News

Head of Menlo Church steps down over 'poor judgment'

Community outcry after revelation that pastor knew of son's attraction to children, but still let him work with youth

Menlo Church in downtown Menlo Park is looking for a new leader after revelations about Senior Pastor John Ortberg's son rocked the community. Photo by Sammy Dallal.

John Ortberg, the senior pastor of Menlo Church, is stepping down from his role at the evangelical Presbyterian church that sits prominently in downtown Menlo Park, following community outcry after the church's board learned that he had allowed his son to continue to work with youth for more than a year after learning that he was sexually attracted to children.

Menlo Church attracts about 6,000 weekly congregants across six Bay Area campuses, and on its website brands itself as a family-friendly faith community, but it faced a reckoning as details emerged regarding troubling revelations in late 2019 and early 2020. Ortberg, who has led the church for 17 years, was put on a leave of absence this winter, and later reinstated. On Wednesday morning, the church announced that its governing board unanimously accepted Ortberg's resignation, according to a statement on the church's website.

His last day will be Sunday, Aug. 2, when he is expected to address the congregation.

Pastor John Ortberg resigned from his job at Menlo Church on July 29, 2020. Courtesy Menlo Church.

Ortberg's "poor judgment has resulted in pain and broken trust among many parents, youth volunteers and staff" and he "needs to focus on healing and reconciliation within his own family," the church's board stated.

After an initial investigation that was criticized as inadequate, Menlo Church announced earlier this month it would launch a supplemental investigation, although it has yet to hire an outside firm to conduct it.

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The church board plans to hire an interim pastor to serve in a transitional role during the search for a new senior pastor, according to the statement, and in the interim, Eugene Lee will continue as executive pastor. The congregation pushed back its annual congregational meeting several weeks to Aug. 30, during which some board seats will be up for election.

The board -- known as an Elder Board -- has nine members, and with the senior pastor, leads the church community. When the board was alerted last November to concerns about Ortberg's decision to permit his younger son to keep working with children, it promptly hired the law firm Coblentz Patch Duffy & Bass LLP to conduct an investigation, which ran from November through early January, after which the pastor was reinstated. Statements from Menlo Church at the time identified him only as a youth volunteer, and not as Ortberg's son.

But in late June, Danny Lavery, the pastor's older son, publicly revealed on Twitter that he had called on the church to conduct the investigation, and that it was his younger brother who had revealed his interest in children, and Lavery who "Given the brevity of the investigation," he said on Twitter, made his initial letter to the church public in order to push for a more robust, thorough inquiry.

To date, the younger Ortberg son has not been accused, arrested or convicted of any misconduct, according to a spokesperson for the family who asked not to be named. The Almanac's own investigation also failed to turn up any police reports or accusations.

The younger son was removed from his volunteer role immediately after the Elder Board learned of Lavery's initial concerns and church staff has put "safeguards in place" to prevent any future volunteer involvement by him, according to Heather Holliday, senior director of marketing and communications at the church.

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But the revelation of the son's identity raised questions among some members of the church's faith community about the adequacy of the initial investigation.

To start, the pastor's younger son, who Lavery said was 30 years old in his November 2019 statement to the church, was not asked to be interviewed during the investigation, according to the family's spokesperson.

He "believes that his work with the church has helped the community in many ways, and he has always acted and behaved with the highest levels of responsibility and commitment," the Ortberg's spokesperson said in an email.

Religion News Service, a respected 86-year-old news service that covers religion throughout the United States, reported that, according to the church's elders, the initial investigator did not interview any parents whose children had contact with the pastor's son, any other volunteers who worked with him, or any outside group where he worked with kids. And in interviews with church staff, the interviewer did not ask specific questions about his conduct. Holliday confirmed this information to be accurate with The Almanac.

The scope of the church's initial investigation was to learn if the pastor had received a confession from his youngest son that he struggled with unwanted thoughts about children, failed to prevent his son from volunteering and failed to inform anyone at the church; and to determine whether his son engaged in any misconduct, and whether there were any specific allegations or information about possible misconduct while he volunteered at the church, according to a July 29 statement from the church responding to questions it had received.

The investigation involved speaking to "relevant student and children's ministry leaders going back to 2008, each of whom was asked to disclose any information about which they were aware involving any allegations of misconduct by any leader or volunteer," according to the statement.

