Over the years, Grace Episcopal Alexandria has, both intentionally and unintentionally, developed a number of claims about itself. Some are only partially true, others are false. Still others are true, but only with major caveats.
With that in mind, here are some of the church’s claims that warrant further scrutiny.
- Grace is “growing and flourishing.” Verdict: False
In recent years, Grace has lost approximately 1/3 of its pledging units. Average Sunday Attendance (ASA) has dropped 13.5 percent since 2015. The church has lost over $111,000 of its pledge and plate income since 2015, accounting for an inflation-adjusted 21.68 percent of its purchasing power.
- Grace is a “center for outreach.” Verdict: False
A review of the church’s budget reveals that just 3 percent of its revenue goes to caring for the community around it. In fairness, the food pantry is a much-needed initiative, but it is funded almost entirely outside of the church budget. Thus, with the church’s role largely confined to providing space for the food pantry, this claim is misleading.
- Grace is a “center for healing.” Verdict: False
Others, including Episcopalians on the school staff, have said many times that they dislike the way members of Grace Church, including Bob Malm, talk to and about each other. Members of the altar guild engage in group bullying, known by professionals as “mobbing.” Members routinely lie in order to get the upper hand in conflict. Some members even urge others to commit suicide. And perjuring priest Bob Malm’s outrageous courtroom conduct and fabrications are appalling to any outside observer.
Not the stuff of which healing is made.
- Grace is a “center for discipleship.” Verdict: False
To be sure, Grace is a friendly place. But friendly is not the same as faithful.
Jesus said, “By their fruits you shall know them.”
The fruits of Grace Church are:
- bullying the dying
- general bullying
- misuse of funds
- lack of accountability
- shambolic management
- referring to other Christians as “domestic terrorists”
- filing court pleadings containing fake places and events and outright fabrications, and more.
In short, this one is downright laughable and the church’s conduct in no way even dimly reflects Christian values. Or maybe it does.
- Grace’s budget is balanced. Verdict: Misleading
Although the written budget the vestry passes usually reflects balanced income and expenditures, numerous items are carried off-budget, including portions of the music program and the altar guild.
More importantly, the budget does not comport with generally accepted accounting principles or GAAP, for it omits amortization and depreciation—major expenses related to the long-term upkeep of the building. Were these rolled in to the budget, the church would face an annual deficit of roughly $100,000, or about 10 percent of budget. Nor is there any guarantee that future membership will be able to offset these shortfalls via a capital campaign, particularly in light of plummeting giving and attendance.
- Grace is a faithful steward of its resources. Verdict: False
When Charlotte Payne Wright left as parish administrator, thousands of dollars of loose cash and stale checks were discovered in her office. No explanation was ever offered, either as to how this happened or why it was not detected prior to Charlotte’s departure.
Nor has anyone explained what happened when, as undoubtedly occurred, the persons who wrote these checks called to ask why they had not been deposited. Many of the checks were from estates, so at this point it is unlikely the church will ever get the funds in question.
Moreover, for many years church deposits were arriving at the bank in amounts different that what was on the deposit slips. Bob Malm knew of this, but nothing was done to correct the situation
Even more troubling, bank reconciliations and other basic internal controls have often been left undone for months. And the parish still does not have a finance manual as required by canon law, even after 30 years of Bob Malm.
Nor does Grace Church take even basic steps to comply with the terms and conditions of gifts and bequests, as it lacks any formal tracking mechanism to do so, Yet compliance is required as a matter of law. Thus, Grace’s stewardship of its resources is, to put it kindly, slipshod.
- Grace is audited every year. Verdict: False
Grace does an Agreed-Upon Procedures every year, which is essentially nothing more than a review. It is not an audit, cannot truthfully be presented as one, and has no role in detecting misuse of funds or theft.
Even then, timely completion of the AUP has been delayed on multiple occasions due to the shambolic nature of the church’s financial records. Yet Bob Malm routinely portrayed the AUP as a “clean audit.” Nothing could be further from the truth.
- Grace has complete financial transparency. Verdict: False
Vestry members do not see the AUP engagement letter, or the resulting report. Both are required under even the most rudimentary notion of good governance.
