News

Menlo Park pastor placed on leave for 'poor judgment' to return to the pulpit

A Menlo Park megachurch pastor who recently returned from leave after he allowed a volunteer who admitted an "unwanted thought pattern of attraction to minors" to continue working with children for about a year and a half will resume preaching at the church early next month.

Menlo Church's Elder Board decided to allow its senior pastor John Ortberg to return to the pulpit during the weekend of March 7, according to a Thursday, Feb. 27, email church officials sent members. He was suspended in November after someone alerted church leaders that Ortberg had offered "prayers and referrals for counseling" to the volunteer, but didn't prevent the person from working with minors at the 950 Santa Cruz Ave. campus, church officials said in an earlier email to members.

"We recognize these past few months have been challenging," said Beth Seabolt, the church's Elder Board chair, in the Feb. 27 email. "Since our last update, John Ortberg has remained focused on his Restoration Plan and shown great progress. After thoroughly reviewing the input from all constituencies and considering the progressive nature of building trust, and after prayerfully seeking God's guidance, the Board believes John is ready to move beyond his Restoration Plan and prepare for his return to the pulpit."

The board met this week to discuss letting Ortberg return to preaching, Seabolt said. Board members said in a Feb. 5 statement that they had adopted a "restoration plan" with Ortberg so he could "rebuild trust across Menlo Church, including with the congregation, staff, leadership and elders."

Although Ortberg was reinstated on Jan. 24 after his Nov. 22 suspension, he has not given a sermon since mid-November, according to church emails.

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Ortberg did not consult anyone else at Menlo Church – at which 6,000 people attend weekly services across the evangelical Presbyterian church's six locations from South San Francisco down to Saratoga – about the situation, a January email states.

The board retained an independent investigator, who did not find any misconduct in the Menlo Church community, according to the email.

On Feb. 2, Ortberg's son, Daniel Lavery, a Slate.com columnist, posted a widely read tweet stating he was the person who alerted church officials to his father’s interactions with the volunteer on Nov. 21, which occurred in July 2018.

Lavery did not name the volunteer, but said that he or she shared with him on Nov. 15 that the volunteer had "experienced obsessive sexual feelings about young children" and was seeking out unsupervised volunteer positions with children to treat this obsession. In his tweet, Lavery said he confirmed with his father that his father had encouraged the unsupervised work. Ortberg, Lavery wrote, asserted that the "most important thing was maintaining secrecy over the affair."

The individual in question was a part-time volunteer at the church and has not volunteered at any church events since this issue was raised with the board, said Heather Holliday, the senior director of marketing and communications at Menlo Church.

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The board will also consider changing Ortberg's responsibilities to involve a greater focus on "teaching, discipleship and mentorship" while it "discerns alternative means to provide excellent day-to-day operational leadership for Menlo Church," the board said in the Feb. 27 email.

Ortberg did not immediately respond to a request for comment.

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Menlo Park pastor placed on leave for 'poor judgment' to return to the pulpit

by / Almanac

Uploaded: Fri, Feb 28, 2020, 10:19 am

A Menlo Park megachurch pastor who recently returned from leave after he allowed a volunteer who admitted an "unwanted thought pattern of attraction to minors" to continue working with children for about a year and a half will resume preaching at the church early next month.

Menlo Church's Elder Board decided to allow its senior pastor John Ortberg to return to the pulpit during the weekend of March 7, according to a Thursday, Feb. 27, email church officials sent members. He was suspended in November after someone alerted church leaders that Ortberg had offered "prayers and referrals for counseling" to the volunteer, but didn't prevent the person from working with minors at the 950 Santa Cruz Ave. campus, church officials said in an earlier email to members.

"We recognize these past few months have been challenging," said Beth Seabolt, the church's Elder Board chair, in the Feb. 27 email. "Since our last update, John Ortberg has remained focused on his Restoration Plan and shown great progress. After thoroughly reviewing the input from all constituencies and considering the progressive nature of building trust, and after prayerfully seeking God's guidance, the Board believes John is ready to move beyond his Restoration Plan and prepare for his return to the pulpit."

