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

Thursday, November 21, 2019

See for Yourself: Twitizen Refers to Bob Malm as “Bat Guano Crazy”

This was her comment after reading Bob Malm’ email to Dee Parsons claiming the right to use the court system to impose “discipline” (his word choice), on me, a former member of his parish.




Wednesday, November 13, 2019

See for Yourself: Email to Diocesan Chancellor JP Causey Requests Compliance With Subpoenas

Shortly after I filed suit against Bishop Susan Goff, the Episcopal Diocese of Virginia, and Grace Episcopal Church, I asked the judge to issue subpoenas against Bishop Goff and the parish. These included a requirement that I be permitted to inspect and copy the relevant documents, including all emails and documents relating to the dispute. Further, I asked to see copies of all documents to support the parish’s claim that my mother contacted Bob Malm repeatedly, and copies of the exact blog posts that the church claims are threatening. 

True to form, the diocese and parish have thus far ignored the court.

Today, I followed up with diocesan chancellor JP Causey and the parish is this email, asking for a response by close of business on Friday.

Early next week I will file a motion to compel against all three defendants.

Stay tuned.


Saturday, October 26, 2019

Second Lawsuit


Steps are now under way to file a second lawsuit against Grace Episcopal Church, the Episcopal Diocese of Virginia, Susan Goff, and several other parties, including multiple church staff, volunteers, and independent contractors. I anticipate the suit will be filed in Pennsylvania and will involve multiple plaintiffs. Several of the defendants will be added once the initial suit is filed.

Not a great time for Planet Malm

Wednesday, September 18, 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.

Monday, July 1, 2019

Grace Episcopal Alexandria: Church of the $100,000 Bonus

Does your priest or pastor get $100,000 bonuses? Unless you’re dealing with a mega-church, the answer probably is no.

But Grace Episcopal Church Alexandria, paid Bob Malm a $100,000 bonus in 2014. That, on top of more than $24K members gave to the Malm family to help after Bob broke his neck.

Even worse, one vestry member, Lisa Medley, wanted to make the bonus $200,000–a full 1/5 of the church’s annual budget.

Must be great to have money to burn, especially when you’re giving to a priest who is already wildly overpaid. Nor is Dysfunctional Bob overworked—he ignores those aspects of his job he doesn’t like, including the HR, facilities, and other administrative components. Neither does Bob feel the need to show up at the food pantry, or homeless shelter, or much of anything else other than the occasional VOICE meeting.

Nor is the only example of egregious waste. For example, the parish drew down several thousand dollars of savings to pay for a lavish farewell party for head of school Chris Byrnes. Yet church staff get no such send-off; they get a cake at coffee hour. That begs the question: Why do school staff get preference over church staff?

Just yet another wrinkle that shows that Grace Church is one dysfunctional, screwed up place.




Sunday, June 23, 2019

Grace Episcopal Alexandria: Lessons from a Toxic Church

Growing up, I had preconceived notions about toxic churches. But after my experiences with Grace Episcopal church in Alexandria, I now know that many of my ideas were nothing but stereotypes. As such, these ideas had a kernel of truth, but they missed the larger point. Indeed, I had so little understanding of what really goes on in a toxic church that I was a member of one and never knew it.

So, what did I think constituted a toxic church? My answer probably would be consistent with that of most liberal Episcopalians. Conservative, fundamentalist churches that excluded people, that held to complementarianism, that had rigid doctrinal positions, and had theologies of cheap grace, in which you uttered a magic phrase about turning your life over to Jesus, and bingo! Everything suddenly is right in the world.

Factoring into this was the notion that abusive churches often claim to have all the answers.

But during my time at Grace, I came to understand that liberal, ostensibly inclusive churches often claim to have all the answers too. The packaging may be nicer, but they can be every bit as bad as the most vigorous Pentecostal church, and then some.

Often, this tilt toward abuse is marked by a charismatic, but narcissistic, leader.  This person may appear charming and hyper-confident, but the focus is on them, versus God. Yes, their sermons may be wonderful and cogent, but if you listen closely, they almost always include some reference to themselves. Oftentimes this will take the form of subtle references to something they think makes them special, like the sports they played in school or some leadership position they have held.

Another clue: A rector or other leader who avoids dealing with conflict. This allow them to duck criticism, which narcissists avoid at all costs. And it allows ample opportunity for the narcissist to play people against each other—a favorite pastime of narcissists everywhere. But it is the whims of this “leader” that become the answer set in stone—the hallmark of abusive churches.

