexandria Virginia. The article recounted reports that rector Bob Malm had instructed clergy, staff, and lay leaders in the parish to shun a parishioner, Eric Bonetti, and members of his family, after Bonetti complained of bullying and gross mismanagement by the rector. To make matters worse, the Episcopal diocese of Virginia, which was promptly informed of Malm’s misconduct, repeatedly ignored requests to intervene.

This post updates readers on developments since the article ran at The Wartburg Watch, as well as recent disturbing actions on the part of the rector. While I am not particularly familiar with the dynamics of mainline denominations, this situation appears to be a particularly troubling abuse of power, both at the diocesan and parish level. Further, the parish’s response, which seems greatly influenced by the rector and his actions, is disturbing.

Background

To update readers, since the article on The Wartburg Watch, the diocese of Virginia intervened. A series of meetings were held, including one in Fredericksburg involving the Rev. Malm, Eric and others. Details have largely been kept confidential, but it is my understanding that the following key areas of agreement were reached:

  • The Rev. Malm would stop shunning and bullying parishioners.
  • Eric would be welcome in the unlikely event he wanted to attend Grace Church.
  • Eric would shutter his blog recounting his experience of being shunned, with the understanding that other members of his family and friends were also blogging about the matter (in his words, “blogging up a storm”), that they likely would continue to do so despite efforts to reduce tensions, and that all involved needed to be okay with that. In short, the agreement applied only to those persons actually in the room.

Given that Eric’s family was not included in the Fredericksburg meeting, it should come as no surprise that several continued to blog, and are doing so to this day. Some of their comments are angry. Some helpful. Some petty. Some funny. But none appear to be defamatory or threatening. Instead, they appear to reflect the normal range of emotions people experience when their trust is betrayed by clergy.

Recent Events 

Flash forward to September of 2017. At that point, Eric became increasingly aware that tensions remained high, and that family members were increasingly irritated by the situation. Specific concerns included:
  • A written suggestion by a parishioner that Eric “go kill himself.” 
  • A written threat by another church member to interfere with his spouse’s employment. 
  • Other inappropriate communications from members of Grace Church. 
  • A “fauxpology” from a clergyperson who previously worked at Grace Church, that among other things inappropriately revealed certain pastoral confidences. 
In an effort to quell things, Eric wrote to the Rev. Malm and the diocese, suggesting that both sides publicly make peace as a way to show that there were no sides to take in the matter. While diocesan officials encouraged this approach, the Rev. Malm brushed aside the suggestion. Not to be deterred, Eric contacted Episcopal Bishop Susan Goff, who similarly refused her assistance.

In November 2017, Eric was contacted by diocesan staff, seeking his assistance in tamping down online criticism of the church from his family. By that time confronted with his own serious health issues, the challenges of two family members nearing end of life, and a busy time at work, Eric declined to get involved, but emailed a series of observations and suggestions to the diocese that he hoped would at least provide a framework for resolution of the conflict.

That seemed to be the end of things.

Then, on December 21, Eric received a call at a non-public work number from SGT Salas of the Alexandria police department. During the conversation, SGT Salas indicated that the Rev. Malm feared for his safety due to the blogging of Eric’s family members. He also suggested that parishioners and even children in the parish were in fear.

Eric declined to get involved, and the conversation ended with SGT Salas allegedly telling Eric, “Until this matter is resolved, you will immediately be arrested if you enter church property. Subsequently, Eric discovered that SGT Salas had left his jurisdiction, traveled to Fairfax County, ignored no trespassing signs at Eric’s condominium, and entered his locked condo building to leave a note on the door. The seeming message, “We know where you are, and we’re watching you.”

Eric immediately filed an internal affairs complaint with the city of Alexandria, complaining of SGT Salas’ efforts at intimidation; his threat of arrest, which was linked to resolution of the conflict; SGT Salas’ involvement in a civil matter involving internal church matters; and his inaccurate portrayal of family member blogs as potentially involving terroristic threats. He also noted that SGT Salas’ threat specifically violated the agreement reached with Shannon Johnston, the Episcopal bishop of Virginia, regarding being welcome at Grace church; and asked that the department investigate whether the Rev. Malm may have filed a false police report, noting that as recently as September that the rector had said no one had mentioned the dispute to him in several months.

The latter seems a particularly good point. If indeed, as recently as September, no one had brought the matter up, how could the Rev. Malm now claim that people, himself included, fear for their lives? Can someone please point me to language or specific conduct that is threatening? If the argument is merely that Eric’s family members are “blogging up a storm,” there is nothing illegal about that. The First Amendment has no limit on the amount or quantity of free speech.