Kelly Morehead, who attended the church for many years, whose children participated in youth programs, and who recently volunteered as a leader for young women, told HuffPost that she was not contacted during the initial investigation.

As alleged omissions in the initial investigation became public, the church's Elder Board announced on July 11 that it would launch a supplemental investigation; form a new committee with church elders, staff, parents and volunteers to provide oversight over the investigation; and conduct a full audit of "policies, practices and training related to child and youth safety" that would be led by an expert, independent outside organization. The policies will be audited regularly, the board announced.

The church announced July 29 that the supplemental investigation is moving forward and that it was in the process of creating an "Investigative Advisory Committee" with staff, volunteer, parent, elder and denomination representatives to vet and recommend a new firm with expertise in child safety and sexual abuse to lead the investigation into the pastor's son's involvement in Menlo Church or church-sponsored activities involving minors.

The church's youth program works with more than 1,000 children each Sunday, according to a church document by ministry leader John Garrison.

The church board also said it would, with guidance from experts, conduct a full audit of its child and youth safety practices, which will be regularly audited.

What happened

Last November, Menlo Church publicly announced a series of actions in response to what church leaders determined to be "poor judgment" by Ortberg when he permitted "a person serving in the church community" who admitted an "unwanted thought pattern of attraction to minors" to continue to work with children for about 16 months after disclosing that information, according to a Jan. 21 statement from the church's Elder Board.

The pastor did not respond to a request for an interview or comment. In his resignation letter, Ortberg acknowledged his error and his "regret for not having served our church with better judgment. Extensive conversations I had with my youngest son gave no evidence of risk of harm. ... However, for my part, I did not balance my responsibilities as a father with my responsibilities as a leader."

Lavery initially contacted the church's Elder Board on Nov. 21, 2019, to report that his brother had disclosed to him that he had sexual and/or romantic attractions toward children and young teens, according to email correspondence Lavery shared on a website dedicated to the matter.

Lavery said he told the board that his brother said that he had disclosed the same information 16 months prior, in July 2018, to his parents, John and Nancy Ortberg. Since then, Lavery said, his father had allowed his brother to continue to work, unsupervised, with youth at Menlo Church.

The younger son volunteered with the church for several years, on and off, until mid-2019, according to the spokesperson for the Ortberg family.

Lavery said he also raised concerns that his brother had traveled a number of times on mission trips to Mexico where he may have been with children unsupervised. According to the Ortberg's spokesperson, the travel was supervised.

The day after Lavery went to the Elder Board, on Nov. 22, church elders suspended Pastor Ortberg. And by Nov. 24, the board had retained an independent investigator, Fred W. Alvarez, whose bio says he specializes in employment law, to look into the matter.

The investigator did not find any misconduct in the Menlo Church community, board chair Beth Seabolt reported in a January statement to the church. But Ortberg was found to have "exhibited poor judgment that was inconsistent with his responsibilities as senior pastor," Seabolt said at the time.

Ortberg, who has served as senior pastor since 2004, according to the church website, acknowledged in a July 6 statement to the church community that it was his younger son who was the volunteer in question and apologized for not taking action to stop him from working with children.

"When my son first spoke to me, I should have immediately asked our church Elders for counsel and I should have exerted my full influence to ensure that he did not volunteer again at any event with kids and youth," he wrote in his statement.

After the son told his parents about his attraction to children, he also continued to work with high school students as an Ultimate Frisbee coach. As of June 2019, he was listed as the coach of Gunn High School in Palo Alto's Ultimate Frisbee team, Gunn Control. He stopped coaching the Gunn Control team in November 2019 after sending a note to team members saying he had stepped down because of a family crisis, Religion News Service reported.

He was also listed as a coach for the Bay Area's Red Dawn team in the 2019 U.S. Open Club Championships Under-20 division.

He was a coach for about five years, according to the Ortberg's spokesperson.

After the investigation, the church announced it had put Ortberg on a "restoration plan," a faith-based process in which he worked with the church's staff and board members to rebuild trust. He was reinstated as senior pastor on Jan. 24, and returned to the pulpit the week of March 7, as previously reported in The Almanac.

During a March 8 sermon, Ortberg said he had had 80 meetings with individuals or small groups to listen to the church community's input.

Then, on June 28, Lavery publicly identified his brother as the unnamed volunteer on Twitter. Lavery told The Almanac that his primary goal was to make sure there would be a robust investigation.

