Showing posts with label Grace Episcopal. Show all posts
Showing posts with label Grace Episcopal. Show all posts

Tuesday, October 22, 2019

Will Sugarland Chiow Lie for Jesus?



With my lawsuit now filed against Grace Church, the Episcopal Diocese of Virginia, and Susan Goff, an interesting question arises: Will Sugarland Chiow resume his ethically questionable behavior? Past incidents include:
  • Apparently signing off on the vestry’s talking points, which claimed that Mike and I left the parish on our own, despite the fact Jeff knew otherwise.
  • Making up a fake church shooting in the nonexistent town of Sugarland Texas.
  • Falsely telling the Venango courts he had a valid subpoena, and continuing to do so even after he was shown, in writing, the relevant statutory provisions.
  • Lying to the Alexandria Circuit Court by telling it I had never been licensed as an attorney, nor served as a police officer.
  • Failing to disclose his client Bob Malm’s perjury, including lying by taking words out of context.
  • Claiming he had thoroughly read Mom’s blog, yet telling the motions court that he was unaware that she was dying.
  • Disregarding a court order compelling his client Bob Malm to state how he allegedly had been threatened.
  • Repeated use of improper, inflammatory language, including referring to the case as one of “domestic terrorism.”
  • Abuse of process.
  • Deliberate efforts to use my sexual orientation to try to embarrass and discredit me.
  • Irrelevant references to mass shootings wholly unconnected with the case at hand.
Bob Malm and Jeff Chiow, lying for Jesus


Monday, October 14, 2019

Word on the Street: Grace is Toxic



I recently had lunch with several clergy friends of mine. It was a good time and I was careful not to bring up the matter of Grace Church, for fear of putting friends in an awkward place. 

That said, it was not long before the topic came up. I played fair and tried to remain non-committal, instead listening carefully, acknowledging what was said, and hoping not to incentivize further conversation on the topic. Yet the topic quickly grew legs and took over most of our time together.

The upshot was that the more experienced and knowledgable the speaker, the less willing they were to even consider an interim call with the parish. “The place needs a whole lot of work,” said one retired priest. “But those of us who know how to do that sort of work have been there, done that, and have the scars to prove it. At this point, I don’t feel like dealing with the legacy of Bob Malm.”

Ouch.

Younger clergy took a more nuanced approach. “I think it could be a good place to cut your teeth,” said one priest, a former mental health professional. “But it could go south quickly and it would take years to recover,” she quickly added. “You’d probably have to transfer to a diocese on the west coast to rebuild your reputation.”

An older priest, one with ties to Grace Church, quickly shot the notion down: “Bob’s never been popular with the Mayo House crowd, and he’s been getting away with murder for years. Your situation was inevitable, in that we all knew sooner or later Bob would go too far and self-destruct. But I’d be crazy to wade into that mess. No thanks! And you’d be crazy too. I’m just surprised it took so long for Bob to get to that point, and that he was so effective in pulling Mayo House in on his side.”

Later, she added, “It’s interesting. The diocese views [Eric] in many ways as public enemy number one, but in many ways you did them a big favor. The challenge is that the diocese now has to sort things out and so far it remains pretty damned clueless. I just don’t know what’s going to happen.”

Several thousand calories per person later, as we made our way to the door, one very introspective priest said, “It’s just so sad. Such a beautiful church, friendly people. And so thoroughly messed up. I don’t imagine the coming few years will be pretty.”

I finally responded, “Yes, the building is beautiful. The church, not so much. But yeah, people are friendly. At least, right up until you disagree with them.”

And that in a nutshell is Grace Church.

Saturday, October 12, 2019

Financial Transparency: What It Really Looks Like

Some time ago, I posted an example of a transparent church budget developed by a parish not too far from Grace. Included in the budget were line items for the compensation of each member of the clergy and staff, as well as sufficient detail to allow anyone who’s curious to learn more. Indeed, the church’s budget is published on the parish website for all the world to see.

