As with many churches, Messiah Lutheran Church in Joliet, Illinois, received offerings from individuals as well as businesses in its 120 years of ministry. But when one local company that had given generously to the church was investigated by the Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC) for fraudulent practices, Messiah was ordered to return hundreds of thousands of dollars in donations.
In light of the order, church staff and board members have worked together to sort through various tough financial questions and proposed solutions. The sign outside the church sends a clear plea to the community: “Save Messiah.”
Joliet Church Looking To Raise $300,000
Through no fault of its own, Messiah Lutheran Church had received donations from a local company that had been engaging in dishonest financial dealings. The donations, totaling $780,000, were made across the years of 2010 to 2019. Now, the church has been ordered to pay back donations to the federal government and fears losing its building.
In a statement on Messiah’s fundraising page, leaders explain the crisis. “The church accepted those donations in good faith and is not accused of wrongdoing,” they say. “However, the donations are no longer available to meet the SEC’s demand because they have been used in ministry over the last ten years.”
CBS reporter Shardaa Gray interviewed the church’s pastor, Kurt Hoover, who said, “We have four main values. One of those is not losing our church. We want to keep our church family unified. We want to give God glory. We want to continue our ministry in the community.”
At this point, the church has two options: raise the money to pay back the federal government or sell the church’s building.
Messiah’s board president, Brian Wielbik, spoke up on behalf of church members, saying, “That’s very, very disturbing, and people are angry about it. People also here are in disbelief at how can that happen, but unfortunately it has.”
“In 2019, the Securities and Exchange Commission accused a business of fraudulent practices,” Gray said. “As part of that process, the SEC can go in and take everything that the company has, go after any other areas where they have given money, and take that money back.”
As a result of the investigation, the SEC filed a federal lawsuit asking for Messiah to return $487,000 of donations made by the local company. The funds are due Nov. 15.
“We were able to pay $187,000 right away,” Hoover shared. “We had that sitting in reserves. We have to raise $300,000; if we don’t raise that by Nov. 15, there’s a penalty; another $100,000 is added to the total.”
Messiah staff is now looking to the community of Joliet to help raise the remaining $300,000. After 120 years in Joliet, the church fears losing its building to cover the balance.
“Losing our church would be very scary,” admitted Hoover.