Having explored the relationship between narcissism and abuse, let’s explore a few other myths before we go further:
  • Abusive churches are not necessarily unwelcoming. Indeed, many are extraordinarily friendly.
  • Being in an abusive church isn’t necessarily an unhappy experience; it certainly is possible to be happy in an abusive church. In fact, most members enjoy their experiences with an abusive church. So they often are happy places—just unhealthy.
  • Abusive churches often are not collapsing, but may be holding their own or even thriving.
So how do you spot an abusive church? Look for one where boundaries are not clear, or have been eroded.  For example, most psychologically healthy people would not urge another person to commit suicide. Yet, that is exactly what one teenager at Grace Church did to me, with zero recognition of the underlying irony. Same goes for calling people “sickos,” “sick,” “twisted,” and all the other verbal BS that pours forth at Grace Church. (For the record, one of the worst offenders is Bob Malm, with a close second being immediate members of his family.

Also, if there is a sense of betrayal if people criticize church leadership, that is a sign of trouble. In my case, members of Grace Church will actually flip me off as they roll past, oblivious to the irony, especially when I am protesting the church’s behavior toward my terminally ill mother.

Another sign: Conditional friendships. If your church loves you when you are patching the leaky basement, but defriends you on Facebook when you leave the church and criticize it, you’re not dealing with a church—you’ve got a religious fraternity/sorority on your hands.

Yet another symptom: Lack of accountability. If your clergy person is “out of town” any time he or she feels like it, there’s an issue. Same for lack of servant leadership. If you’ve never heard your priest ask, “What can I do to help?,” be wary. Better yet, run.

Still another warning that a church is abusive is members who feel it is their place to discipline other members. Altar guild not talking to you because you ordered the wrong flowers or made a change it didn’t like? If so, that’s hardly the stuff of Christ, and if members are honest, they know it. This sort of emphasis on power and control tells you this is a church that has lost its way. Hopefully you won’t lose your way as you run, don’t walk, to the nearest exit.

Financial reporting also is a warning sign. If, for example, even vestry members don’t see line item details, particularly for church payroll, you should be very, very suspicious. Why can’t you see that information? It’s your donations that pay those salaries.

Another clue: Look for people who instinctively know that things will come unglued when an abusive leader leaves. The observer may not recognize that the situation is abusive, but any church whose health hinges on a single person is not healthy.

Finally, abusive churches, which are masters of double-speak, often hide behind empty claims of exceptionalism and triumphalism. If you hear about how your church practices “true religion,” or is a “special place,” be wary. And if attendance is dwindling but your church claims to be a slice of paradise, ask why people are leaving such a wonderful place.

And yes, I have observed all these behaviors and phenomena at Grace Church under Bob Malm. So yes, Grace Church is abusive.


Saturday, May 25, 2019

What if the Catholic Church Were As Morally Bankrupt as The Episcopal Church?

Potential logical construct construct for Catholic Churches, based on the model of the Episcopal Diocese of Virginia under Bishop Susan Goff:

1. Sexual abuse is illegal.

2. Many priests have not actually been convicted of sexual abuse.

3. Therefore, those priests must be innocent of sexual abuse.

4. Thus, the church will not investigate allegations of sexual abuse by clergy.

Yes, people are outraged at issues in the Catholic church, and rightly so. But the Catholic church takes abuse more seriously than does the Episcopal Church, which tells you just how morally bankrupt the Episcopal church is.

Susan Goff, Melissa Hollerith, Sven vanBaars — fake Christians. Ethically clueless.

Susan Goff, fake Christian


Saturday, December 29, 2018

Letter from Dee Parsons, Editor of the Wartburg Watch

My friend Dee Parsons, editor of The Wartburg Watch, recently sent this letter for possible use in upcoming litigation involving Bob Malm.

Check it out.











Tuesday, November 13, 2018

Shunning: Often the Most Obvious Sign of an Abusive Church

There’s a good article on shunning on the Open Mind Foundation’s website. In the article, the author correctly notes that shunning is often the most obvious sign that a church is abusive—which should be food for thought for anyone considering getting involved at St. Dysfunction, aka Grace Episcopal in Alexandria, and rector Bob Malm’s fun and games, which include trying to drag the terminally ill into court.

Sunday, October 14, 2018

See for Yourself: Jeff “Sugarland” Chiow Doesn’t Know What Terrorism Is

Amidst the overheated, inflammatory rhetoric coming out of Grace Episcopal aka St. Dysfunction, one of the amusing and notable things is that Jeff “Sugarland” Chiow doesn’t know what the word “terrorism” means. Interesting for someone who allegedly has served in the US Marine Corps and an example of Sugarland’s apparent indifference to the facts behind his legal pleadings. Of course, this also touches on Bob Malm’s credibility, since the relevant legal pleading was made on Bob’s behalf.

