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.