Stealing Pastor Avoids Prison, Takes Over at Another Church

Reported by Nigel Boys

The congregation at The Rock Church in Grandville, Michigan should keep an eye on their pastor Gary Petersen (pictured, right) and hope he has learned a valuable lesson about being placed in a position of trust after being accused of larceny at his last church.

Petersen appeared in Ottawa County Circuit Court this week and was told that providing he paid back the $4,000 that he had taken from his former congregation at Wellspring Church in Hudsonville, he would avoid going to prison for his crimes.

Initially Petersen had been brought up on charges of embezzlement, but those charges were dropped when he pleaded no contest to a charge of attempted larceny.

The trusting congregation at Wellspring had issued their pastor with a credit card so that he could pay for needed expenses that were to do with church business. All went well at first because Peterson would give the church bookkeeper the monthly paper billing statements from the American Express card so that everything would be accounted for.

However, when the account was switched to electronic billing, Petersen obviously thought he could get away with a few personal items charged to the church’s credit card, including purchases at retail stores and restaurants. He even put a personal vacation in Colorado on the charge card of the church and a cruise to Rome.

When it was discovered what Petersen had been doing, he resigned from the congregation that he had first set up 18 years ago in his home. While some members of his congregation rightfully found his actions to be wrong, others followed him to his new church in Grandville.

According to Sarah Matwiejczyk, Assistant Prosecutor for Ottawa County, the 62-year-old former pastor of Wellspring Church had been using the church’s credit card as his own personal ATM.

However, Chris Brigman, the attorney of Petersen, claims that his client did nothing wrong, never hid what he was doing and was entitled to use the card as he wished.

Petersen was given a probation sentence of 12 months, providing he pays back his former church the $4,000 he unlawfully used of their money. Failure to do so will mean that he will be on his way to prison.