To be fair, definitions vary, but it is almost universally accepted that terrorism must contain a political motivation.

This notion is reflected in the US Patriot Act, which appears to be the most recent legislative definition set forth by the government.

Meanwhile, Big Daddy Sugarland’s assertions that Grace Episcopal is threatened by “domestic terrorism” will soon have been seen more than 100,000 times by social media users in the DMV region. No doubt Del Ray residents, neighbors, potential church members, and parents and family members of GES students find Sugarland’s claims most reassuring. Indeed, one imagines that area bankers will think carefully before lending money to a church whose attorney claims it is the subject of an ongoing terrorism threat.

(Screen cap source: Wikipedia)




Saturday, October 6, 2018

New Data Reveals Episcopal Priest Bob Malm’s Vendetta Continues to Damage Church

Results from the annual parochial report recently went live on the national church’s website. Grace Episcopal Church’s data reveals that Bob Malm’s multi-year vendetta against me and my family continues to erode participation in Sunday worship by approximately 17 percent. 

Average Sunday Attendance, or “ASA” in Episco-speak, is considered a key barometer of church health.

Coming at a time when the church has lost over 120 pledging units, and faces massive upcoming bills for capital expenses, the news suggests that Grace Church is lurching towards insolvency. And yet Bob Malm continues to place his personal vendetta ahead of the well-being of the church and its members.

That speaks loudly to Bob Malm’s “ministry” and the ethical reference points under which Bob operates.




Wednesday, October 3, 2018

Protests this Week

As always, I’ll be protesting at least two days this week. So far, days will be today, Wednesday, during drive time, and Friday, also during drive time. I’m also hoping, weather permitting, to get in a round of leafleting, most likely in Potomac Yards.

More to come!




Tuesday, October 2, 2018

Denial: It Ain’t Just a River in Egypt

In reading over recent reports about the sorry state of Grace Church’s budget, there is one theme that runs throughout. It’s a theme that is both amusing and appalling. What is that theme? It is the notion that the multiple failures in the building infrastructure, particularly in the HVAC systems, were both unexpected and cost more than anticipated. 

For the record, neither is true.

When I served as junior warden in 2014, I repeatedly warned about underinvestment in the building. Indeed, that was the theme of my article in the annual report. Similarly, in his final days at the church, David Adams warned both of the lack of replacement reserves, and the lack of a replacement reserve study.

The same issues came up in 2015, with Lisa Medley offering bitchy innuendo when the property committee yet again sent its recommendations to the vestry, only to again be ignored. 

Nor was this unprecedented. During the last capital campaign, HVAC experts recommended replacing HVAC piping in the building, only to be ignored.

Moreover, I personally sent several memos to Bob Malm while serving on the vestry, pointing out that cost structures were unsustainable, that income was inadequate, and reserves perilously thin. True to form, Bob made the right noises, but otherwise brushed things off.

Throughout all this, the stupid expenditures and inept financial planning continued, including:
  • Thousands of dollars from management reserves to pay for Chris Byrnes’ farewell party.
  • Proposals to pay for employee health benefits from reserves.
  • An annual (entirely unneeded) donation to Grace Episcopal School.
  • Proposals to kick the budgetary can down the road by drawing on reserves to “balance” the budget.
  • The granddaddy of all stupid expenditures, a $100,000 bonus to Bob Malm.
Nor are projections of infrastructure failure unpredictable. The replacement reserve study I paid for but declined to give to the parish due to bad behavior by Bob Malm, Lisa Medley and others made clear that multiple HVAC failures would occur in the next few years, as did multiple warnings from our HVAC vendor and MACC, the building controls company.

Of course, on an individual level, current vestry members indeed may regard the recent HVAC issues as unexpected. But on an organizational level, and in discussions with Bob Malm, these matters have been brought up ad nauseum. 

In short, this is a case of denial, not surprise. And people further show their stupidity, as in the case of members of Bob Malm’s family, by claiming that somehow these issues were exaggerated, or that I somehow caused these infrastructure failures. Funny how the latter have accelerated since my departure from the parish. But that is the sloppy thinking you get from Bob and members of his family.

To make matters worse, instead of saving for the future, the church now proposes to borrow to pay for the past. As in failing to plan, failing to save, and failing to maintain its current infrastructure.