Concurrently, Eric complained in writing to the diocese, which as of this writing has neither responded, nor seemingly taken any action in this matter. That’s troubling: Why would the diocese not at least offer to provide pastoral care or support? If it is serious about resolving the matter, how does silence meet that goal? It seems to me that the diocese is reverting to its old habits of ignoring things and hoping they will go away.

My take on things 

Let’s assume for a minute that the Rev. Malm’s seeming assertions are correct, which is that Eric is in fact the person doing the blogging. Were that the case, Eric still would be entitled to do so, for there is no quid pro quo when it comes to shunning or other forms of abuse. Clergy who abuse their parishioners simply need to stop, and they need to be held accountable. The persons they abuse owe them nothing, and if blogging helps Eric or his family bounce back from their experiences, then that is exactly what they should do.

Second, recent events underscore the need to take church security seriously. But absent a specific threat such that a reasonable person would fear for their safety, Alexandria City police should not get involved in civil matters involving churches. Moreover, linking the threat of arrest to resolution of this conflict seems a clear effort at intimidation, as does calling Eric at non-public work numbers and showing up inside his locked condo building to leave notes.

Third, there are disturbing suggestions that the Rev. Malm himself is the source of this smear campaign. For example, in confidential correspondence dating from 2016, Malm appears to refer to Eric as “unbalanced.” There’s also evidence to suggest that the rector has shared this view with his family members and others, who appear in public fora to have referred to Eric as “sick.” Yet there is no evidence that the Rev. Malm is a mental health expert, or has consulted with one. (Indeed, it is considered unethical to attempt to diagnose a person without meeting him or her.) Even were that the case, comments such as this reflect badly on the Rev. Malm and the entire parish, and are not the way matters of this sort should be handled. Calling the police on a former parishioner is something that should not be done lightly and, if considered necessary, should have been done with the bishop as a full participant in the conversation. That’s particularly the case, when as here, the bishop was personally involved in negotiating the previous ceasefire.

Fourth, it is noteworthy that never once has the Rev. Malm reached out directly to Eric to share his concerns or work towards reconciliation. That in itself speaks volumes. Indeed, when SGT Salas was asked about this, he claimed that the Rev. Malm “fears for his safety,” yet only a few weeks earlier the bishop was trying to reach Eric by phone? If Salas’ assertion is accurate, wouldn’t the bishop have similar concerns?

Fifth, it does not appear that the parish or the Rev. Malm have ever reached out to Eric’s family or friends to apologize, to make restitution, or to otherwise fix things. Why, then, would anyone be surprised that they are still angry and upset?

Sixth, anyone who’s ever dealt with intra-family dynamics knows that they are messy, complicated things in the best of times. No one can or should blame a man who is dealing with family members at the end of life and his own serious health issues for feeling that he can only do so much.

Bottom line, to outsiders, Grace Episcopal Church looks to be a toxic church, petty, hateful, mean spirited, and lacking in personal and organizational integrity. There is no set of circumstances — ever — that justifies Christians urging others to commit suicide, engaging in shunning, or in filing questionable police reports against former parishioners.

My hope for the sake of all involved is that, even if Eric and his family can’t or don’t want to be part of the conversation, the Episcopal Diocese of Virginia will take immediate steps to take the high road, end this controversy, and offer a meaningful pastoral response to all hurt by the Rev. Malm and his actions. Clergy involved in this matter need to be held accountable, and the diocese needs to stop worrying about blogs and start worrying about people. As it stands, Eric and his family have every right to be upset with both the diocese and the parish.

As to the Alexandria police department, my take is that it got pulled in by the fact that Bob Malm is a priest, and failed to do its homework. As a result, the department looks bad and has made a difficult situation worse. A public apology certainly would not be inappropriate at this point, and the department should have clear guidelines in place as to what constitutes a “terroristic threat,” and when it will get involved in civil matters involving churches. Bloggers who criticize abusive churches should not be getting calls from the police, no matter how angry, virulent, or frequent their comments, absent specific threats to safety.

Finally, if it turns out that the Rev. Malm did file a false police report, my view is that he should be held accountable both at law and as an ecclesiastical matter. There is no excuse for using the police department for pursuing personal vendettas.

Wednesday, November 27, 2019

Media Advisory: Motions Court Set for Dec. 18


 
Several fellow bloggers and reporters have asked about my next step in the lawsuit.