"I don't believe you can investigate 16 years in a month and a half," Lavery said.

In the aftermath of Lavery's announcement, church members raised questions over the thoroughness of the investigation and what confidence the faith community could have in its findings.

"We understand our initial investigation could have gone further and included specific expertise in child safety and sex abuse issues, and it could have been informed by conversations with a wider group of people," states a July 11 online message to churchgoers from the Menlo Church Elders. "Based on the feedback we've received, we are initiating a supplemental independent investigation into concerns raised about the volunteer."

Parishioners push for transparency

The Almanac spoke with several former parishioners who are parents following the son's identity being released. Several said they wanted the church to dig deeper to see if he was responsible for any misconduct while working with children, and others urged the church to be more transparent with how it is conducting its supplemental investigation. Some called for Ortberg to step down.

Ruth Hutchins, a church member and parent who has been chronicling the church's statements to parishioners and writing her opinions about them on her personal blog, gave her own suggestions on how the church should have handled the situation: "If your son attended the Menlo Park middle school or high school youth program over the past 10 years, and if his group leader was someone close to John Ortberg, I think the church owes you answers. Menlo Church should have given you a copy of their investigation report. In fact, you should have been interviewed," she wrote on her blog.

Morehead, the church parent and volunteer who said she was not contacted during the initial investigation, told The Almanac that church volunteers have rules they are expected to follow while working with youth. Volunteers undergo background checks, provide personal references and attend regular training, she said. They are taught about being a mandated reporter and said there are rules in place for the type of physical contact volunteers are permitted with children side hugs are OK, front-to-front hugs are not. Volunteers are trained to be supportive and to be involved in children's lives by attending sports games or performances. Many work with the same cohort of students through middle and high school.

Morehead said she wants the church to take responsibility and say, "'This was a horrible violation of trust on the part of the church by John. We are going to make sure this absolutely never happens again.'"

"If you substitute school for church, principal for pastor, and school board for elder board, there would be no room for debate," she said. "I've tried to put myself in John's position, and what I don't understand is how he could continue to put at risk not only the children with whom (his son) worked, but also (his son)."

Mountain View resident Madeleine Lux, who attended the church for about a year and a half in 2017 and 2018, said before the July 29 announcement that she would like to see Ortberg fired and for members of the church's board to turn over. "What they did was neglectful and harmful to the community," she said.

Tiger Bachler, an Atherton resident who was married at the church, volunteered regularly with youth and baptized her children there, but hasn't attended regularly for a number of years, also called for a supplemental investigation and said that Ortberg should resign or be fired. "It seems so clear to me that what he did was wrong," she said. "The children are the most vulnerable of his flock and he failed them."

The Almanac has attempted to reach church community members who may feel differently, but due to the size of the congregation and the constraints of reporting during a pandemic in-person services are on hold -- it has been difficult to interview a larger number of parishioners.

Anyone in the Menlo Church community who wishes to report abuse or misconduct can contact the church's Elder Board by email at [email protected] or contact a campus pastor. People should also contact law enforcement if appropriate, said Holliday, the church spokesperson.

The church board released a document providing additional answers to parishioner questions on July 29, which is available online.

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Editor's note: The Almanac has chosen not to name Pastor John Ortberg's son in this report because our reporting has not uncovered any accusation of improper or criminal behavior.

Follow AlmanacNews.com and The Almanac on Twitter @almanacnews, Facebook and on Instagram @almanacnews for breaking news, local events, photos, videos and more.

Head of Menlo Church steps down over 'poor judgment'

Community outcry after revelation that pastor knew of son's attraction to children, but still let him work with youth

by / Almanac

Uploaded: Wed, Jul 29, 2020, 6:03 pm

John Ortberg, the senior pastor of Menlo Church, is stepping down from his role at the evangelical Presbyterian church that sits prominently in downtown Menlo Park, following community outcry after the church's board learned that he had allowed his son to continue to work with youth for more than a year after learning that he was sexually attracted to children.

Menlo Church attracts about 6,000 weekly congregants across six Bay Area campuses, and on its website brands itself as a family-friendly faith community, but it faced a reckoning as details emerged regarding troubling revelations in late 2019 and early 2020. Ortberg, who has led the church for 17 years, was put on a leave of absence this winter, and later reinstated. On Wednesday morning, the church announced that its governing board unanimously accepted Ortberg's resignation, according to a statement on the church's website.