This contrasts sharply with Grace Church, where former senior warden Lisa Medley shrilly proclaims there’s “total financial transparency.” (That’s in addition to her various lies about me.) That’s a remarkable claim, since:
  • The church is not audited (contrary to her claims).
  • Vestry members do not see the accounting firm’s engagement letter when it does its Agreed-Upon Procedures (AUP) review, which has no attestation value. In other words, it is not intended, nor is it likely to, uncover any sort of major issue.
  • Vestry members, contrary to law and church policy, do not see financials for the school, which constitutes 2/3 of the total annual budget.
  • There have been major payroll errors in the past that went undetected for months.
  • Thousands of dollars in unaccounted-for loose cash and stale checks were found in a former parish administrator’s office, with no explanation.
  • The church does not publicly release its vestry minutes, its financial reports, its budget, or its annual report.
  • The loan to Bob Malm was carried off the books for years, contrary to Generally Accepted Accounting Principles.
  • When factoring in depreciation, the parish has been running a deficit for many years.
  • There have been multiple illegal misuses of restricted solicitations.
  • Even the AUP was not completed in a timely manner in 2015–a fact not shared with the vestry.
In other words, if there indeed is total transparency at Grace church, then it follows that the Princess Porcine and other vestry members willfully turned a blind eye to the misuse of funds, the stale checks in the church office, the major payroll errors, and more. 

So which is it?

Speaking of, below is a good example of financial transparency from the Church of the Holy Comforter in Vienna.

When was the last time Grace Church members saw data of this sort?

Answer: NEVER.

Oh, and this was sent to the entire parish email list. 

So much for “complete financial transparency” at Grace.

And while we’re on the topic, Lisa Medley publishes details of people’s giving in cyberspace. How did she get that access? What kind of imbecile posts confidential giving information publicly? Did it not occur to the Princess Porcine that publicly showing that giving is NOT confidential is a powerful disincentive to further giving?

Yet another reason to avoid Grace Church, and to refrain from pledging.





Friday, October 11, 2019

Look Before You Leap: 12 Questions Prospective Interims Should Ask



If you’re a prospective interim rector at Grace Church and reading this, good for you. 

I mean it—the fact that you’re doing your homework is a good sign. 

A key observation from my years at Grace Church is that, like many toxic organizations, words don’t mean what you think they do. For example, you and I may think that “pastoral care” has one meaning, but look behind the curtain and it has come to mean something very different at Grace Church. That’s not surprising, as problematic clergy typically shift the narrative over time.

So, since my conflict with Bob Malm and the parish in many ways both illustrates and underscores the problems at the church, here are some questions you might ask of diocesan officials and vestry members before you take the plunge. And while the answers to some are damning indeed, and you may thus be tempted to discount the answers, I encourage you to really dig in and understand this information. My belief is that, if you do, you will have a fighting chance of fixing the mess that is Grace Church.

Here we go:
  1. Did Bob Malm or the vestry ever discuss these issues one-on-one with Eric and his family? If so, what happened?
  2. In the church’s legal pleadings, Bob Malm and the church assert that Eric is mentally ill. How did they reach this conclusion? Did they ever discuss it with Eric? If they believed that Eric was mentally ill, did they ever attempt to arrange care for Eric?
  3. In the court documents that Malm filed, one of the reasons he cited under oath for his belief that her blog is really Eric’s work is that Eric’s mother, Sigrid Yahner, or someone claiming to be her, repeatedly made appointments with Malm and no-showed. Eric claims this is a lie/perjury. Can I see records that show this really happened?
  4. The diocese stated that it would not investigate Eric’s claim that Malm committed perjury unless the latter faced criminal charges. Is that normal policy for allegations of misconduct involving potentially criminal behavior? If not, why did the diocese take this approach?
  5. Early in the conflict, Eric asked the diocese to mediate the conflict. The diocese dismissed this request outright. Why?
  6. Eric claims that Bob Malm instructed church staff to exclude him and his husband from the parish and has an email that appears to show that this is the case. Yet the vestry’s talking points say Eric left on his own. Which is true and how do we know?
  7. Some of Jeffery Chiow’s language in his court documents is over the top, like referring to the conflict as a case of “domestic terrorism,” calling Eric a “serial liar,” and more. Why did the church take this approach? Do you think it was helpful? Similarly, Malm refers to Eric in email to the diocese as “sick,” “twisted,” and “dysfunctional.” Did anyone at the diocese ever object to this? If not, why not?
  8. Vestry minutes show that the vestry knew and approved of Bob’s efforts to take Eric to court. What was the vestry’s role in this matter? How did it effect oversight?
  9. At one point, Eric alleged that the church had illegally misused memorial donations, yet the diocese refused to get involved. Is this normal practice when allegations of misuse of funds come to the attention of the diocese?
  10. The diocese states in writing that these matters were investigated and resolved long ago and that the diocese fully supports Bob Malm. Who was the investigator? Is that person professionally trained as an investigator? Were the allegations of misuse of funds ever addressed by an auditor or law enforcement? Why does the diocese say the matter was resolved when the conflict clearly continues?
  11. In light of the tremendous damage this conflict has caused the parish and the larger church, is it still the diocese’s position that it fully supports Bob Malm? Has bishop Goff ever sat down with Eric to try to understand this conflict?
  12. From your perspective, can this conflict be resolved? What would it take to do so? Are there lessons learned from this conflict? How do you see this conflict affecting the parish a year from now? Ten years from now?

