Community Chapel Elders Seek to Dissolve Church

Seattle Times/March 23, 1988
By Marsha King

The senior elders of Community Chapel and Bible Training Center have petitioned King County Superior Court to dissolve their corporation and appoint a receiver to wind up the chapel's financial affairs.

The elders chose dissolution as their only alternative to leaving what's left of the church in the hands of Pastor Donald Lee Barnett, said the elders' attorney, James Leach.

The elders claim management of the Burien church is deadlocked and financial support from the congregation is dwindling, said the attorney. Consequently, the corporation is being irreparably harmed by its current troubled state of affairs, he said.

Barnett has five working days to respond to the petition.

A judge will hear the matter on Monday.

Several civil lawsuits are pending against Barnett, some of the elders and the church. Leach said Barnett and the elders can't agree about how the lawsuits should be handled.

At particular issue, Leach said, is a suit filed by former church member Carol Gabrielson and her husband against Barnett, a former pastor of the Tacoma satellite, the pastors' wives and the church corporation. Gabrielson's suit accuses the Tacoma pastor of sexual misconduct under the guise of ministerial counseling.

"The issue is pretrial management,'' said Leach."How should depositions be taken? How should discovery be handled? How should offers of settlement be made?''

This latest legal maneuver comes after several court battles involving the elders and Barnett in recent weeks.

First, Barnett was voted out by the elders for alleged pastoral misconduct, including sexual contact with church members, but was restored to power by the court. Then the court mutually restrained both sides from interfering with the other's management of the church. Neither side can make major decisions, such as firing and hiring, without the other's consent.

But right now, neither Barnett nor the elders can agree on how to run the church, said Community Chapel spokesman Loren Krenelka.

"The corporation is finding it impossible to operate with the current situation. People don't know who they are working for,'' Krenelka said.

If the church corporation is dissolved, its assets by law must be distributed to another nonprofit corporation, Leach said.

A half-dozen key staff members, including elder Jack Hicks, already have resigned, and many more are on the verge, Krenelka said.

Church offerings for the first part of March are down 45 percent, Leach said.

Leach said that at two services last weekend, Barnett took up separate collections, one for the church and one for himself.

The pastor asked the congregation to write the offering checks directly to him, making sure to tell them it was not tax-deductible, Leach said.

Barnett also has issued a directive making himself general manager of the corporation, replacing Hicks, Leach said.

Barnett has been offered severance pay and benefits if he will retire, but he has refused, Krenelka said.

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