His last day will be Sunday, Aug. 2, when he is expected to address the congregation.

Ortberg's "poor judgment has resulted in pain and broken trust among many parents, youth volunteers and staff" and he "needs to focus on healing and reconciliation within his own family," the church's board stated.

After an initial investigation that was criticized as inadequate, Menlo Church announced earlier this month it would launch a supplemental investigation, although it has yet to hire an outside firm to conduct it.

The church board plans to hire an interim pastor to serve in a transitional role during the search for a new senior pastor, according to the statement, and in the interim, Eugene Lee will continue as executive pastor. The congregation pushed back its annual congregational meeting several weeks to Aug. 30, during which some board seats will be up for election.

The board -- known as an Elder Board -- has nine members, and with the senior pastor, leads the church community. When the board was alerted last November to concerns about Ortberg's decision to permit his younger son to keep working with children, it promptly hired the law firm Coblentz Patch Duffy & Bass LLP to conduct an investigation, which ran from November through early January, after which the pastor was reinstated. Statements from Menlo Church at the time identified him only as a youth volunteer, and not as Ortberg's son.

But in late June, Danny Lavery, the pastor's older son, publicly revealed on Twitter that he had called on the church to conduct the investigation, and that it was his younger brother who had revealed his interest in children, and Lavery who "Given the brevity of the investigation," he said on Twitter, made his initial letter to the church public in order to push for a more robust, thorough inquiry.

To date, the younger Ortberg son has not been accused, arrested or convicted of any misconduct, according to a spokesperson for the family who asked not to be named. The Almanac's own investigation also failed to turn up any police reports or accusations.

The younger son was removed from his volunteer role immediately after the Elder Board learned of Lavery's initial concerns and church staff has put "safeguards in place" to prevent any future volunteer involvement by him, according to Heather Holliday, senior director of marketing and communications at the church.

But the revelation of the son's identity raised questions among some members of the church's faith community about the adequacy of the initial investigation.

To start, the pastor's younger son, who Lavery said was 30 years old in his November 2019 statement to the church, was not asked to be interviewed during the investigation, according to the family's spokesperson.

He "believes that his work with the church has helped the community in many ways, and he has always acted and behaved with the highest levels of responsibility and commitment," the Ortberg's spokesperson said in an email.

Religion News Service, a respected 86-year-old news service that covers religion throughout the United States, reported that, according to the church's elders, the initial investigator did not interview any parents whose children had contact with the pastor's son, any other volunteers who worked with him, or any outside group where he worked with kids. And in interviews with church staff, the interviewer did not ask specific questions about his conduct. Holliday confirmed this information to be accurate with The Almanac.

The scope of the church's initial investigation was to learn if the pastor had received a confession from his youngest son that he struggled with unwanted thoughts about children, failed to prevent his son from volunteering and failed to inform anyone at the church; and to determine whether his son engaged in any misconduct, and whether there were any specific allegations or information about possible misconduct while he volunteered at the church, according to a July 29 statement from the church responding to questions it had received.

The investigation involved speaking to "relevant student and children's ministry leaders going back to 2008, each of whom was asked to disclose any information about which they were aware involving any allegations of misconduct by any leader or volunteer," according to the statement.

Kelly Morehead, who attended the church for many years, whose children participated in youth programs, and who recently volunteered as a leader for young women, told HuffPost that she was not contacted during the initial investigation.

As alleged omissions in the initial investigation became public, the church's Elder Board announced on July 11 that it would launch a supplemental investigation; form a new committee with church elders, staff, parents and volunteers to provide oversight over the investigation; and conduct a full audit of "policies, practices and training related to child and youth safety" that would be led by an expert, independent outside organization. The policies will be audited regularly, the board announced.

The church announced July 29 that the supplemental investigation is moving forward and that it was in the process of creating an "Investigative Advisory Committee" with staff, volunteer, parent, elder and denomination representatives to vet and recommend a new firm with expertise in child safety and sexual abuse to lead the investigation into the pastor's son's involvement in Menlo Church or church-sponsored activities involving minors.

The church's youth program works with more than 1,000 children each Sunday, according to a church document by ministry leader John Garrison.

The church board also said it would, with guidance from experts, conduct a full audit of its child and youth safety practices, which will be regularly audited.

