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Lawsuit Claims Vineyard Church Pastors Left Denomination Because They Wanted Control of $62 Million in Assets

The widow of the man who planted the original Vineyard Movement church in Anaheim in 1977 is suing the current pastors for fraud and the alleged misappropriation of $62 million stemming from the pastors’ decision to split from the overarching Vineyard USA organization.

In a lawsuit filed Nov. 10 in Orange County, California, Superior Court, Carol Wimber-Wong and eight other former church members allege that Alan and Kathryn Scott had “deceitful” motives when they sought the positions of senior pastors at Vineyard Anaheim four years ago and intended from the beginning to take the Anaheim church independent.

The Scotts, who had previously led a Vineyard Church in Northern Ireland, initially seemed uninterested in the head pastor positions, church members said, but allegedly showed new interest a few months after inquiring about the Anaheim church’s assets, including a $55 million building and $7 million bank account.

The head of the church’s hiring committee, Joe Gillentine, said that when they were specifically asked during the hiring process about whether they would consider leaving the overarching denomination, the Scotts said they would not.

The Vineyard Anaheim board approved their hiring, and they started in their new positions in 2018.

However, the Scotts and a handful of other leaders made the decision in March to separate the Anaheim church from the Vineyard USA movement, a decision Alan Scott said was led by the Holy Spirit. He said he had no dispute with the Vineyard movement at large, Christianity Today reported.

In a letter to leaders in the Vineyard movement, Vineyard USA, the Vineyard National Board and the Anaheim Vineyard Board shortly after the break, Wimber-Wong outlined her objections, saying the “abrupt decision” was made “in secret” by the Scotts and a handful of others, saying, “In your new plan, it appears it will only be you that will gain.”

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The Anaheim church acknowledged the lawsuit in an online post, saying a legal dispute is “a pathway we didn’t choose or desire.”

“We understand that our disassociation from VUSA has caused strong emotions, but we didn’t expect individuals to attribute evil intent in the hearts of Alan and Kathryn Scott during their 2018 appointment process, or to deem the board’s decision to disassociate from VUSA four years later improper,” the statement said. “The accusations in the complaint couldn’t be further from the truth.”

Also named as plaintiffs in the suit are church members Steve and Nancy Bray, Stephanie Ruppe, and David Edmondson; former pastor Lance Pittluck; and former board members Don Salladin, Joe Gillentine, and James Gillentine, per CT.

They assert the dispute belongs in the courts because it does not fall under the church autonomy doctrine, which lets churches resolve their own internal disputes, but rather “arises from a secular and non-ecclesiastical dispute” involving the business operations of the church.

The first hearing in the case is scheduled for April 28.

Main photo: Pastors Alan and Kathryn Scott sing and pray during a service at Vineyard Anaheim, which was renamed the Dwelling Place, in April 2022 / Video screen grab

Anne Stych

Anne Stych is a writer in Charlotte, North Carolina.