Some time ago, we covered allegations of prior embezzlement and potential alcoholism involving Bill Allport, rector of St. Paul’s, Englewood, NJ. As promised, we are continuing to investigate issues at the church. But as we do so, a troubling trend is emerging: St. Paul’s is the poster child for the decline of the Episcopal church.
Why do we say that?
We say that because the church handles challenges appallingly badly, often by kicking the can down the road while ignoring the root causes of its problems.
Consider: the church has been living above its means for almost 20 years. Meanwhile, the halcyon years of the baby boom are fast drawing to a close. Thus, a prudent course of action over the past 50 years would have been to save for the future.
However, St. Paul’s has been ignoring the issue, seemingly hoping its financial challenges will disappear. In doing so, it’s been drawing down its investments while doing little to evangelize and grow the church.
Today, things are coming to a head, and the church is forecasting an annual deficit of roughly $60,000. Depending on the burn rate, the church’s remaining investments will be exhausted within approximately a year.
To make matters worse, the physical plant has extensive deferred maintenance. That’s always a mistake, as deferred maintenance is far more expensive than preventive maintenance, often by a factor of hundreds or thousands.
Thus, like a frat boy with his dad’s credit card and a new girlfriend, the church has been living life large, with scant care for the future.
No strategic planning
So what is the church doing about this dismal state of affairs? Not much.
Church bulletins ask members to invite friends. But unlike evangelical churches, there’s no written growth plan. There’s no strategy, measurement criteria, accountability, or templated resources. Indeed, $20 says the church has never even bothered to invite persons near the parish to social events. (It’s a safe bet–Episcopal Churches never consider asking the neighbors, even though the latter patiently tolerate noise and parking issues dozens of times every year. Nor do Episcopal churches actively reach out to members who quit attending to learn why they stopped attending or if they need help or support.)
Similarly, even as the church sheds members, it’s asking remaining members to double their pledges for the coming year, for total pledges of $225,000. Again, all we can say is, “Good luck there.”
Underlying this is a crucial matter: These are manifestations of underlying, more significant issues. By failing to look at root causes, the church is trying to apply a band-aid to injuries that require advanced trauma care. In other words, money and attendance are not the real problems–they are just signaling that much more significant issues lurk.
A careful review of church financials, along with past bulletins and other documentation, plus interviews with persons connected with the parish, can help us identify these more significant problems.
Exploring this issue starts with a simple truth: People put their treasures where their hearts are. Thus, if the church is not growing, we must understand why that is the case. And this is a question that should have been asked and answered two decades ago. Chalk that one up to a lack of backbone, lack of insight, or both.
We also see a big disconnect between the communications coming from the parish and life within the parish. For example, the church newsletter has the predictable language about love, joy, and service. Yet when the rubber meets the road, we’ve heard allegations of Allport behaving miserably towards church staff and reports that Allport is an alcoholic. Something about by their fruits you shall know them.
In other words, the church talks a good game, but the reality is far different. And it is nothing short of shocking that parishioners complain about lack of pastoral care–this is akin to a doctor who doesn’t want to see patients. Caring for parish members and the community should be inherent in being a priest.
Indeed, Allport’s alleged statements about how his daughter doesn’t feel safe around an openly gay former staff member appear to be a smear campaign of the worst sort and implicate Allport’s integrity. Combine these with complaints of bullying and abusive behavior by Allport and the issues with inadequate pastoral care, and we get to troubling questions:
- Why would I spend money to be part of this toxic crock of goo?
- Why would I want to attend a church where the rector is someone of questionable veracity?
In that space, church members are highly adept at sniffing out hypocrisy. They might not be able to label it or recognize the specifics. And they may be unwilling to deal with the stress of addressing these issues. But they know hypocrisy when they see it, and they typically quietly transition out of the parish when problems like these are covered up and ignored. This is part of the parish’s problem: post-pandemic folks aren’t interested in returning. And the parish is in a goofy loop of asking people to come back, even though it refuses to own up to its problems.
That raises the question: Why is Allport still around? In light of the allegations that he embezzled from a previous church, this priest should be on a very short leash, if serving as a priest at all. And did the search committee know about the previous allegations of embezzlement? If it didn’t, there are serious issues with the diocese, transparency, and the vetting process.