What happened

Last November, Menlo Church publicly announced a series of actions in response to what church leaders determined to be "poor judgment" by Ortberg when he permitted "a person serving in the church community" who admitted an "unwanted thought pattern of attraction to minors" to continue to work with children for about 16 months after disclosing that information, according to a Jan. 21 statement from the church's Elder Board.

The pastor did not respond to a request for an interview or comment. In his resignation letter, Ortberg acknowledged his error and his "regret for not having served our church with better judgment. Extensive conversations I had with my youngest son gave no evidence of risk of harm. ... However, for my part, I did not balance my responsibilities as a father with my responsibilities as a leader."

Lavery initially contacted the church's Elder Board on Nov. 21, 2019, to report that his brother had disclosed to him that he had sexual and/or romantic attractions toward children and young teens, according to email correspondence Lavery shared on a website dedicated to the matter.

Lavery said he told the board that his brother said that he had disclosed the same information 16 months prior, in July 2018, to his parents, John and Nancy Ortberg. Since then, Lavery said, his father had allowed his brother to continue to work, unsupervised, with youth at Menlo Church.

The younger son volunteered with the church for several years, on and off, until mid-2019, according to the spokesperson for the Ortberg family.

Lavery said he also raised concerns that his brother had traveled a number of times on mission trips to Mexico where he may have been with children unsupervised. According to the Ortberg's spokesperson, the travel was supervised.

The day after Lavery went to the Elder Board, on Nov. 22, church elders suspended Pastor Ortberg. And by Nov. 24, the board had retained an independent investigator, Fred W. Alvarez, whose bio says he specializes in employment law, to look into the matter.

The investigator did not find any misconduct in the Menlo Church community, board chair Beth Seabolt reported in a January statement to the church. But Ortberg was found to have "exhibited poor judgment that was inconsistent with his responsibilities as senior pastor," Seabolt said at the time.

Ortberg, who has served as senior pastor since 2004, according to the church website, acknowledged in a July 6 statement to the church community that it was his younger son who was the volunteer in question and apologized for not taking action to stop him from working with children.

"When my son first spoke to me, I should have immediately asked our church Elders for counsel and I should have exerted my full influence to ensure that he did not volunteer again at any event with kids and youth," he wrote in his statement.

After the son told his parents about his attraction to children, he also continued to work with high school students as an Ultimate Frisbee coach. As of June 2019, he was listed as the coach of Gunn High School in Palo Alto's Ultimate Frisbee team, Gunn Control. He stopped coaching the Gunn Control team in November 2019 after sending a note to team members saying he had stepped down because of a family crisis, Religion News Service reported.

He was also listed as a coach for the Bay Area's Red Dawn team in the 2019 U.S. Open Club Championships Under-20 division.

He was a coach for about five years, according to the Ortberg's spokesperson.

After the investigation, the church announced it had put Ortberg on a "restoration plan," a faith-based process in which he worked with the church's staff and board members to rebuild trust. He was reinstated as senior pastor on Jan. 24, and returned to the pulpit the week of March 7, as previously reported in The Almanac.

During a March 8 sermon, Ortberg said he had had 80 meetings with individuals or small groups to listen to the church community's input.

Then, on June 28, Lavery publicly identified his brother as the unnamed volunteer on Twitter. Lavery told The Almanac that his primary goal was to make sure there would be a robust investigation.

"I don't believe you can investigate 16 years in a month and a half," Lavery said.

In the aftermath of Lavery's announcement, church members raised questions over the thoroughness of the investigation and what confidence the faith community could have in its findings.

"We understand our initial investigation could have gone further and included specific expertise in child safety and sex abuse issues, and it could have been informed by conversations with a wider group of people," states a July 11 online message to churchgoers from the Menlo Church Elders. "Based on the feedback we've received, we are initiating a supplemental independent investigation into concerns raised about the volunteer."

Parishioners push for transparency

The Almanac spoke with several former parishioners who are parents following the son's identity being released. Several said they wanted the church to dig deeper to see if he was responsible for any misconduct while working with children, and others urged the church to be more transparent with how it is conducting its supplemental investigation. Some called for Ortberg to step down.