Additionally, Bob Malm has often withheld school financial reports and board minutes in violation of written policy and the law. Vestry members are fiduciaries by law and canon and must have access to sufficient information to provide effective oversight. Not insisting on seeing these records is a breach of the vestry’s fiduciary duty.
Moreover, salaries and other like items are aggregated together, which is an invitation to trouble. This has resulted in problems in the past, including one staff member, already underpaid, being overpaid for months, then forced to repay the funds. So much for transparency.
In short, Grace is the poster child for opacity and worst practices in financial reporting and cash management.
- Bob Malm cannot be a perjurer, as he hasn’t faced criminal charges. Verdict: False
Just as one can be a bank robber without being convicted, or a child molester without facing criminal charges, so too can one be a perjurer without being charged.
Bob Malm has lied multiple times under oath, sometimes blatantly so, sometimes by omission, sometimes by misrepresentation.
Indeed, to date Bob has yet to provide documentation to support his lie, made under oath, that my mother or someone claiming to be her, contacted him repeatedly to set up appointments. Yet he cites this claim as his “evidence” to support his allegation that I am the author of Mom’s blogs.
So, for the record, let me be absolutely clear: Bob Malm is a perjurer. If he disagrees with this statement, he is welcome to sue me for defamation and see how that works out for him. I have told him that directly.
- The vestry does a good job. Verdict: Partially true
On the whole, the vestry tries to do a good job. But Lisa Medley and others engage in self-dealing, which is when they place their petty animosities and interests above that of the organization. This is profoundly foolish, childish, unethical, and a violation of their fiduciary duty to the parish. It seriously damages the very church that Lisa and those of similar ilk claim to love.
More importantly, the vestry does not function in accordance with church canons, which require that the vestry elect its own officers. In other words, Bob Malm or other clergy should have no role in the inner workings of the vestry; by law, he is not entitled to choose who serves in which role, with the exception of selecting a senior warden.
This lack of understanding of its role and relationship with the rector has led to a well-intended but profoundly dysfunctional vestry.
- Things will get better once the church gets a new rector: Verdict: Highly unlikely
It is well-established that, left unaddressed, unhealthy patterns in churches can continue for generations to come. Nor are Grace’s issues ones readily solved by a rector, for he or she has would be forced to maintain positive relationships with parishioners, while engaging in truth-telling — a difficult proposition at best. An outside expert would be a far better choice. Yet neither the vestry nor the diocese appears to understand this.
Thus, the most likely outcome is that Grace will continue to engage in the same bad behavior that it has in the past. Indeed, like many churches in decline, it is likely that behavior within the parish will get worse, not better, for declining finances correlate strongly with internal church conflict.
- The pandemic is a temporary thing. Verdict: Highly unlikely.
Most experts, including ones in the Intelligence Community, predict that it will be late 2021 before we see much progress against the pandemic. Even so, vaccines are at best 85% – 95% effective. In other words, they don’t work for 1 out of every 20 people.
Several factors exacerbate the problem:
- At least half of parish members are at elevated risk due to weight, age, chronic medical conditions, smoking, alcoholism, or other factors.
- Children are recognized as a vector for transmission, meaning that the presence of the school vastly increases risk for parishioners.
- Even in NVA, where compliance with state regulations to prevent transmission is high, there are an unfortunate number of individuals who refuse to wear a face covering on the grounds that masks don’t work, are a government ploy, or for other reasons.
- With many saying they will not take a vaccine when it becomes available, achieving herd immunity will prove difficult.
- Church in its traditional format, with shared communion, singing, a choir, and persons in close proximity will remain a superspreader event, no matter how you parse it, how much sanitizer you slap around, and no matter how many temperatures you take a the entrance.
Thus, Grace Church needs to understand that will be stuck in pandemic mode for the foreseeable future. Indeed, many older members may never again be able to worship in church as they used to, with a choir, congregational singing, and the great extravaganzas of Christmas and Easter.
- Grace Church is inclusive. Verdict: Partially true.