Even the effects of my current dispute with Bob Malm were entirely predictable. Churchgoers are notoriously conflict adverse, but Bob Malm decided nonetheless to issue his infamous Edict of Shunning. Since then, he hasn’t learned a thing, instead doubling down on dumb with his bogus protective order, his lies to the Circuit Court, and his efforts to drag a dying woman into court—the very antithesis of Jesus’ message. As a result, Grace will increasingly be seen for what it is: a church in name only, where lying, shunning, bullying, and even misuse of the legal system are all okay.

Needless to say, until folks get a clue, things will only get worse for St. Dysfunction, aka Grace Episcopal Church.

Friday, September 28, 2018

Of Finances and Fix-ups: Fiscal Woes Ahead for Grace Episcopal Alexandria


One of the challenges facing Grace Episcopal Church Alexandria aka St. Dysfunction is that, not surprisingly, it manages its finances only slightly better than rector Bob Malm manages his personal finances. Or in other words, it’s a case of “let the good times roll,” right up until the bill comes due. 

The painful reality is that the bill has arrived, and it’s big.

Consider: Just the project to restore the stained glass windows, an congeries worth more than $200,000, will cost north of $60,000. Not a huge portion of an annual budget that approaches $1 million, but when it comes on top of other projects that the vestry has been pointedly ignoring for years, a very heavy burden for a church that is barely making ends meet.

What are these other projects? They include the rotting wood trim (rake boards, window trim, exterior woodwork on the new narthex), the replacement of the ever-failing faux slate roof over the new narthex, the repaving of the parking lot, the replacement of failing double-pane windows (all of which have surpassed expected end of life), and more. Plus, there’s the issue of items failing before their normal end of life, including the condensing boilers, which have not been appropriately maintained since Mike Hix’s death, except for a brief period in 2014. Those little mechanical monsters are seriously expensive, and a major pain in the butt to replace. Moreover, I seriously doubt that staff or the volunteers who handle maintenance of the physical plant even know what I am referring to. Oh well.

The kicker, though, is lurking right beneath the surface. With the departure of more than 120 pledging units, and newer pledging units giving, on average, much less than more established members, the church is falling into a giving pattern consistent with that of dying churches, which is that remaining members ramp up giving trying to delay the end. Thus, there’s very little capacity left for remaining pledge units to increase their giving.

Moreover, there are three factors that undercut that effort over time. One is the demographics of the church, with top givers all now retired and facing limitations on their ability to continue their generosity. Two is the breakdown in Episcopal polity in the parish, which injects risk into the equation. By this I mean that, under the canons, there are only two ways to lose one’s membership in a particular parish: to die, or to transfer. Bob Malm, however, has decided to go rogue and create a third way, which is via the unilateral decision on his part, combined with a campaign of shunning and harassment. Thus, members are faced with an unfortunate reality: They are one falling out with Bob Malm away from losing their investment of time, talent and treasure in the parish. Third is the increasing realization that Bob is not the priest people thought he was. No matter how generous one’s feelings towards Bob, his courtroom lies and his willingness to go after innocent family members, including an elderly dying woman, provide unequivocal evidence of his real values. Ugly stuff, for sure.

Nor are the specifics of my dispute reassuring. Anyone who would pursue a dying woman in court, or try to eject innocent family members like Mike from the parish, is going to have few scruples when it comes to trying to throw others out of the church. (For the record, going after the defenseless is bullying, hence my nickname for Bob, “The Ballless Wonder.”)

Then there is the issue of a replacement for Fanny Belanger. Bob no doubt will try to delay hiring a replacement for as long as he can to balance the budget, but at the same time that means a reduction in pastoral care and other services parishioners receive. Not good at a time when Bob and the vestry are soon going to be asking members to do more in the form of ponying up $600K to get the school’s HVAC back on.

At the same time, working families at Grace find Dysfunctional Bob’s lifestyle to be alien to them. At a time when many, myself included, haven’t had a vacation in years, Bob’s month every summer at the beach, his regular “out of town” junkets, and his extravagantly generous compensation package, combined with his aloof approach and lack of servant leadership, speak to a superficial faith and indifference to the parish’s welfare. Or as one wag put it, “The only time Bob breaks a sweat is when running, or when playing golf.”

Moreover, the $100K bonus Bob got paid in 2014 is cringeworthy. In a day and age when top performers at companies like AT&T may hope to snag a $20,000 bonus, Bob’s bonus is both unseemly, and a really stupid idea at a time when the church is struggling financially.

Who knows? Maybe Bob will have a flash of Christian inspiration and decide to gift his $100K bonus back to the church.

Somehow I doubt it.