Ruth Hutchins, a church member and parent who has been chronicling the church's statements to parishioners and writing her opinions about them on her personal blog, gave her own suggestions on how the church should have handled the situation: "If your son attended the Menlo Park middle school or high school youth program over the past 10 years, and if his group leader was someone close to John Ortberg, I think the church owes you answers. Menlo Church should have given you a copy of their investigation report. In fact, you should have been interviewed," she wrote on her blog.

Morehead, the church parent and volunteer who said she was not contacted during the initial investigation, told The Almanac that church volunteers have rules they are expected to follow while working with youth. Volunteers undergo background checks, provide personal references and attend regular training, she said. They are taught about being a mandated reporter and said there are rules in place for the type of physical contact volunteers are permitted with children side hugs are OK, front-to-front hugs are not. Volunteers are trained to be supportive and to be involved in children's lives by attending sports games or performances. Many work with the same cohort of students through middle and high school.

Morehead said she wants the church to take responsibility and say, "'This was a horrible violation of trust on the part of the church by John. We are going to make sure this absolutely never happens again.'"

"If you substitute school for church, principal for pastor, and school board for elder board, there would be no room for debate," she said. "I've tried to put myself in John's position, and what I don't understand is how he could continue to put at risk not only the children with whom (his son) worked, but also (his son)."

Mountain View resident Madeleine Lux, who attended the church for about a year and a half in 2017 and 2018, said before the July 29 announcement that she would like to see Ortberg fired and for members of the church's board to turn over. "What they did was neglectful and harmful to the community," she said.

Tiger Bachler, an Atherton resident who was married at the church, volunteered regularly with youth and baptized her children there, but hasn't attended regularly for a number of years, also called for a supplemental investigation and said that Ortberg should resign or be fired. "It seems so clear to me that what he did was wrong," she said. "The children are the most vulnerable of his flock and he failed them."

The Almanac has attempted to reach church community members who may feel differently, but due to the size of the congregation and the constraints of reporting during a pandemic in-person services are on hold -- it has been difficult to interview a larger number of parishioners.

Anyone in the Menlo Church community who wishes to report abuse or misconduct can contact the church's Elder Board by email at [email protected] or contact a campus pastor. People should also contact law enforcement if appropriate, said Holliday, the church spokesperson.

The church board released a document providing additional answers to parishioner questions on July 29, which is available online.

Editor's note: The Almanac has chosen not to name Pastor John Ortberg's son in this report because our reporting has not uncovered any accusation of improper or criminal behavior.

Comments

Former member
Menlo Park: Sharon Heights
on Jul 29, 2020 at 7:15 pm
Former member, Menlo Park: Sharon Heights
on Jul 29, 2020 at 7:15 pm
29 people like this

Religious leaders like John Ortberg are dangerous. Their charisma and sparkle bewitch those with weak moral consciences and lead them astray into thinking they are Exceptionalists: so superior in their worship that they are not bound by humanity or the Bible to do the true hard work of Christianity in examining and correcting their behavior.

His hostility to the LGBTQ community is anti-Christian and should have been a blaring claxon to the church community that he was unworthy of their trust. His driving ambition to build a mega-church was another sign of his lack of footing in Christian principles.

I pray for the Menlo church community to have a true awakening, and to seek a pastor with humility and humanity. Don’t be dazzled by good looks, charm, and a charismatic aura. Truly, look deeply into the soul of your next leader.


Cam
Menlo Park: Downtown
on Jul 29, 2020 at 9:37 pm
Cam, Menlo Park: Downtown
on Jul 29, 2020 at 9:37 pm
11 people like this

Been going there for 10 years and feel betrayed. Omitting that it was the pastor’s son is a major omission. Will not be going back. The reason I started attending this church was because of a similar case at the nearby Catholic Church St Raymond’s.


Parent
Menlo Park: Central Menlo Park
on Jul 30, 2020 at 8:30 am
Parent, Menlo Park: Central Menlo Park
on Jul 30, 2020 at 8:30 am
22 people like this

Direct questions for reporter and editorr: A story about this same situation was posted by the SJ Mercury yesterday, only three hours before yours. Were you sitting on this story? If so, why? And, for how long? Did you publish it at this time only when forced by the Mercury publication?

As a parent, I am also concerned whether this has been kept under the rug for some months, including by the Almanac. Rumors about it have been around for many weeks, and it has appeared in various on line materials. Hard to believe you wrote this story in only a few hours either, to say the least.

