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A question of ethics

Your church treasurer, who also happens to be an executive at a large accounting firm, serves your congregation faithfully and diligently. Then one day, a bombshell: his company faces criminal charges in connection with auditing irregularities. Should he continue to handle your church’s finances?

By Bob Giuliano and Connie denBok

Author's photo
Rev. Bob Giuliano is a retired minister who lives in Owen Sound, Ont.


One more problem that I know little or nothing about. My heart hurts for folks in the business world when things go south for them, but I don’t know much about how these things happen.

(Once I proposed a business plan to a member of my church who was out of work. He patiently read it over, sighed and said, “Written like a true minister!”)

I have an accountant friend who says that figures can usually be made to say what the boss wants them to say. Things are rarely as black and white, as “bottom line” as we’d like to think. Financial reports and budgets are often fictional representations of the real thing. What exactly are “auditing irregularities,” after all?

So, having admitted to myself, to my people and to God that there are things I do not understand, the financial world being one of them, I call together the Elders and the Session. Their business experiences have taught them what we need to know. They are also friends of our treasurer, and they will be sensitive to his situation.

 We are a church. We believe in folks when the rest of the world does not. We do not believe naively or by closing one eye. We stand by folks in truth. We also know that the church can be, and has been, ripped off. So, wise as serpents.

Then I have a pastoral duty to the treasurer. I must go to his office — not to his home. I need to be a visible presence at his place of employment. I need to walk in with the look of a peppery pup and not of a basset hound. “I am with you,” I must say. Later, I may go to his home and family.

I need to be his pastor through these sometimes long, confusing, painful and humiliating experiences. I know the high price that he will pay. I need to ask this treasurer and friend what he thinks the church should do in the light of these indictments.

I report to Session, and the church acts according to the Session’s recommendation.



Wow, we have a treasurer who serves our congregation faithfully and diligently, has not been implicated personally in any wrongdoing, and is willing to continue to handle our church finances while stressed at work. Why ever would we mess around with that arrangement?

Yet it could become a church issue. I call it the Law of the Hen House, after the sage advice I once received from a poultry-farming parishioner. According to my mentor, when a weasel gets into the hen house, the residents will squawk and flap and raise a ruckus. It doesn’t stop weasels, but it does allow the chickens to register their offence through proper channels. But if on another occasion a chicken is agitated and begins squawking for no reason, the others will join the chorus with great zeal — just in case there might be a weasel. Unfortunately, amid the scrabbling claws and flashing beaks, some small injury might occur, and at the sight of blood, the other chickens will attack and even kill their own wounded.

While we assume that the average church Board and average Presbytery is functioning at a higher level than a poultry house, some truths remain universal; take time to discern a squawker who may be reacting to imaginary weasels. The fact that others are in a flap is not necessarily a cue to flap oneself. And most importantly, chicken-style vigilante justice victimizes innocent bystanders.

Dyslexic spirituality beats ploughshares into swords and makes church people as gentle as serpents and wise as doves. It is the photographic negative of the image of Christ.

Our treasurer is faithful and diligent. I will verify personally that the books are audited yearly — and alert the Board chair to possible weasel alarms. Because the accounting executive is under pastoral care, our treasurer warrants pastoral support during a difficult time at work.

On a purely pragmatic level, an accounting executive deals with assets beyond this minister’s humble imagination. The accounts of our congregation could hardly be tempting, being chicken feed in comparison.

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