The answer is that motions court is set for December 18 at 1:30 in the Alexandria General District Court. There, the court will consider my motion to compel the church and diocese to provide copies of materials relevant to Bob Malm’s courtroom claims, including his fabrication that my mom or someone claiming to be her contacted him repeatedly.

If you’re covering the story, feel free to come by. I’m happy to talk with you after the hearing.

Tuesday, November 26, 2019

Online Court Case Information

Someone recently asked how they could access independent information on the court case now pending against Grace Episcopal Alexandria, Bishop Susan Goff, and the Episcopal Diocese of Virginia in conjunction with Bob Malm’s perjury. 


I will provide information on the other court cases as they are filed.




Monday, November 25, 2019

Disgraceful Waste: Bob Malm Flushes $2 Million of Church Funds Down the Toilet on His Personal Residence

Speaking of dysfunction, in 2014 the Grace vestry decided to write off half of the value of a loan it had made 10 years earlier to Bob Malm. The loan had been provided so that Bob could purchase a private residence. But writing off half the loan, especially at a time when the church was in relatively dismal financial condition, was a bad and irresponsible decision, as we’ll see below. And before you ask, as a vestry member, I was the sole person to vote no on the forgiveness, which amounted to $100,000 of a $200,000 loan.

But there’s more to it than just the loan. As we’ll see below, the loan is just the tip of the iceberg in a series of spectacularly ill-advised business decisions made by the vestry at Bob Malm’s urging. In this matter, Bob placed his perceived personal interests ahead of those of the parish he claims to serve, while the vestry lost sight of its fiduciary obligations.

First, an important disclaimer, which is that a loan for a personal residence is the one exception to the canonical prohibition on churches lending money to their clergy. Thus, there is nothing inherently wrong about a church lending its rector money for the down payment for a personal residence.

That said, it is important to note that, at the time Bob decided to buy a personal residence, he resided in a perfectly livable rectory, much larger than his current home. Yes, it needed work, perhaps as much as $200,000 worth, but it was comfortable, convenient, and owned free and clear by the church.

But Bob appears to have had it in his head that if he had his own place it would be a nest egg for retirement. That of course, presupposes adequate maintenance and upkeep—neither of which has happened in practice. Thus, Bob traded a large, poorly maintained home for a small, poorly maintained home, all while spending a small mountain of donated cash. Nice move, Bob. 



So, despite considerable misgivings and resistance on the part of the vestry, Bob bludgeoned a proposal through the vestry to help him buy a private residence. This he did by dint of much noisy argument, and by remaining present during the vestry vote on the matter, with the result that more than one vestry member feared that, if they voted no, they would face retaliation. Yes, imagine that.

But the proposal went further. At Bob’s urging, the church tore down the rectory, an asset with a value of roughly $700,000, at an all-in demolition cost of about $200,000. (Such projects are surprisingly costly.) Thus, the parish was down about $900,000, of which roughly $200,000 was a wash versus the cost of updating the rectory.

To get Bob into his new residence, the parish extended what was then a $100,000 loan for the down payment, and boosted Bob’s total compensation via a housing allowance and other perks from a little more than $70,000 a year, plus the use of the rectory, to a total well more than double the original figure.

To make matters worse, the original loan amortized accrued interest. In other words, the loan just sat there like Jabba the Hut, getting bigger and bigger over time, with no payments or interest due. Thus, Bob’s personal residence needed to increase in value by 7% every year if the loan was not to erode any potential profit that Bob would make at the time he resold the house. Hardly a done deal in the best of times, and a very tall order indeed for a small, older home with few updates and much deferred maintenance.



Jabba would look better with a hair transplant, don’t you think?

When the note first matured in 2009, Bob already had signaled that he would likely seek another position, one in a different church. But it appears that Bob did not find another church willing to match his insanely generous compensation package, nor provide a laissez-faire governance regime in which, to closely paraphrase one of Bob’s former assistant rectors, “Bob could get away with murder.” So, in true Grace Church fashion, the vestry decided to add insult to injury for all parties and kick the can down the road. The maturation date on the loan was set back another five years, conveniently ignoring the deferred maintenance and interest that was piling up on Bob’s personal residence and thus eroding the parties’ equity in the property.

By this time, Bob still had made not a single payment of interest or principal. Making monthly payments, regardless of the imprudent terms of the loan, would of course have been sensible, but Bob has never been one to let such niceties intrude. As a result, when the loan matured in 2014, the value of the loan had ballooned to $200,000, double its original size.