I think you need as a news organization to explain your own role and timeline in this.


new guy
Menlo Park: Downtown
on Jul 30, 2020 at 9:12 am
new guy, Menlo Park: Downtown
on Jul 30, 2020 at 9:12 am
17 people like this

Dear Parent,

Simple, Menlo Church buys ads.

Best democracy we can afford!


mkeenly
Menlo Park: Allied Arts/Stanford Park
on Jul 30, 2020 at 1:34 pm
mkeenly, Menlo Park: Allied Arts/Stanford Park
on Jul 30, 2020 at 1:34 pm
7 people like this

It wasn't just the SJ Mercury News article yesterday. There was a lengthy article on Huffington Post a couple of weeks ago which was also replicated on Yahoo.

Web Link


Anna Palermo
Atherton: West Atherton
on Jul 30, 2020 at 1:55 pm
Anna Palermo, Atherton: West Atherton
on Jul 30, 2020 at 1:55 pm
6 people like this

So sad for the Menlo Church Congregation Members. Way to blow up a church and community. Menlo Church was a beacon of light for Menlo Park for many years.


Forgiven
Menlo Park: The Willows
on Jul 30, 2020 at 3:40 pm
Forgiven, Menlo Park: The Willows
on Jul 30, 2020 at 3:40 pm
9 people like this

We have been members of MPPC/Menlo Church for many years. Our kids have grown up there and will continue to be active in the wonderful youth programs. John made a big mistake and, sadly, his resignation was the right result. But he is forgiven and remains a wonderful human. He will be missed, but the congregation will remain faithful to the church. God knows we all could use more spirituality these days. Onward and upward!


pearl
another community
on Jul 30, 2020 at 7:26 pm
pearl, another community
on Jul 30, 2020 at 7:26 pm
11 people like this

The church board members failed to do their job!!! They should immediately step down!!!


Dr William Long
another community
on Jul 30, 2020 at 8:46 pm
Dr William Long, another community
on Jul 30, 2020 at 8:46 pm
26 people like this

This is a sad situation for all concerned, but if this situation is understood in the context of the history of Menlo Church, not fully unexpected. I write as a former staff member, during my college and seminary years (1972-75), of what was once known as Menlo Park Presbyterian Church (MPPC). My purpose is to put the current problem in a bit of a historical perspective both from the congregation and the Presbyterian denomination. This must a compressed account, and I hope I have not misrepresented anyone here.

The central figures in giving shape to the modern expression of faith at MPPC were Drs Cary Weisiger and Clifford Smith. Their tenure at MPPC from the early 1960s until the end of 1973 saw MPPC, which had been considered a moderate or even left-learning church before that (under the ministry of the Rev. Don Hall during the 1950s), adopt a solid, but irenic, Evangelical expression of faith. Dr Weisiger, the pastor/head of staff, himself was shaped in the Presbyterian controversies of the 1930s, having been in the first graduating class of Westminster Seminary in Philadelphia, a conservative offshoot from Princeton Seminary. His style was warm, welcoming, somewhat cerebral, but very committed to the Presbyterian denomination, known as the UPCUSA at the time. Thus, by the time that he and Dr Smith retired on Dec. 31, 1973, the church was solidly Evangelical, though definitely not a church well-attuned to the social and political ferment all around.

What changed that was the entry of the Rev Walter Gerber in 1974. Rev Gerber was a remarkable man in many ways. His education and approach was very "west coast" (in contrast to his predecessors), having served in the Malibu Presbyterian Church before Menlo Park. A man of genial personality, enormous warmth, burning ambition and careful planning, Rev Gerber also wanted MPPC to be on the cultural forefront of the massive changes happening in Evangelical music and worship in the 1970s and 1980s. A few crucial hires made the MPPC music program nationally known and, when combined with Rev Gerber's infectious energy, he MPPC immediately was launched into the ranks of the most visible Presbyterian churches in the country.

While Drs Weisiger and Smith were staunch and serious Presbyterians, shaped in the East coast cauldrons of Princeton and Westminster, Rev Gerber was a California Presbyterian of the "label doesn't matter" variety. That is, though the larger denomination was important to him, he, as well as an number of influential members, felt that the "larger denomination" was too liberal, too insensitive and unappreciative of the contribution that the bigger congregations were making to the denomination. Under his tenure (ending in 2002 or 2003), Menlo Park would stay firmly in the larger Presbyterian denomination (now called the PC(USA)), but with growing and serious reservations about its relationship with the denomination.