Monday, October 7, 2019

Planning to Pledge This Fall? If So, Remember that Grace Episcopal’s Vestry Lies to Its Members

Know anyone else who’s gotten an email like this from Bob Malm?

And remind me, why exactly did Bob Malm direct Mike to leave?

Any church whose vestry lies to parishioners is one you should avoid at all costs.

My advice, worth exactly what you paid for it.








Sunday, October 6, 2019

Heaven Help Us: More on Interims and Organizational Narcissism




In earlier posts, I discussed organizational narcissism and the challenges it poses for an interim and Grace church. This article more fully explores these concepts, with an emphasis on the difficulties organizations face when they seek to change.

So what is organizational narcissism? (Note that we are here referring to the high self-esteem variant. There are others.)

A concept in organizational psychology, the term describes an organization that is unable to behave ethically because it lacks a moral identity. While such organizations may not be intentionally unethical, they become self-obsessed and use a sense of entitlement, denial, and rationalizations to justify anything they do. Source: Duchon, D. & Drake, B. J Bus Ethics (2009) 85: 301. https://doi.org/10.1007/s10551-008-9771-7. As a result, the organization is blind to its flaws and weaknesses.

While academic research into organizational narcissism in churches is limited, experts are in agreement on two key points:
  1. Such organizations find it profoundly hard to change.
  2. While narcissistic organizations may adopt ethics and other policies, such efforts will have little effect.
Industrial psychologists also note that such organizations often are headed by a narcissist, in many instances adopting their persona. And all organizations, just like humans, have personalities, learned behaviors, and ways to respond to stress, problems, and challenges. In short, organizations have personalities, and can choose to act in an ethical manner, or not.

And so it is with Grace. Bob Malm and the church both, in my opinion, lack moral identities. Both use a sense of entitlement, denial and rationalizations to justify anything they do. Both have behaved in ways that to outsiders are shocking and unethical, including:
  • Committing perjury
  • Making false police reports
  • Proferring false statements of fact and law in court
  • Trying to subpoena a dying woman in violation of state law
  • Referring to those entrusted to their pastoral care as “domestic terrorists,” “sick,” “twisted,” and “sad individual[s], starving for attention.” (Projection, anyone?)
  • Lying to members
Indeed, one of the reasons that Grace church has gotten away with these behaviors to the extent it has is that these behaviors are so over the top; few readily believe that a church would engage in such conduct, particularly in a hierarchical organization like The Episcopal Church.

Similarly, just like an individual narcissist, Grace church demonstrates little introspection, either on an individual or collective level. For example, parishioners fail to see the laughable irony when they leave Mass on Sunday, having just made their confession, and flip off protesters. Nor has there been any organizational demand for accountability by Dysfunctional Bob or Sugarland Chiow. Indeed, the parish saw the former off with a celebration of his 30 years of “ministry.” Yes, there were many good aspects of Bob’s tenure, but any situation in which it’s okay to commit perjury and bully the dying is hardly cause for celebration, even when taken as a whole.

So where does that leave things? Like the alcoholic who tells herself that, “I can stop any time,” Grace church is in denial. Beautiful liturgy and cordial relations with fellow parishioners mask the underlying reality, which is that the parish is a hot mess. And just as narcissists create a false image for themselves that they present to others, so too does Grace Church create a beautiful illusion of a friendly, welcoming place.

Moreover, just as telling an alcoholic that she has a problem rarely goes well, so too will the interim who steps into the breach discover that efforts to fix problems at Grace are unwelcome. First will come the inevitable comparisons to Bob, then the fun and games with the altar guild and choir, eventually leading to the new person being declared the source of all the church’s woes. “Things were fine when Bob was here, so it’s obviously the interim’s fault,” will be the refrain, conveniently forgetting that things were far from fine.