The board met this week to discuss letting Ortberg return to preaching, Seabolt said. Board members said in a Feb. 5 statement that they had adopted a "restoration plan" with Ortberg so he could "rebuild trust across Menlo Church, including with the congregation, staff, leadership and elders."

Although Ortberg was reinstated on Jan. 24 after his Nov. 22 suspension, he has not given a sermon since mid-November, according to church emails.

Ortberg did not consult anyone else at Menlo Church – at which 6,000 people attend weekly services across the evangelical Presbyterian church's six locations from South San Francisco down to Saratoga – about the situation, a January email states.

The board retained an independent investigator, who did not find any misconduct in the Menlo Church community, according to the email.

On Feb. 2, Ortberg's son, Daniel Lavery, a Slate.com columnist, posted a widely read tweet stating he was the person who alerted church officials to his father’s interactions with the volunteer on Nov. 21, which occurred in July 2018.

Lavery did not name the volunteer, but said that he or she shared with him on Nov. 15 that the volunteer had "experienced obsessive sexual feelings about young children" and was seeking out unsupervised volunteer positions with children to treat this obsession. In his tweet, Lavery said he confirmed with his father that his father had encouraged the unsupervised work. Ortberg, Lavery wrote, asserted that the "most important thing was maintaining secrecy over the affair."

The individual in question was a part-time volunteer at the church and has not volunteered at any church events since this issue was raised with the board, said Heather Holliday, the senior director of marketing and communications at Menlo Church.

The board will also consider changing Ortberg's responsibilities to involve a greater focus on "teaching, discipleship and mentorship" while it "discerns alternative means to provide excellent day-to-day operational leadership for Menlo Church," the board said in the Feb. 27 email.

Ortberg did not immediately respond to a request for comment.

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Comments

Disgusting
Menlo Park: Central Menlo Park
on Feb 28, 2020 at 1:26 pm
Disgusting , Menlo Park: Central Menlo Park
on Feb 28, 2020 at 1:26 pm
25 people like this

Kudos to Daniel for having the honesty and outrage to report his own father for this egregious breach of not only trust, but core ethics. Choosing to secretly work with a volunteer who was professing pedophilic thoughts, as well as consciously allowing this person to endanger children—-not to mention choosing not to report this person to authorities—-its unthinkable.

How anyone could say that this pastor should be in a position of any authority is beyond me. How dare he advise others on how to live their lives, when he so clearly is in need of supervision himself?


AuggiesMan
Menlo Park: Central Menlo Park
on Feb 28, 2020 at 3:04 pm
AuggiesMan, Menlo Park: Central Menlo Park
on Feb 28, 2020 at 3:04 pm
16 people like this

Not only is continuing to deal with the issue in secret unthinkable, but equating pedophilia (victims!) with homosexuality (consensual) and saying that your own son has no standing in this matter because of his transition is so over the top wrong that I would expect a full explanation regarding the results of John's "resurrection plan." Anything short of complete and total admission of bad judgment on ALL those parts would be, in my opinion, unacceptable. But then I guess that from church that largely broke from the Presbyterian church because of its views on homosexuality it's a step too far.

Sad, and shameful.


Badly Done Menlo Pres
Menlo Park: Central Menlo Park
on Feb 28, 2020 at 5:19 pm
Badly Done Menlo Pres, Menlo Park: Central Menlo Park
on Feb 28, 2020 at 5:19 pm
14 people like this

I’d love to know how many women are on the board, but regardless, the tone-deaf board is matched by the the hubris of Ortberg In wanting a leadership role back. Badly done.

These decisions showcase why people are leaving religious institutions in droves.


Downtowner
Menlo Park: Central Menlo Park
on Feb 28, 2020 at 6:17 pm
Downtowner, Menlo Park: Central Menlo Park
on Feb 28, 2020 at 6:17 pm
17 people like this

Wow! Congratulations Menlo Church!! (sarcasm)

Homosexuality is bad, no female ministers allowed, but it's OK to allow a known incipient pedophile to work with kids? Disgusting!!

This "church" serves 6000 local worshippers who ignore (and deplore) standards of male-female equality, love between consenting adults, but allow a pastor to make excuses for & tolerate the participation of a warped volunteer with its children? I don't believe that only the pastor was aware of the problems here.