So, in 2014, the vestry decided to “solve” things by writing off $100,000 of the loan, in recognition of Bob’s years of “service,” and requiring repayment of the original loan over a five-year period. That’s right—the church walked away from the original deal and gave Bob a $100,000 bonus. Keep in mind, too, Bob is far from stupid. He knew full well what he was getting into. So, why should he not have been held to the terms and conditions to which he agreed?

There are, of course, circumstances under which this may have been appropriate. For example, if the parish were awash in a sea of cash. Or if Bob’s job performance were exemplary. As in, if he adhered to the terms of his letter of agreement. Or grew the parish. Or had regular mutual ministry reviews. But the reality is that, while Bob can be engaging on an interpersonal level, he views being a priest as, in the words of someone close to him, “Just a job.” So no need to get too caught up in notions of Christian charity—that’s not part of Bob’s worldview, and I can tell you firsthand he doesn’t extend that approach to others.

Bob Malm’s Mediocre Job Performance

Moreover, Bob’s attitude towards being a priest is reflected in his work performance. Consider:
  1. For years, parish business records were a hot mess. 
  2. One of the parish registers has gone missing. 
  3. For more than a decade, church financial records were facially disorganized, and no audit was done, nor was any meaningful effort made to clean up the books. (The parish does an agreed-upon procedures review, which has no external attestation value. In other words, it doesn’t prove anything, but instead recites information provided by the client.) 
  4. Staff has often behaved badly, and one staff member was a hoarder. Bob consistently refused to address these issues.
  5. There still is no strategic plan.
  6. Bob comes and goes pretty much as he pleases; there have been times when he has taken leave far in excess of that permitted under his letter of agreement, and without vestry approval.
  7. Basic canonical requirements, such as a written finance manual, are still not in place, more than 25 years after Bob started his job. (See the Manual of Methods in Church Business Affairs for this and other requirements that Bob has conveniently ignored.)
  8. Even his sermons have become pointedly short, and more than one parishioner has said that Bob seems thoroughly burned out. Bob has become both increasingly lackadaisical and autocratic, while appearing convinced that he is somehow special. Yes, he can turn on the superficial charm when he chooses to, but that’s all it is — superficial charm. I mean, if Bob really cares about the church and its people, as some members claim, why the dysfunction and the indifference? And it’s not like there’s any dearth of folks who’d be willing to help fix things; many parishioners are both intelligent and highly skilled.
Where does that leave things? As things stand, Bob is paid better than a great many Episcopal bishops. For example, below are 2017 salaries for bishops on the staff of the presiding bishop, including Todd Ousley, the bishop in charge of pastoral development:

Nor does locality account for Bob’s overly generous compensation. See, for example, data below for priests in the Episcopal Diocese of Washington, which has some of the highest salaries in the country:


Another data point is reflected below, which is the Church Pension Group’s (CPG) 2016 salary survey of Episcopal churches of Province III, which reveals that Bob is compensated at annual rate more than 40 percent higher than comparable clergy in the region (look at the Program category)—and that is without factoring in his $100000 bonus in 2014! (CPG’s numbers include housing and any bonuses paid; the imputed value of a rectory is included).



Bob has about another year of payments left on the original $100,000 loan; meanwhile, the church (including its component entity, the school) is preparing to spend $1.2 million on HVAC improvements that will primarily benefit the school, with half the money coming from the church. The faux slate roof needs to be replaced, the stained glass windows need costly restoration, the parking lot needs repaved, and the original elevator needs to be overhauled.

The Debacle by the Numbers

Total Loss to Grace Episcopal Church, 2004-2018
Total
-$2,000,000.00
ItemCost
Loss of equity, rectory$700,000.00
Write-off, accrued interest$100,000.00
Total compensation increase, 14 years$1,200,000.00
Avoided costs, rectory repairs$200,000.00
Rectory tear-down costs$200,000.00

These numbers become particularly compelling when we look at the capital expenses and extraordinary costs the church will face in the next few years:

Anticipated Capital and Extraordinary Expenses, 2018-2021
Total
-$1,137,500.00
ItemCost
Miscellaneous HVAC repairs$45,000.00
HVAC replacement, church share$600,000.00
Elevator refurbishment, church share$30,000.00
Stained glass restoration$60,000.00
Parking lot repaving, church share$25,000.00
HVAC blueprints, church share$22,500.00
Faux slate roof replacement$60,000.00
Replace failed double-pane windows$40,000.00
Replace exterior rotted wood trim and rake boards$40,000.00
Replace obsolete fire alarm control panel$15,000.00
Contingency funds (needed for HVAC replacement and other major projects in light of facility age)$200,000.00

