In the circle of those who believe in a loving God, church is often a place to find the spiritual food for your heart.
You study the bible, sing hymns, support each other in times of sorrow and rejoice in a friend's good fortune. It can be a very special place.
However, churches aren't immune from the problems we encounter everywhere else. During the last 30 years, I have witnessed the impact of scandals in churches where I belonged, involving people I trusted. It hurt me and everyone who believed in our fallen leaders. The scandals also damaged their families and left deep wounds in the congregation.
Many churches experience a scandal and recover, but the road to recovery can be difficult and painful.
First Missionary Baptist Church of Ballwin is trying to survive such a test. The 175 year old church was founded by freed slaves. Kathy Simmons, the church Treasurer, is the Great-Grandchild of a founding member. Simmons, and many other members, were outraged a half-dozen years ago when they learned that their Pastor, Richard Rollins, had used church money for overseas travel, lodging, meals, his pension and many other personal expenses. Pastor Rollins and the church leadership insisted the expenses were authorized, but Rollins was voted out by the congregation.
He filed suit against his former flock. Eventually, they returned the favor and sued him. A judge in the second lawsuit ordered Rollins to payback $107,000 to the church. He refused and has appealed the judgement. The judgement also involves the expenses of several former church leaders.
The scandal rocked the church, some people went with Rollins, many stayed at First Missionary Baptist, others refused to attend any church.
Rollins refused to be interviewed for our story. When he answered my knock on his door the Pastor told me "I don't want to answer any questions. God bless you." Then, he closed the door.
It's likely the legal battle will continue for at least six more months, but the door may never close on the fallout from the scandal. Many people are still angry and I get the feeling that regardless of what the courts decide, there may never be peace in the valley separating the former Pastor and his flock.