20+ years ago, there was trouble with the male counsellor for the teen rec group being inappropriately friendly with some teen girls. He was finally dismissed but the abuses were known & ongoing. The "Menlo Church" doesn't appear to have high standards for its employees or volunteers.

I've thought for decades that the group once known as Menlo Pres had a cult-like & sketchy aspect. Now I'm sure. I'll no longer work with or patronize any of the many well-known local accountants, realtors, doctors, dentists, attorneys, retailers, etc. If you want to know who they are, just watch the crowd parking on surrounding streets & using the parking lot in front of Draegers on Sundays.

It's time to turn this place into a homeless shelter or site for construction of affordable housing. It meets all the desirable criteria for those uses - close to transportation, medical services, nearby groceries, city park across the street, etc., etc.



Aliissa
Atherton: other
on Feb 28, 2020 at 8:41 pm
Aliissa, Atherton: other
on Feb 28, 2020 at 8:41 pm
12 people like this

You know there’s something seriously wrong when the non-believer and pedophile show more accountability, honesty, and integrity towards the church than the pastor.


Candace
Menlo Park: Downtown
on Feb 28, 2020 at 8:57 pm
Candace, Menlo Park: Downtown
on Feb 28, 2020 at 8:57 pm
9 people like this

If John Ortberg doesn’t address this with openness and transparency, there is no true repentance or change.


Howard
Menlo Park: The Willows
on Feb 29, 2020 at 10:35 am
Howard, Menlo Park: The Willows
on Feb 29, 2020 at 10:35 am
6 people like this

1 Timothy 3:1-7 - qualifications lacking in my opinion


Manlo Punk
Menlo Park: Central Menlo Park
on Mar 1, 2020 at 7:35 am
Manlo Punk, Menlo Park: Central Menlo Park
on Mar 1, 2020 at 7:35 am
9 people like this

Wow,

I'm curious, (question to the board), what was God's advice on this one?
"after prayerfully seeking God's guidance"

If there is or are Gods, I don't believe they would be on this guys side.


pearl
another community
on Mar 1, 2020 at 3:14 pm
pearl, another community
on Mar 1, 2020 at 3:14 pm
6 people like this

Has anyone checked the Megan's Law website (Web Link) to see if this predatory volunteer is a registered sex offender?


resident
Menlo Park: Downtown
on Mar 2, 2020 at 11:09 am
resident, Menlo Park: Downtown
on Mar 2, 2020 at 11:09 am
3 people like this

Covering up sex crimes is just as bad as committing them.


David
Menlo Park: Downtown
on Mar 3, 2020 at 4:16 pm
David, Menlo Park: Downtown
on Mar 3, 2020 at 4:16 pm
Like this comment

This is a painful situation in which a pastor is caught between protecting the privacy of a church member and using good judgement to bring this into the light. I do hope this is a learning experience for everyone and that the church establishes a policy of how they plan to deal with these issues in the future. The failure to have a policy often leads to poor judgment. I believe this church to be a strong Biblically based community of faith that unfortunately made a big mistake. Churches and pastors are not perfect (surprise) and I commend the board for restoring him with a plan for supervision. Yes, good job!


Gobsmacked
Menlo Park: Allied Arts/Stanford Park
on Mar 5, 2020 at 9:53 am
Gobsmacked, Menlo Park: Allied Arts/Stanford Park
on Mar 5, 2020 at 9:53 am
2 people like this

@David, there’s a middle course between protecting the privacy of the church member and bringing the situation into the light: continue counseling the person, but NOT LET THEM VOLUNTEER WITH CHILDREN!!

I used to be a member at MPPC, and I wasn’t happy when John Ortberg came in as head pastor. He’s too slick by half, and something about him always skeeved me out. His actions, and the things he said to his son Danny about not having the standing to question his judgment because of Danny’s sexuality, reek of hubris and arrogance. I’d bet this “restoration plan” has more to with creating a cooling-off period for the community and church members than it does instilling any genuine contrition or soul-searching on Ortberg’s part. If I were still a church member and my children had been exposed to potential harm as a result of Ortberg’s staggeringly poor decision making, I’d want him gone, or I’d find a new church.


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