Nor do we see that he’s repentant about these allegations, for it appears that he claims the theft was to feed his family. We find that argument to be total BS, which means he has not accepted responsibility for his actions.
And if folks won’t pull the plug on Allport, why has he not been told to clean up his act by a specific date or hit the bricks? It is not un-Christian or unkind to hold persons in positions of power accountable. Nor is it wrong to take a pass on throwing good money after bad and refusing to support the parish if Allport continues to misbehave. And it is a fundamental requirement of the Christian faith to resist injustice and oppression, especially when the rector may be bullying staff and not doing his job.
Speaking of accepting responsibility and truthful communication, we believe parish members cannot form healthy relationships without disclosure of misconduct.
In that vein, when Anglican Watch first surfaced these issues, we invited Allport and the church to refute anything they believed was inaccurate and to share their perspective. And while Allport cluelessly included us in an email to the Canon to the Ordinary, we received no meaningful response.
For the record, trying to stiff the media is always the wrong choice. Not only does it tell us that we got the underlying story correct, but it also means there are more significant issues with transparency and accountability.
In other words, it all but assures we will return to the fray. And it should be a significant warning sign to anyone considering participating in the life of the parish. If the issue cannot see the light of day, that is a problem.
Allport as change agent
Another vantage point on the issues at St. Paul’s is to evaluate Bill Allport’s areas of professed expertise with what is going on in the parish.
Here is how Allport describes himself:
A congregational leader and program coordinator with over 20 years’ experience building, leading and motivating resource-effective innovative mission among multicultural and diverse populations. Strong general administration skills for team leadership with excellent interpersonal skills to teach, train, motivate, coach, empower, and equip personnel, leaders, or volunteers to achieve the highest quality potential. Skilled public speaker. Organizational liaison with strategic insight into operations and relationships, encompassing values of integrity, teamwork, and results utilizing innovative solutions.
But we’re seeing no sign of these skills in the life of the parish, which suggests two possibilities:
- Allport’s resume is padded, or
- Something is interfering with Allport’s ability to serve. In other words, he may be impaired by substance abuse, mental health issues, or other factors.
We also note with some amusement that one of Allport’s skills clearly is not proofreading. As in he cannot spell “priest.” Yikes.
The role of the diocese
As we alluded to in our original post, this dismal state of affairs is also partly the fault of the diocese. Under church canons, the bishop and diocese must establish and maintain normative behaviors on the parish level. Thus, 20 years ago, the diocese should have put its foot down on deficit spending.
There’s also a positive role for the diocese: to provide tools for parish leaders to help them grow. These may include templated resources, training, and access to experts. Thus, the fact that the parish is drifting along rudderless tells Anglican Watch that the diocese is failing to hold up its end of the bargain.
Additionally, the diocese can and should be okay with staging an intervention. Things are in a state of meltdown in the parish, and absent strong leadership and someone who can bring an independent perspective, things will only worsen. That is the case whether members increase giving, expenses are slashed, or both. The church is dying, and time is of the essence if its problems are going to be fixed.
That raises the question: Why send money to the diocese if all the diocese does is hold meetings and create piles of paper? Or roll out the bishop once a year for a visit? Or give bad advice, like suggesting Allport ignore requests from reporters?
As to the allegations that Allport is an alcoholic, the diocese is doing no one any favors by ignoring the situation. That includes Allport and his family.
And if Allport does pull a Heather Cook and injure or kill someone in a DUI, we reiterate our offer to personal injury attorneys for the victims: Be in touch. We are happy to share specifics and to provide documentation of what the diocese and the parish knew, when they knew it, and specifically who knew it. We will gladly testify in court.
In the meantime, we encourage readers either to avoid the parish altogether or condition pledges on specific changes. Otherwise, it is farcical to ask members to increase their giving blindly.
In closing, we note the irony in the church’s letterhead. Not only is the church lacking in positive transformation, but many say they indeed have had “more than enough.”
And that paradigm is a painful and poignant description of vast swaths of the Episcopal church.