Church moves forward after theft

By Jessica Brodie

EASTOVER—A Columbia-area congregation is on the path to healing this month after learning one of its employees allegedly took $183,000 from the church.

Leslie Fields was charged by Richland County Sheriff’s Department with breach of trust with fraudulent intent after allegedly taking funds from Lebanon United Methodist Church, Eastover, over a period of at least two years.

“Needless to say, all of us are saddened that this happened,” said Lebanon UMC’s pastor, the Rev. Drew Martin. “However, this congregation has a history of rising above adversity, and this situation has given them an opportunity to do that once again. I'm proud of how our congregation has stayed the course, and I'm excited both about the spiritual growth God always brings out of challenges and the opportunity to bear witness to how a faith community should handle such matters. We are all very grateful to (Columbia District Superintendent) Cathy Jamieson-Ogg and to (Conference Chancellor) Kay Crowe for their excellent guidance throughout this process.

“I hope the entire Annual Conference will hold us in prayer as we continue to heal. I am confident we will learn from this and serve God with even greater effectiveness in the future.”

Jamieson-Ogg said the church’s administrative board approved a restitution agreement Aug. 24, and the entire restitution has been paid in full already. She said the church spent prayerful time in a process of discernment and decision, guided by two vital books: the Bible, their book of faith, and The United Methodist Book of Discipline, their book of doctrine, procedures and policies.

“I am confident that the church is moving forward to address this situation with justice and compassion,” Jamieson-Ogg said.

She will be holding a mandatory meeting with pastors in January, led by Conference Treasurer Beth Westbury and Ray Williamson, a fraud auditor.

“It’s critical for churches to have sound financial policies on paper and in practice,” Jamieson-Ogg said.

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