Even worse, the one person who potentially could help the parish move through these issues has checked out. Much like the bishop had to write a letter  to ask parishioners not to visit Bob Malm during his recovery unless specifically asked to do so, Susan Goff may be the one person who could step in, speak at a parish meeting, ask people to tone it down, to be open to new approaches, and to fix long-standing problems. But with +Shannon having weighed in to express his full support of Dysfunctional Bob, doing so involves an implicit repudiation Goff’s none-too-successful predecessor. Nor is the diocese great at issues of this sort: Even on how way out the door, +Shannon proclaimed that everything was going well at the diocese, despite the fact it clearly was not.

Additionally, +Goff refuses to respond to emails about Bob’s misconduct and reneged on Pat Wingo’s offer to be a resource following our meeting in Fredericksburg, Thus, she has scant credibility and zero first-hand knowledge of my issues, or the larger issues in the parish, which center on power, abuse, respect, the baptismal covenant, and the notion of being the Body of Christ. And after providing the diocese with multiple opportunities to help work towards reconciliation, I want nothing to do with those knuckleheads. Indeed, the diocese appears best suited to meaningless liturgies and laments over slavery and racial injustice, and reflections on reproductive rights. Real social justice has proven repeatedly to “not be of weighty and material importance to the ministry of the church.” Plus, with membership in The Episcopal Church plummeting, these days the church is too small for anyone to care what it thinks anyway.

My advice to interims: Think twice. Even a highly skilled and very determined expert in interim ministry faces a daunting task, plenty of stress and anxiety, and potentially lasting damage to her or his personal and professional reputation.

Tuesday, October 1, 2019

Potential Interims, Check it Out: More Ugly Comments from the Grace Episcopal Crowd

You really have to hand it to the crowd at Grace Episcopal: Even as the church implodes, they keep up the same ugly rhetoric that got them in trouble in the first place. Meanwhile, our good buddy Lisa G., aka Lisa Gardner, just can’t get it through her head that, even if everything she says were true, this isn’t the way to handle it. But hey, she’s a Christian.

She’s also profoundly stupid. If you’re going to post defamatory content, don’t proffer details that would identify yourself.

Nor does Lisa recognize that her argument is a tu quoque logical fallacy. No matter how you parse it, Bob Malm is a perjurer. Lisa can toss out every ad hominem attack out there, but Bob Malm is still a perjurer.

Wonder how long before Grace drops to 150 pledging units.

Prospective interims, beware. This sort of discourse is part and parcel of life at Grace Church following 30 years of Dysfunctional Bob.


Thursday, September 26, 2019

Upcoming Protests and Leafletting



Despite Dysfunctional Bob’s departure from Grace Church this Sunday, I will continue to protest and leaflet. Plans are to leaflet a stretch of King Street, as well as to protest at several of my favorite locations.

See you there!

Thursday, September 19, 2019

Looking for Jesus? You Won’t Find Him in the Discourse at Grace Church

As Grace Church prepares for Dysfunctional Bob’s departure and the arrival of an interim rector, one thing is painfully clear: Any interim brave enough (or perhaps foolish enough) to take the position has her work cut out for her. Specifically, after 30 years of Dysfunctional Bob and his sordid example, the way people in the church talk about each other, and to each other, is appalling.

To be sure, it took me a long time to spot this issue myself. Indeed, it was a member of the Grace Episcopal School staff, herself Episcopal, who pointed it out to me in 2014. Her exact words: “I would never belong to your church, and it’s because of the way people talk to each other. And it goes right to the top. And I’ll tell you right now, Bob will never say anything about it. And because he engages in a certain amount of it himself, he shows people that it’s alright.”

At the time, I foolishly came to Bob’s defense; it was more than a year later before I finally realized that she was absolutely correct.

Now, with the advantage of hindsight, and having seen firsthand that Dysfunctional Bob is morally bankrupt and a perjurer as well, I realize that this ugly discourse does indeed permeate every aspect of Grace Church. Whether it’s Alison Campbell and her fun and games with the altar guild; Lisa Medley and her bullying/bitchy behavior; Teresa Preston and her gestures that indicate she believes I’m mentally ill; Eric Waskowiscz, Amy Medrick and others with their one-gun salutes to Jesus, or Bob Malm in his emails to the vestry and the diocese, there is a profoundly un-Christian attitude within the church that comes to the surface when parishioners talk to each other.