Outcomes

Keep in mind that, when all this work is done, there still will be major challenges with the building. For instance:
  • The nave still will not be able to maintain temperature during hot summer days or major events. 
  • Plumbing will still be obsolete, with piping in original parts of the building at actuarial end of life (for the record, copper pipes, which comprise most of the plumbing in the building, do not have an indefinite lifespan). 
  • Neither elevator will meet modern Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) standards. 
  • There still will be no ADA-acessible entrance. That means not just a ramp, but Braille signage and an electro-mechanical door opening system to assist wheelchair users and others of limited mobility.
  • Interior directional signage will remain crude and non-ADA compliant.
  • Interior finish, notably much of the 1994 renovations, will still be at end of life. 
  • The commercial kitchen will still be obsolete.
  • Several local HVAC units will remain out, including the one in the rear fire tower.
  • The lower hallway under the original narthex will still lack adequate HVAC.
  • Humidity and temperature control in the undercroft will remain spotty at best due to poor air flow control and the oversized, 20-ton unit that services the space. As a result, summer humidity levels routinely exceed 70 percent, which is neither healthy, nor good for the grand piano and other musical instruments in the choir room.
Nor is the HVAC work likely to come in under budget. Builders are doing well right now, and with the third floor of the building out of service, it will be clear to bidders that the church has little leverage. Further, older buildings such as Grace’s physical plant have one consistent characteristic, and that is their ability to throw curve balls into the path of anyone doing capital improvements. In short, procurement under duress rarely is the most cost-effective procurement, and even more so in a building that is now more than 60 years old.

Nor do things look much better for Bob Malm. Although comparable homes in the area have appreciated by about $200,000 since the date of this purchase, the extent of deferred maintenance on Bob’s private residence, the antiquated layout, the very small size, the perilous exterior steps, the lack of landscaping, the original windows and the obsolete bathrooms leave Bob in a position where he will be lucky to break even. Moreover, despite the influx of donated cash, Bob’s penchant for lengthy vacations, expensive private schools for his children, cosmetic procedures, and other indicia of keeping up with the Hillers left the family in precarious financial condition for many years. See, for example, the judgment recorded in 2010 by Suntrust Bank,  now a matter of public record, six years after the church’s original loan, against Bob’s wife Leslie, for what appears to be an unpaid personal loan; it appears the default occurred on August 2009. (Source: Alexandria General District Court public records)



Similarly, public records reveal what appear to be unpaid dental bills for two of Bob’s children at about the same time; the cases were scheduled for hearing on 12/15/10, but the cases dismissed. My opinion: Getting your kids sued for medical bills is not cool. Actually, it’s pretty damned dysfunctional.  (Source: Fairfax County General District Court public records)


Rising interest rates, bad credit history, and the fact that the original mortgage has an adjustable interest rate also suggest that the house will get more costly over time. A re-fi may take some finagling, and terms for a new loan likely will not be great. So the entire transaction winds up looking even worse with the passage of time, not better.

At the end of the day, Bob engaged in a highly speculative real estate transaction, and now has been bailed out by the church for his remarkably bad business decision. It also is troubling that the loan to Bob was recorded off the books, not showing in the financial reports, for the first ten years. This raises some disturbing issues concerning financial transparency, candor, and accuracy of financial reports. If nothing else, why did the church’s “auditors” not insist that the underlying receivable be reflected in the financials? It is a basic premise of good governance that insider deals such as this be reported publicly. Again, why was this allowed to happen?

Summary

In summary, the church’s current financial posture is best described as a hot mess. Over time, Bob has increased the church’s carrying costs, while reducing its assets and eroding both giving and attendance. Yet the decline in the church’s financial position would be more than adequate to pay cash and carry for upcoming expenses, and even more so had the cash involved in underwriting Bob’s desired lifestyle been appropriately invested.

Meanwhile, the church is placing itself in existential peril, for its continuing declines in giving and attendance could well result in its being unable to meet its financial obligations as this wave of capital expenses hits in the coming years. And regardless of the ultimate outcome, the parish is out more than $2 million dollars as a result of Bob’s self-serving lack of business acumen. At the same time, it is shocking, appalling, and outrageous that Bob Malm should get both a 2014 bonus of $100,000, and annual compensation that exceeds that of many Episcopal bishops, given his feckless job performance. Even his decision to pursue a personal residence, at a time when he couldn’t so much as come up with a down payment, shows a remarkable lack of concern for the wellbeing of the parish and a dearth of common sense.