Church elder's title stripped following published excerpts

San Bernardin 21, 2005
By Brad A. Greenberg

Carey F. Baird wrote a letter of reference for Bruce Nelson, who lost his ability to walk and his job as an assistant pastor following a mission trip two years ago.

It was written for a mediation hearing held this spring between Nelson and Calvary Chapel Rialto, which had offered to rehire Nelson as a janitor.

But after excerpts from the one-page letter written appeared in The Sun on July 31, Calvary's senior pastor, Terry Hlebo, called Baird into his office and stripped the title of elder from the 20-year church member.

Baird, 64, of Rialto declined to comment for the July 31 article and Monday declined to discuss his dismissal. He has held that it is not "biblical' to "air the church's laundry.'

"I'm not going to give you any fuel to go at Terry,' said Baird, who ministered to seniors and led a weekly Bible study.

Hlebo also declined to comment.

Assistant Pastor Roland Dooley responded to The Sun's request for comment with a letter outlining the church's disciplinary policy and explaining its belief that Christians should not air their disputes publicly.

Former associates said Monday that Hlebo's response to Baird was not unusual.

"This is his reaction to things,' former Elder Leonard Larson said. "It is not how you would expect a Christian pastor to act.'

Larson and dozens of families left Calvary because of the church's treatment of Nelson, who led children's ministries from 1992 to 2003. Nelson lost his job three months after he contracted dengue fever on a mission trip to India in March 2003.

In letters to Nelson and a conversation with The Sun, Hlebo said the church could not afford to pay Nelson for a job he couldn't do. He had recommended Nelson apply for worker's compensation and continued his salary until those checks began arriving in July 2003.

Nelson, who uses a wheelchair, has continued to appeal his termination.

For mediation held in the spring, Baird wrote that Nelson "was one of the most diligent, reliable and hard-working employees on staff,' and "has exemplified the description given by Christ of a servant.'

Baird, a church janitor for 10 years, wrote that Nelson was physically incapable of custodial work.

"All it was was the truth,' Nelson, 54, said of Baird's letter. "It wasn't like he said something unbiblical.'

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