This is a complete transcription of the Elder’s address to the congregation 6/21/15.
I apologize for what I’m about to say, because it is NOT kind.
These men are liars in the worst way. Either that, or they are empty-headed pawns. May God forgive them.
Now let’s do Bob said – I say.
Bob goes first.
Hi, I’m Bob Dees.
I’m one of the elders here at First Christian. We are blessed. First Christian Church is an amazing, multi-generational, multi-ethnic family. We joyfully celebrate a 57 year legacy of ministry built on honoring Jesus Christ who is passionately living in the world. We serve thousands of families and have been recognized nationally for the strength of our diversity.
First Christian has been a great church. It has helped thousands of people, and continues to do good work, even in the midst of this turmoil. My family has been members of this church for over 15 years.
Like every family, our church family has moments when our strength is tested. In January 2014, two former First Christian church families were told for the first time by their now grown sons that they had been sexually abused in 2007 by Brandon Milburn, at that time a full-time student at St. Louis Christian College and part-time church employee.
These families did the right thing, the difficult thing. They stood strong in their test, reported this horrible crime to authorities and sought counseling.
Bob failed to mention that Brandon Milburn was also a youth volunteer, later hired as “Creative Elements Director” at FCCF and allowed to participate in and help lead VBS in 2012. (That’s six months after Wingfield was notified that Milburn was a problem.)
As far as counseling, one victim’s family was never contacted by the church. The counseling was only made available after the mediation process took place. A third victim, not one of the young men who filed charges has still not received counseling.
This is from Lisa Womble’s Facebook post concerning the meeting with Dawn Varvil, Steve Wingfield and the elders:
I accompanied Dawn on her last visit with Steve and two elders (Keith V and Bob D) back in April of this year. This was the meeting that was supposedly about reconciliation, but absolutely had nothing to do with reconciliation. In that meeting, Steve brought up that they had offered counseling as soon as the charges were brought against Brandon.
Dawn pointed out that the offer for counseling was not provided to the victim she had told him about. Steve tried to gloss over that by saying it was an open invitation to anyone that needed it. When I brought him back to the point later in the discussion, he mumbled something about the boy not being a member of the church. I reminded him he had his name and Dawn’s contact information so the offer could have been extended to him directly.
I told him in front of the elders who were present that to make a gesture of offering counseling but not seek out a specific victim they knew by name and knew would not hear the announcement in church seemed to me more about appearances than about actual concern for the victims.
Despite this conversation, within a day or two of that meeting, the documents on the church website again stated the offer of counseling was made as “proof” of their concern for victims. To this day, they still have not contacted Dawn or the victim to offer to provide or pay for counseling for him.
A year long open investigation invited any other victims to come forward, and led to a guilty plea and a sentence of 25 years in prison. While this abuse did not occur at church facilities or at our programs, we all hurt when the rest of our family hurts.
The actions of one have a ripple effect of hurt to many through this violation of trust. Because we are a place of healing, First Christian provides two professional counseling resources available to victims of Milburn’s abuse.
That’s really stretching the truth. Reluctance to get help for the victims and acknowledgement that safety guidelines and procedures were needed is what blew this incident out of proportion. Repeated questions to the church leadership went unanswered.
Since the February 2015 sentencing First Christian Church has been harassed and slandered by false claims that church leaders knew of the sexual abuses and criminally failed to report it. This is simply not true.
That is a lie. The documents referred to on this web site, the documented and recorded mis-statements by Steve Wingfield during meetings with volunteers, and statements by the parties involved point to the continual twisting of the facts.
When notified that there were problems with Brandon Milburn’s behavior in August 2011, church leadership did nothing. That notification was by a former elder who had witnessed Milburn’s questionable behavior.
The reason no action was taken is that, at the time, Milburn was a favorite of Steve Wingfield and received accommodations not extended to other interns and part time staff.
This is from “Is It Enough?” (page 11) by Professor Doug Lay. It is Dawn Varvil’s account to Professor Lay and his wife, the evening of her meeting with Steve Wingfield and executive pastor Scott Strandell in February 2012:
He stated that if he believed Brandon was capable of things we had discussed that he never would have recommended Brandon to his son-in-law who Brandon had been working with at Gateway Christian Church.
He stated that even in light of the information I had given him, he would have no misgivings in recommending Brandon to other churches and would readily write a letter of recommendation for him (paraphrased).
He stated that he would “Stake his career” on Brandon’s innocence.
These unsubstantiated claims were reportedly promoted in the unfiltered platform of social media on fake Facebook accounts and in phone calls and email sourced to the unauthorized use of church databases.
They weren’t “reportedly promoted” on social media, they were ACTIVELY promoted. That was because none of the elders or the senior pastor would return phone calls or answer questions. That’s why the church banned members from FCCF property … they were asking inconvenient questions and insisting on answers.
Social media was the best way to spread the word. As to the allegation of fake emails accounts, that’s partially true. One individual created an alias account because she feared reprisal from Wingfield and the elders. However there are 50 or more active church members using their real names and publicly asking the same questions. And the Jane Doe was correct to hide her identity, because four other people who where asking the same questions got sued.
In issuing demands for the resignation of leaders and seeking supporters who might disrupt worship services. Critics do share a valuable roll suggesting the needs for improvements, however some opportunistically chose destructive methods, testing cities, testing law enforcement, testing best-of-class organizations, schools and even effective churches. A line must be drawn. These methods do not belong in our church family.
Bob, if you are the one who wrote that speech, you are one shifty individual. If not, quit letting others put words in your mouth.
