Nonprofit accused of hostile takeover of Grover Beach Church

May 8, 2019

CM&A District Representative Ray Van Gilst and treasurer Valerie Wilson speaking at May 5 meeting

By KAREN VELIE

Members of Hillside Church of Grover Beach will be conducting services Sunday. But it won’t be in the 67-year-old church. The locks have been changed and signs taken down in a dispute between some church members and the Christian & Missionary Alliance. [Cal Coast Times]

After learning last fall that the Hillside Church of Grover Beach was being sold to build a homeless facility, John Fleming and the other congregants were dumbfounded. After all, the parish owned the property free and clear.

Then on May 5, representatives of the Christian & Missionary Alliance (C&MA) asked parishioners to attend a meeting where they explained that the parish and all its assets now belonged to them. C&MA District Representative Ray Van Gilst and local treasurer Valerie Wilson, said they were shutting down the church because parish membership had fallen.

Wilson said 17 church members voted to transfer ownership in 2014 to the C&MA, a group know for closing churches and selling off the assets with none of the proceeds going to the parishioners who funded the churches. However, the independent Baptist church’s bylaws require a vote of the Board of Trustees to dispose of the property.

During the May 5 meeting, several attendees disagreed saying they were on the board at the time and unaware of the alleged meeting. They also challenged the process of allowing non-board members to vote to transfer ownership of the church to the C&MA in violation of the bylaws.

Wilson disagreed, saying none of the attendees at Sunday’s meeting had been on the board, nor were they members of the church. When asked who in attendance had voted, several people who attended the meeting with Wilson raised their hands.

The Grover Beach church after C&MA removed the Hillside Church signs

Three attendees at Sunday’s meeting, including John Fleming, said they were members of the board and were not informed of the alleged meeting.

About 10 years ago, Ron Kennedy became an assistant pastor of the church. A few years later, Kennedy moved into the primary pastor position and brought Valerie Wilson and her husband Ryan Wilson into the parish. Kennedy then assigned Valerie Wilson to handle the very limited accounting required at the small congregation, Fleming said.

On March, 22, 2016, Kennedy changed the name from the Hillside Church of Grover Beach to the Hillside Church of Grover Beach of the Christian and Missionary Alliance, according to a state filing. Originally, the church was called Bethel Baptist Church of Grover City. In 2012, the Board of Trustees changed the name to Hillside Church of Grover Beach.

In a July, 10, 2018, state filing, Kennedy lists himself as chief executive officer, Shani De Mille as secretary, and Valerie Wilson as chief financial officer.

Even though they changed the name, the Internal Revenue Service still knew the organization as Bethel Baptist Church. The church continued to use the original Hillside Church tax identification number rather than the C&MA’s tax identification number.

On May 6, Fleming filed a grant deed on the church property listing him as the president of the church and taking it back to its original name of Bethel Baptist Church, according to the deed.

In 2017, with Wilson and Di Mille already listed as signers, the church added Fleming as a signer on the checking account held at Bank of the Sierra, as a backup, using the tax identification originally assigned to Bethel Baptist Church in 1962. In addition, in a state filing regarding donations received in 2017, the church was still using the California tax identification number for Bethel Baptist Church and not C&MA’s tax identification.

In an attempt to save the church by showing a failure to abide by church bylaws, Fleming poured over banking records and found multiple checks for questionable payments to Kennedy after he was no longer the pastor, and large credit card payments to a card associated with a dress shop, all signed by either Wilson or De Mille.

“There is no valid reasons for many of these expenses,” Fleming said.

In October, after making a deal to sell the property to the 5 Cities Homeless Coalition, Kennedy and Wilson unhooked and drove away with a sound system worth about $200,000, Fleming said. He has asked the Grover Beach Police Department to investigate the two for theft, but officers said it was a civil issue, Fleming said.

During the May 5 meeting, parishioners voiced concerns about Wilson benefiting personally for her vote to place the church in the hands of the C&MA. Wilson, a real estate agent, is representing the C&MA in the sale of the church property to the 5 Cities Homeless Coalition which is planning to transform the property into a homeless services office and transitional housing.

“You have a vested interest in the church going under,” Warren Ness, a parishioner at the church, told Wilson. “We should not be closing churches. Shame on you.”

Wilson said there is no conflict of interest because she had been transparent in her role as the seller’s agent.

At the end of the May 5 meeting, Van Gilst, the C&MA official, told the more than 100 attendees that they were no longer permitted to hold services in the Grover Beach church.

