“They loaned their life savings to their church to help with a children’s ministry.
But now the the church is refusing to pay that money back as promised.
Boasting more than two million members around the world, the Church of the Nazarene has its Global Ministry Center in Lenexa, Kan.
While the church is flourishing, a handful of former members are suffering.
And they blame the church.
“I keep saying I’m not going to let it bother me, but deep down, it’s always there, how could they do this to us?” said Gloria Pillsbury.
Pillsbury turned 80 in August, is in poor health and lives only on Social Security.
Beginning in 2004, documents the 41 Action News Investigators obtained show Pillsbury and her husband George, who was a long time Nazarene pastor, loaned a non-profit called “Center on Children” $45,000 at 8 and a half percent interest.
Center on Children was a ministry of the Nazarene Church’s Washington, D.C. District.
Long time pastor and center founder Don Allison says his idea was to set up daycare centers with the hope of also building new churches.
He solicited loans to add new daycare centers with the church’s blessing.
“They were assured they would stand behind that,” Allison said.
He says that investment helped Center on Children grow to serving 500 kids in three states and in bring in $1.4 million in revenue in 2004.
But then the organization lost its first and largest daycare in Baltimore, Maryland.
The Nazarene Church where that daycare was located simply took it over, including the income.
Washington District leaders promised to intervene, but never did.
“Once we lost that financial income, we were not in the position to meet the financial obligations that we had,” said Allison.
Center on Children then disbanded.
26 families, five Nazarene churches and a business altogether loaned that organization $1.5 million.
And they expected the church to cover those loans.
The 41 Action News Investigators obtained a 2003 letter from the Nazarene Church’s Washington District.
It states in the event of any loan default, “the district would step in and resolve either the debt or subsidize its payments”.
“We had absolutely no doubt it was safe, you know it’s our beloved Nazarene Church,” said Gloria. “Of course it’s safe,” she said.
But 15 years after his first of several loans, documents show Jay Kern is owed over $120,000 which includes interest calculations only to 2010.
“I’m terribly disappointed and I’m no longer a part of the Church of the Nazarene and I probably won’t ever be,” Kern said.
To try to get their unpaid loans, Gloria brought her gravely ill husband George in a wheelchair to the Nazarene Church’s massive new Global Ministry Center in Lenexa.
It was built at a cost of more than $30 million.
Gloria says church leaders verbally promised to make sure they were repaid, but it never happened.
The 41 Action News Investigators went to the center to find out why.
General Secretary Doctor David Wilson said the unpaid loans were a Mid Atlantic District matter which encompasses the old Washington District.
The 41 Action News Investigators asked Wilson if it’s the policy of church leaders to stiff people when they borrow money from them.
“Of course not,” Wilson replied.
When we noted some people have documented proof their loans haven’t been repaid after 15 years, Wilson replied, “Allegedly so”.
The 41 Action News Investigators also spoke with Mid Atlantic District Superintendent David Bowser on the phone.
He declined comment.
It’s already too late for George Pillsbury to get his life savings returned.
He died in 2013.
When the 41 Action News Investigators asked Wilson if these unpaid loans seemed very Christian or fair, he replied,
“If that is all true what you’re saying, if that is all true, you’re right if that is all true.”
When asked if he didn’t think it was true, Wilson said, “I don’t know if it is or not”.
The Pillsbury family also tried to take the matter to court.
But after several delays, a judge ruled the loan terms were beyond the statute of limitations, so the case was dropped.
“How can they sleep at night knowing that they owe all these people, I can’t understand it,” Gloria said.
Documents show Center on Children Founder Don Allison also loaned the organization money.
While he’d like to get his investment returned, he says it’s more important for everyone else to be made whole.”