Before we go further, I am not the only one to notice it. Kyle Babin, himself the target of bullying by choir members, called it an “evil spirit” at Grace Church.  Former member John Cunningham posted to Facebook, saying he left the parish due to bullying and other abusive conduct (screen cap below).



Additionally, folks at the Wartburg Watch commented on ugly comments from Lisa Medley and Leslie Malm; the former didn’t even have the courage to post under her name. Their comment: “[these parishioners] seem sane to themselves, they seem immature and hateful to outsiders looking at their behavior.” (Screen cap below)


Going right to the top, we have Dysfunctional Bob’s email to the vestry, in which he describes me as a “sad individual...starving for attention.” While this is an interesting bit of projection from Bob Malm, who regularly curries adulation in order to support his shaky sense of self, the fact the he feels comfortable talking about a former parishioner to the vestry in this manner is telling and illustrates the church culture that Bob has promoted during his 30 years with the parish. (Screen cap below.)




Of course, there also is the comment from a college-aged member of Lisa Medley’s family, in which she urges me to commit suicide. (Screen cap below.)


So what can an interim do to address this situation? Establishing written norms would be helpful, but unpacking and fixing 30 years’ of Dysfunctional Bob’s toxic behavior and lessons learned within the parish about conflict resolution will probably take professional intervention. Even then, it’s an uphill battle, and both the diocese and church members like to sweep such issues under the rug and deny that an issue exists. Indeed, toxic parishioners like Lisa Medley not only deny that an issue exists, but also attack anyone who raises these issues. (Screen cap below.)



It should also be noted that Dee Parsons, publisher of the Wartburg Watch, herself experienced Bob Malm’s efforts at bullying and manipulating her. First, Bob tried the noisy bluster approach, which didn’t work at all. Then he tried flattery. Then he tried manipulation, claiming that Dee had promised to take down any posts about me, all the while ignoring Dee’s recommendation to work towards reconciliation.

As one looks at other correspondence from within the parish, including Jean Reed’s speculation that I am mentally ill, as well as former friend Kemp Williams comments, one reaches the same conclusion that user Ishy, a commenter on the Wartburg Watch, came to as she asked church members:

“What kind of Christians are you? I don’t see any love or concern for Eric in your posts. I don’t see that you tried to do anything about it other than make sure Eric couldn’t come back either. (Emphasis added. Original in screen cap above.)

That conclusion holds true for Bishop Susan Goff on down to the Grace Church vestry and membership. Nowhere is there any evidence of any real concerns including for Mike and my other family members hurt by Bob Malm’s conduct, and that of the church. 

So, if you are a prospective interim and you are reading this, just know that if you take the job you are going to have one toxic mess on your hands, and one that requires professional outside intervention.

On the other hand, if you are a church leader reading this and contemplating hiring Bob Malm as supply clergy, you should know that this is part of the baggage that comes with Bob Malm. Caveat emptor.

Lastly, if you are a prospective member, it is important to know that right behind the beautiful, friendly exterior, this is the sort of internal rot that runs rampant at Grace Church. If you join the parish, this is part of the package deal. To quote Proverbs, “in the tongue is the power of life and death.”

Grace Church is just plain bad karma.




Sunday, September 8, 2019

Grace Episcopal Alexandria Lurches Towards Financial Crisis



As I’ve said many times, Grace Episcopal’s existing cost structure is unsustainable. Thanks to the debt incurred for the recently completed HVAC project, as well as the parish’s continuing willingness to live above its means and its refusal to save, things are looking grim for the 2020 budget. This is the result that, in 2014, I warned Bob Malm was looming, possibly as early as 2016 if expenses were not curtailed. I did so in writing and, predictably enough, did not even get the courtesy of a response from Dysfunctional Bob.

Specifically, as of right now, the parish appears poised for 2020 annual income of $975,000, expenses of $1,206,000, and a net deficit (get ready!) of $231,000. 