As the first same-sex couple to have his relationship blessed cursed at Grace, I can speak to this with some authority. Yes, the parish was among the first to bless same-sex couples, but even so that was very late in the game. Moreover, I know from firsthand experience that transgenders, cross-dressers, non-gender-binaries and others would elicit a very mixed response.
In short, it’s okay to be gay at Grace if you are the well-dressed, quiet, professional sort. But if you are a club kid, queer, flamer, or too over the top, don’t expect folks to come running.
And BTW, one same-sex couple that I knew at Grace left because they found Bob Malm intimidating. Given Bob’s lying under oath and efforts to bully my husband and my mother as she was dying, their decision to leave proved to be prescient.
- Grace Church is tight on money. Verdict: Somewhat true
To be sure, right now Grace’s budget is a hot mess, and it’s getting worse. But the real issue over time has been more one of resource allocation, versus lack of resources.
For example, the parish spent more than $1.2 million over time to help perjuring priest Bob Malm buy a personal residence. This included tear-down of the existing rectory, which needed major work, but was still a major asset.
Similarly, in 2015, the parish voted to forgive $100,000 of the funds that Bob owed the parish for the purchase of his home, despite the fact that he had access to funds sufficient to repay the loan..
Moreover, perjuring priest Bob Malm’s extravagant compensation package, totaling almost $200,000 a year, was outrageous and unseemly given Bob’s feckless job performance and average qualifications.
At the same time, the assistant rector is underpaid by roughly 40K a year compared to other parishes in the area. The parish does not hire staff with the skills to do anything other than very basic building maintenance, relying on a hit-or-miss basis on the skills of volunteers in the junior warden position, many of whom have been dismal in that role. It also greatly underfunds building maintenance and upkeep, even with the funds coming from the trust. And the parish administrator can’t even be bothered to respond to those interested in the parish, which is hardly a recipe for success.
Thus, while Grace underwrites a lavish lifestyle for its rector that includes private school for his children, a month at the beach every year, and more, it fails to pay others, including its assistant rector and sexton, a living wage. This is unethical and contrary to the message of the gospels.
Similarly, in recent years the parish has imposed what is, in effect, a regressive tax on employees, requiring them to contribute an increasing share of their health care costs. While that may be fine for a rector earning 200K a year, it is manifestly unfair to persons like Pedro, the sexton, who earns a poverty wage.
It’s also worth noting that the parish possesses ample capacity to increase giving. For example, in 2014, following perjuring priest Bob Malm’s accident, donations to a purse to help his family exceeded $22,000 and were collected in the space of just two weeks. Thus, suitably motivated, members clearly have the ability to increase giving.
Lastly, perjuring priest Bob Malm’s decision that he can unilaterally force people out of the church has undoubtedly eroded giving, for folks are unlikely to give sacrificially if they know they are one falling out with the rector away from losing their investment. And the diocese is okay with this, so caveat emptor!
- Giving to the church is confidential. Verdict: False
Not only has Lisa Medley published details of giving to social media in an attempt to embarrass people, but on more than one occasion details of giving have been left carelessly lying around the church office, in plain view.
- The future is bright for Grace Church. Verdict: False
One family, now retired, provides 6 percent of the church’s annual budget. Several others, all retired, similarly give very generously, including shoring up the church’s shaky finances through year-end donations of appreciated stock. These families, and others, have stepped up to the plate to offset the precipitous decline in pledging units in recent years, even as almost one-third of units have left since 2014.
This cannot go on forever, and the church lacks any strategic vision or plan for the future, and is making no effort to grow, other than some signage on the front lawn and a desultory literature drop in Potomac Yards a few years ago.
If Grace Church is to survive, it must take these issues seriously and take concrete steps to address them.
More importantly, until the parish becomes a church, versus a religion club, and demonstrates love and concern for each and every member, it is doomed to fail. Grace cannot go around lying under oath, trying to drag the dying into court, urging others to commit suicide, forcing people like Mike out of the church, accusing others of being embezzlers, and refusing to accept responsibility for its actions and expect others to take it seriously as a church.
Until the parish gets its spiritual, ethical, and operational acts together, it is lurching ever closer to closure.