Those reservations came to a head during the search process which resulted in the hire of the Rev. John Ortberg in 2004. The Rev Ortberg certainly had no lifetime or even short-term commitment to ministry within the PC(USA), despite cheerfully going through some "hoops" that the Presbytery required him to go through in order to be pastor/head of staff at MPPC.

I was not involved in the ministry of MPPC at all from the time that Rev Ortberg came until the time a decade later when MPPC left the PC(USA) and became affiliated with another Presbyterian body. The PC(USA) was going through immense changes at the time, roiled by the issue of gay marriage, and MPPC decided that it wasn't going to follow the larger church as it expressed its support for the idea.

But there was another important feature going on in American Evangelicalism in the decade from 2004-2014 that profoundly shaped MPPC, which would become Menlo Church after 2014--and that was the exponential explosion of Evangelical "megachurches" around the country. The Presbyterian denominations had few if any megachurches; rather than seeing that as an expression of theological coldness or cultural backwardness, however, one ought to understand that in the context of the idea of "shared ministry" in the Presbyterian understanding. Shared ministry means that there is an equality not simply in name but also in voting power between a pastor (called a "teaching elder") and a member of the governing board (called a "ruling elder") at the Presbytery level. What this concept practically means is that it is very difficult in a traditional Presbyterian Church for a minister to attain the kind of independence and almost cult-like status that often is accorded to pastors of many megachurches in America today. The Presbyterian form of governance discourages that kind of situation. Theologically speaking, Presbyterians have always had skepticism of vesting too much power in the church in any one individual. The insidious nature of human sin made this kind of power problematic for traditional Presbyterians.

By the time that Menlo Church then left the PC(USA), and even before that, it was well on its way to wanting to become a megachurch, with multiple campuses in the Bay Area. The evolution of the role of pastor in a megachurch meant that the pastor would have almost unquestioned authority in the congregation. This wouldn't have gone over well in a traditional Presbyterian environment, but in the new Presbyterian association, which was grateful to receive a church of this size and influence, the oversight by Presbytery was probably less than it would otherwise be.

The presence of these two things--leaving the denomination where equality or partnership in ministry was paramount and adopting the philosophy of a megachurch--created the conditions then for a pastor to be relatively unsupervised and not as accountable to a ruling body--until, of course, all hell breaks loose.

The unfolding of events at Menlo Church is painful from almost every imaginable perspective, but understanding how it could have arisen and the conditions that made it possible at least, for me, puts this tragedy in some perspective.


Alien Visitor
Menlo Park: other
on Jul 31, 2020 at 9:10 am
Alien Visitor, Menlo Park: other
on Jul 31, 2020 at 9:10 am
6 people like this

Fascinating. The intersections among the god fantasy, the immortal soul fantasy, money, evangelicalism, sexual lust, unsupervised child care, fraternal betrayal, and social media provide endless material for my reports.


Anonymous
Menlo Park: The Willows
on Jul 31, 2020 at 10:05 am
Anonymous , Menlo Park: The Willows
on Jul 31, 2020 at 10:05 am
12 people like this

Certainly not the first time this church has found themselves in this position and again attempt a cover up. Let’s not forget in the late 80’s the married youth pastor from Menlo who ran off with a 16 year old parishioner and the church LIED about it and tried to cover it up. Smh


RanchGal
Atherton: West Atherton
on Jul 31, 2020 at 3:41 pm
RanchGal, Atherton: West Atherton
on Jul 31, 2020 at 3:41 pm
13 people like this

I have attended MC since 1979 and I will miss Pastor Ortberg and his wonderful Christian teachings. He was REAL and fallible making us laugh, cry, and search our souls according to Scripture. I am glad none of the children were affected and hope Pastor O finds a nearby ministry. The way some people have vilified him is sad and tragic. He was a good man and great orator.


Victoria Burnett
another community
on Jul 31, 2020 at 5:16 pm
Victoria Burnett, another community
on Jul 31, 2020 at 5:16 pm
14 people like this

Having been a member of Menlo since 1987, I appreciated Johns witty and
wise sermons. He will be missed by many. Sometimes children can break the parents heart. This could have been avoided I’m sure. But we are all fallen and God forgives us if we ask him to. I feel very sad about this and I am praying for John and our church.


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