Variables used to reach these results:
  • $70,000 diocesan pledge
  • $9,000 reduction in pledges over 2019 figures. In light of the length of Bob Malm’s tenure, the decline could prove much greater
  • $80,000 reduction in salaries, primarily attributable to alignment of interim’s salary with local norms, or $130,000 annually
  • $70,000 in debt service
  • $50,000 income from trust
  • $50,000 in maintenance (note that this covers janitorial supplies (paper products, etc) for both the church and school, which then reimburses half the cost to the church. These funds are returned to the operating budget, not line items associated with facilities expenses. Thus, according to the church’s customary financial reporting, nowhere near the full $50,000 actually is available for repairs or maintenance.)
  • $20,000 in search expenses
  • $10,000 invested in management reserve
  • Inclusion of the Alexandria sewer tax
  • A 2% increase in most operating expenses to adjust for inflation
  • Continued zero funding for the school beyond cost sharing, which already benefits the school
  • Limited programmatic, worship, and local outreach funding. Note that these are areas already cut very thin, and typically frozen at end of year. As a result, sooner or later several categories will require additional funding in order to continue.
Not factored in is the increasingly likely possibility of a recession, which would erode both Q4 2019 giving and 2020 pledges, and potentially reduce the allowable draw on the trust fund.

Of course, these figures don’t leave room for contingencies, such as extensive snow removal in the event of a severe winter, or burst pipes. (As I have pointed out ad nauseum, copper pipes do not have an indefinite life span. All the original plumbing in the building is at actuarial end of life. Same for the 20-ton HVAC unit serving the nave, which is well beyond end of life expectancy and already has had one fan motor replaced in an effort to buy time.)

Clearly, church staff recognizes the challenges ahead, and director of music Richard Newman (a delightful person and wonderful musician) has been wise in maintaining visibility by performing concerts in venues around the country. Similarly, it may no longer be possible for the parish to maintain full-time staff for the parish administrator and family ministries positions, or the associate rector position, for that matter.

It may also be time for the church to assess whether the school should continue and, if so, whether it might be spun off as a completely separate entity. The 50/50 cost sharing arrangement, often portrayed by Dysfunctional Bob as a benefit to the church, actually is to the school’s benefit, not the church’s, as the former is responsible for the vast majority of utilities, etc. Another possibility is to require the school to pay its full cost of operation. Such an arrangement could reduce the financial burden on the church and free up money to address issues like hunger in the community, versus devoting such a large portion of the budget to educating children who in most cases come from privileged, affluent backgrounds. It’s also worth noting that very few of the families with children at the school ever become involved in the church, especially since the school eliminated the tuition break for church members. 

In a situation such as this, there are no easy solutions, and it is vital that the parish begin to learn to save for the future. But no matter how things unfold there are some tough decisions and difficult times ahead.

And yes, before folks ask, I will continue to protest the church’s conduct, even after Bob Malm’s departure.

Bob Malm has stated in writing that the vestry and other parish leadership joined with him in its decision to take legal action against me, with the tacit approval of the diocese. So Bob Malm’s perjury, his decision to try to drag a dying woman into court, his decision to include Mike in his vendetta, and the various fabrications and inflammatory rhetoric in Jeff Chiow’s legal pleadings — none of these have been repudiated by the parish or vestry. Thus, it is appropriate that I continue to make public my experiences.

And that is exactly what I will do.


 

Friday, August 30, 2019

Virginia Supreme Court Case Spells Bad News for Parish, Diocese



As things gear up for a possible lawsuit in the coming weeks against Bob Malm, Grace Episcopal Church, and the Episcopal Diocese of Virginia, a recent state Supreme Court spells bad news for the potential defendants.

In a nearly unanimous decision, the court overturned a lower court dismissal of a tortious claim of negligence against the the denomination, the Church of God in Christ; and against local church officials for negligence and respondent superior, based on allegations that church officials had a special relationship with the plaintiff and had failed in their duty of care to her. As a result, the case is going forward.

In the case of Bob Malm and Grace Episcopal Church, diocesan officials knew of Bob Malm’s deliberate misuse of funds, but declined to act. Moreover, they have been fully apprised of Malm’s perjury and other tortious acts, but have consistently covered up and ignored Malm’s actions. As a result, should the case go to trial, the diocese likely will be held liable.



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 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.


Sunday, August 4, 2019

Some Free Advice to Grace Church



As members of Grace Church, you have some interesting times ahead of you. During the coming year or so, you’ll begin the search process for a new rector. That’s a daunting proposition, especially given that Dysfunctional Bob managed to settle in for 30 years. So, here is some advice for you, worth exactly what you paid for it.

