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UK >

Dismissed pastor rebuts charges

Madeleine Davies

by Madeleine Davies

Posted: 29 Jun 2012 @ 03:35

AN AMERICAN pastor who brought a claim of unfair dismissal against St Anne's Lutheran Church, London, to an employment tribunal has settled privately, but he remains critical of the Lutheran Church in Great Britain (LCiGB), which removed his permission to serve as a pastor in 2011.

On 8 July 2011, the LCiGB withdrew its permission for Timothy Dearhamer, now living in Oklahama, to serve as a pastor of the LCiGB. This decision was upheld by an independent appeal board on 9 September 2011. The LCiGB spent £27,000 in legal costs.

The Council of St Anne's Lutheran Church then dismissed Mr Dearhamer as the senior pastor of the congregation on 8 October 2011, and its decision was upheld on appeal. Paul Renken of St Anne's Lutheran Church said that the Church had been "compelled" to dismiss Mr Dearhamer by the fact that his licence had been removed by the LCiGB, and that the congregation risked suspension from the LCiGB unless it did so.

Mr Dearhamer was accused of "gross misconduct" by the Bishop of the LCiGB, the Rt Revd Jana Jeruma-Grinberga, in June 2011. He alleges that the LCiGB council "did not follow their own disciplinary process" in the hearing that followed. The Dean of the LCiGB, the Very Revd Thomas Bruch, said that the procedure, which was updated in line with ACAS guidelines in 2011 before the hearing, was followed "scrupulously". Certain "actions" in the United States regarding Mr Dearhamer had caused the Council "concern", he said.

Mr Dearhamer believes that the LCiGB appeal panel that was convened to hear his case found him guilty of only a single charge.

"I was cleared of all charges, but, because I failed to meet with Bishop Jana Jeruma-Grinberga in a timely manner, I was found guilty of insubordination to the Bishop, and they upheld the decision to remove me from the LCiGB."

Mr Dearhamer said: "It is important to note that no one has ever questioned my theology, preaching, worship leadership or skills as a pastor. In my 20 years as a pastor, I have never been accused of any misconduct, or disciplined in any way by any of the congregations or church bodies in which I have served. The appeal panel of the LCiGB even commented in their decision that they agreed with me theologically, but that it was beyond their remit to allow that to determine their findings."

Mr Dearhamer also remains unhappy with the composition of the appeal panel, reporting that all three members were fellow trustees with Bishop Jeruma-Grinberga of the Lutheran Council of Great Britain, who were, until December 2010, the employers of Dean Bruch.

Dean Bruch disputes this interpretation of events. The members of the panel were drawn from a "completely different organisation"- the Council of Lutheran Churches, he said; and the panel members were from churches other than the LCiGB.

He explained: "The Appeal Board considered two charges against Mr Dearhamer, and set aside one of them on the balance of probabilities, without totally exonerating him. The other charge, of serious insubordination against his bishop, was upheld on the grounds that he had made it effectively impossible for the bishop to meet him, and he had explicitly rejected episcopal oversight.

While the Appeal Board acknowledged that the Lutheran communion had varying traditions of episcopal authority, it concluded that Mr Dearhamer was well aware of the LCiGB's Code of Conduct, which required its pastors to accept episcopal oversight, and it agreed that his rejection of such oversight amounted to serious insubordination."

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