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Thursday, February 22, 2007 - Page updated at 11:36 AM

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Church borrowed from disaster donations

Seattle Times staff reporter

Two top leaders at Redmond's Overlake Christian Church confirmed reports that the church initially used for other purposes money that congregants had donated to disaster-relief efforts.

But the leaders maintained there was no wrongdoing, saying the money ultimately went to disaster victims.

Congregation members had collected about $35,000 for relief efforts after the 2004 Indian Ocean tsunami and about $40,000 after Hurricane Katrina in 2005. The church initially used the money — even though it was in restricted funds — to cover church expenses, said Bob Senatore, chairman of Overlake's elders.

"Nothing improper was done," said Senatore, noting that the funds were eventually distributed for relief efforts this past December. "Borrowing money from restricted funds is something the church has done before."

Senatore said concerns over how the money was used had nothing to do with the departure of Rick Kingham, who announced his resignation as Overlake's senior pastor earlier this month.

Kingham "is resigning to seek a ministry somewhere else," Senatore said. "It has nothing to do with any misappropriation of funds."

Kingham is in India training Christian pastors and could not be reached for comment.

The Seattle Weekly, in a report this week, said church leaders distributed the donated disaster money only after congregants pressured them to do so.

Senatore denied that, saying the relief agencies the church had initially approached indicated at the time that the disaster-stricken areas were receiving ample federal funds, and that Overlake's contributions would be most needed after those funds had dried up. "We held off until we could find the appropriate agencies to funnel it through," Senatore said.

Overlake was once the state's largest church, with more than 6,000 members. But its attendance has dropped by about half since 1997, when it opened a $37 million facility.

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In the past several years, the church has lost more than $1 million a year .

Senatore said he wasn't sure how the $75,000 in relief donations was used by the church, other than to pay salaries. But it would have been for "some worthy cause, since it was just sitting there not being used. Salary would certainly have been one of them."

Although using the money in such a way was "not wrong from a technical standpoint," Senatore said, "it's not a practice we want to follow again. Because obviously when people give for a restricted purpose, they expect it to be distributed."

Dana Erickson, Overlake's executive pastor, said the Evangelical Council for Financial Accountability, a sort of watchdog organization for church fiscal responsibility, had determined that using funds in such a way "is a fairly common practice — though not an ideal practice — for nonprofits and churches. ... It's a better stewardship of the church's money to borrow from yourself" than from outside agencies, Erickson said.

"We've done that off and on for years," he said.

When the church was at its peak attendance a decade ago, it was headed by its pastor of 28 years, Bob Moorehead.

But Moorehead resigned in 1998 after several men came forward saying he had touched them inappropriately. Moorehead denied the accusations but resigned, saying his credibility had been damaged.

Kingham, who has led Overlake for about eight years, was "paramount at healing the congregation" after Moorehead's resignation, but church elders felt he wasn't the person to help the church grow, Senatore said.

Before joining Overlake, Kingham had served as a vice president and founding minister of Promise Keepers, a revival movement for men.

Senatore praised Kingham's skills, saying "he was a great success at ministries that were national in nature. He is gifted by God to perform a national or international ministry."

Janet I. Tu: 206-464-2272

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