To begin, it’s important to approach the future without bias. A great many of you think Bob Malm’s wonderful, but if you are able to take a step back from the superficial charm, Bob really has not been a great rector. Whether it’s his costly decision to buy a personal residence, the ludicrously generous compensation package he jammed through the vestry, his interfering with the operation of the vestry, his lack of interest in the administrative side of his job, his sense of entitlement, or his stupid decision to drag the church into litigation, all have been profoundly damaging to the church over time. Yet few within the church recognize this, and it’s going to be hard for parishioners to gain perspective.

It’s also true that the church is damaged goods. Real leaders left the parish long ago, and behavior that you all consider normative is profoundly unhealthy. This includes the belief, seen on many fronts within the church, that if you don’t get your way, or you don’t like something, it’s appropriate to bully others. Both the choir and the altar guild have repeatedly shown this behavior, and the way people talk to and about each other is just ugly. The mere fact that folks at the church think it’s okay to urge others to commit suicide reveals just how toxic Grace has become. And Bob Malm’s courtroom perjury is so over the top that outsiders likely can’t even comprehend how troubled the church really is, let alone believe that a priest behaves like this.

With that in mind, it’s very important that your next priest not be a narcissist. Self-absorbed, with a sense of superiority and entitlement, narcissists often exhibit great charm. They are often very articulate, and great actors, adept at saying just the right thing at the right time. They also invariably lack real empathy for others, and believe that that the ends justify the means.



The problem is that such behavior is profoundly toxic and counter to Christianity.

Instead, your next rector needs to be someone whose primary goal is servant leadership, someone who is focused on healing, reconciliation, health and wholeness. 

Churches being what they are, you’ll be tempted to fall for the so-called shiny new penny—the man or woman who visits the nave and says in a seemingly sincere voice. “This...is a holy place.” That person will deliver a great sermon and come with legions of admirers.

Unfortunately, those also can be hallmarks of a narcissist. So your job will be find the rector who’s articulate, friendly, but also compassionate and service oriented. The right candidate may not be the rock star that the narcissist seems to be, but instead will be solid, steady, hard-working, and loving.

There also will be a tendency to want to draw on those already known to the parish. This would be a mistake. Thus, following Bob’s retirement, folks will be quick to suggest pulling in David Crosby and others in close orbit. But David, of “Bobby Malm, You’re Amazing,” fame is nothing if not a Bob Malm fanboy. As such, drawing on David and similar sorts as supply clergy all but guarantees that you’ll get a heavy dose of what I’ll term “Bob Malm light.” That is the very last thing you need right now.

A final observation: Things have reached the point that if you flub the selection of the next rector, Grace Church will be gone within the next five years. You simply cannot get it wrong. So take your time, pull in lots of data points, and set aside the petty bullying and bickering. And consider actually praying and attempting to listen, versus propounding your own views.

You have a long, hard row in front of you.

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.




Sunday, June 9, 2019

Protests Today: Will I Ever Finish My New Video?

Well, protests today on Russell Road were fun. The usual smattering of parishioners pretending not to see me, Mary Stewart rolling through to take photos (which, when you’re 100 feet away, rather puts the lie to Dysfunctional Bob’s claim that people are “terrorized” of me. Just saying.), and one parishioner giving me the One-Gun Salute to Jesus. (He was probably humming, “They’ll Know We are Christians By Our Love.”) 

But the latter raises an issue: If people at St. Dysfunction are actually learning to act like Christians, what will become of my video, “God’s Grace for All II”? I was really hoping for a few more One-Gun Salutes to Jesus. ;-)

Meanwhile, true to form, Dysfunctional Bob takes center stage, as his little tantrum thus far qualifies as my keynote. Gotta love a priest who jumps out of his car and starts screaming.







Tuesday, May 28, 2019

Looking for an Inclusive Church? A Center for Outreach and Healing? If so, visit Grace Episcopal Alexandria

Looking for a friendly, welcoming church? A center for outreach and healing? If so, here’s a great example of the way people at Grace Episcopal Alexandria talk to others under Bob Malm’s reign.


If this is your idea of the Christian faith, please join Grace Episcopal this Sunday. 

You will be warmly welcomed!