There was banter among Facebook members about interrupting the worship services, by coming to the stage to pray as group, or standing up and walking out in the middle of the service, or picketing in the parking lot, and I think someone wanted to hand-bill the cars. All of those actions were voted down. The idea was to show everyone that there were more than just a few Christians concerned about what was going on.
Those were idea balloons floated during discussions. All were voted down out of respect for other worshipers and the church. You’ve made them sound like we were looking for protesters to yank out the seats or do a sit-in demonstration.
As elders we have worked continually to protect and clear First Christian’s name legally and through law enforcement. Based on the clear evidence, we sought retractions, not financial penalties.
That’s why I said a “shifty individual” above. You know darn well that the lawsuit demanded $25,000 in compensatory damage, unspecified punitive damages and lawyer’s fees. That’s a public record, filed in a court of law and you elders signed off on it.
That is a complete lie, told on-stage, by an elder, to the congregation.
After pursuing options that enabled us to name accusers and present affidavits in evidence that could be substantiated in court, the eldership decided to drop civil actions and enlist the assistance of two respected mediators. Our intent was to give our critics yet additional opportunities to reconcile.
“After pursuing options that enabled us to name accusers and present affidavits” – who are you trying to kid? You’re accusers were in your face. You didn’t have to track them down. They were not hiding. They were in the lobby of the church, in your email “in boxes” and trying to connect on your telephone.
“The eldership decided to drop the civil actions and enlist the assistance of two respected mediators.”
This is also a lie, a whopper. FCCF did not initiate mediation or anything else. Members from our group called and pleaded with two respected Pastors to help the church reconcile the problems. You agreed to meet with them because they made the phone calls to FCCF and you didn’t want to appear uncooperative to your peers.
Your intent was to deflect and try to run out the clock. Nothing changed after the mediators met with church leadership. You say they convinced you to drop the lawsuit. There are folks who think you would have dropped the lawsuit anyway, since the “motion to dismiss” filed by A.W. Johnson (Doug Lay’s attorney) was scheduled to be heard in the next couple of days. This is conjecture, but Johnson’s letter was convincing. He certainly didn’t think the suit had merit and was eager to chalk it up as a win.
Regretfully, those seeking to blame us and incite outrage, prefer to continue spreading only false accusations.
If it were up to me, I would have already hauled you into court. You keep attesting to “false accusations” concerning the Milburn incident. That’s like saying Varvil and Professor Lay are liars, and the other 102 people who signed the resignation request letter don’t have their facts straight.
Rather than call them liars, why not address the issues. Speaking of lies and issues, why not address the seven lies Steve Wingfield has put out that are documented here.
Upon the counsel of our mediator we were persuaded that the best course of action for the First Christian family now is to re-focus our energies exclusively on moving forward with our ministry and mission.
Ignoring abuse victims and concerned church members is probably not good advice. I’m no expert, but these folks are pretty determined. Every time you knock one down, four more pop up.
When this started, there were four or five people asking questions. Then there were eight families. After Florissant detectives showed up at someone’s house detailing the lies someone at FCCF fed the police, that family has backed away from the point.
But now there are five families acting as point people. These are dedicated Christians that believe in First Christian and want it repaired. They are not going away. Knock another one down and watch what happens.
With your support and encouragement, First Christian Church will fully intensify our commitment to stand strong, becoming even a more passionate community resource. We’re thankful that this amazing family continues to grow in faith, welcoming first-time guests, and each week celebrating new committed followers of Christ.
We began June with more than 500 kids and volunteers in vacation bible school. Our Celebrate Recovery is an ongoing ministry of support. We will always have love and compassion for those wronged by heinous actions, our focus will be resolutely on greater things that can bring us together; one faith in one Lord, one message of God’s love and grace that can bring healing into any life.
Concerning member support and encouragement, it might be a good idea to start taking accurate attendance. Both support and encouragement are dwindling.
First Christian Church of Florissant is listening, learning and loving and determined to be better, and not bitter. Our core values have determined that we will go forward empowered by God’s grace to be a place where Christ comes first, where the lost are found, where the word is heard, where care is shared and where our world is changed. In this time of testing First Christian is standing strong, and we, as elders, invite you to stand with us.
FCCF may be listening, but not to her members.
“Where Christ comes first”; Obviously Wingfield comes before Christ Considering you stand on the stage of a Church of God and state that Steve Wingfield had no knowledge about Brandon Milburn. WE ALL KNOW that’s a lie, it’s Documented and elders were there when he admitted it.
“Where the lost are found”; If they fall into FCCF? Correct me if I’m wrong but the missions funds have been cut off, haven’t they?
“Where the Word is heard”; Twisted to proof text Steve Wingfield’s pastoral chastisement of those willing to stand on the side of truth and call a spade a spade.
“Where care is shared”; It took Matt Mueller hounding the elders day after day, week after week to get help for the victims of abuse. There are people that have been turned away because of their looks, or the way they speak, or because they’re “Needy Families” that are just too much hassle for the church to support.
AGAIN I say, for the Love of Christ, walk the walk, instead of just talking the talk.
Nothing has been said about the other issues raised in the resignation request letter. The loss of about half the staff, reduced attendance, financial transparency, lack of response from the elders.
Now that counseling is available for victims, have the known victims been contacted and offered assistance?
The defamation lawsuit is still pending. Since it was withdrawn without prejudice, it can re-filed within the next two years. When is the status on the lawsuit going to be “withdrawn with prejudice”?