“The church is in escrow, we cannot change it,” Van Gilst said. “As a congregation, this is your last Sunday here.”

On the evening of May 5, the C&MA changed the locks and removed the Hillside Church signs from the front of the building.

Even so, Fleming and a group of parishioners continue to claim the church remains under the original nonprofit board and that they will mount a legal fight to protect their parish.

On Sunday at 10 a.m., Fleming plans to hold a service outside the church, located at 1935 Newport Avenue.

“We will hold services in other locations until we are successful in saving God’s house,” Fleming said.


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Desdecardo

Wow… I knew there was something fishy about how that church was hijacked. Listening to that meeting is painful. How the membership of that church had no idea what was going on behind closed doors there for 10 years.


CM&A and Valerie Wilson need to take a long look at how they profiteered and pilfered the church. It is unethical and is akin to what caused Jesus to flip tables in the temple.


This is just plain sad. That the church can’t even deal ethically, honestly, and legally with itself and practice disgusting greed while it’s family suffers.


Shame on them. This will blight them and lable them as pariahs in the community.


nazbol gang

Jesus would be crucified today for going against the money changers. So basically nothing has changed.


5cityLife

10 years ago, and this is an easy Google, I lived down south and Ontario California decided it was going to offer it’s homeless population of about 20 people, potty services and shower only. There was a plot of land down in an industrial area by Ontario airport they let the homeless Campout and clean up for a job interview or whatever and to curb bathroom issues. Well word spread, and like I said, this is an easy google- FOUR HUNDRED new homeless people showed up in just 2 weeks. They were bussed in from as far away as Florida. Homeless people were EVERYWHERE. New homeless people, foreigners you name it it came to “Ontario tent city” A TOTAL DISASTER for the city and they ended up shutting the whole thing down. A cautionary tale. Grover is already known for the weed shops, homeless hub too? You’re asking a lot from people who want a nice peaceful place to live and pay bookoo taxes for it. Thank you.


Kioren Moss

The parties could start with Stanford Law School’s Religious Liberty clinic, and failing, there, the Liberty University Law School. Seems to me. https://law.stanford.edu/religious-liberty-clinic/


PaulJones

Valerie Wilson works at Century 21 in the Village. How does she think it is ok to set on a board an then benefit from a vote to sell a property? I do not think the community will forget about the greed that drives her.


Desdecardo

I don’t know the details on this. It seems like it would be a violation of her relator’s license and very very stupid and greedy.


mark3_25

Valerie Wilson was a longtime member, worship leader and financial supporter of this church. Valerie had no vote in the denomination’s decision to sell the property. She is a licensed real estate professional who has often volunteered her work for the church when church finances were too low to support the costs. It seems only appropriate that she, rather than some stranger to the church, should represent the sellers. Shame on you suggesting her motives were driven by greed.


JordanJ

Wow! The C&MA has a bad reputation for pirating churches. If they really voted in 2014 to transfer ownership, which I doubt, why did they continue to report donations as the Bethel Baptist Church. I think the parishioners will win in court because it was reporting to be the Bethal Baptist.


How low does someone have to be to try to take a church so they can profit off the sale of the land. Evil!


Boldguy

Hmmmmmmm……………….Let’s see, shady non-profit, homeless shelter and ill gotten gains!

I wonder if somehow Adam Hill and Dee Torres are involved, naw, must be a coincidence!


DPINC

Screw up 6 days a week ….Patch it up on the 7th ????


AmericaTheFree

WWJD? As usual the modern day Christian church doesn’t have a clue…


ActaNonVerba

Most who denigrate the “modern day Christian church” have absolutely no clue “WWJD.”


AmericaTheFree

Most of those who belong to the “modern day christian church” either deny or don’t know Jesus himself was homeless for a good portion of his life, and if he was here today the first he would feed and then minister to are those you would deny.

If this man, Jesus, even existed let alone be what you espouse him to be, a god, I’d know exactly what he’d do; he’d hang out with the homeless, the mentally ill, the LGBT community, criminals, convicts, perverts, all those you would deny even entrance to the unholy shrines you call churches. I bet you’d even deny him entrance, ’cause of his bare feet, long hair and general disheveled look.

Nope, you’d have nothin’ to with him and he with you…


womanwhohasbeenthere

Wow, what a shame. I can’t believe a church can simply be sold outright without some accountability and approval of its members. Someone needs a good civil lawyer here!


mark3_25

This church failed only because attendees failed to support the costs of the church.

When the people of the church can no longer support the costs, it makes sense to reallocate those resources elsewhere for the glory of God.