Fired Pastor Becomes Controversial Hire at Nearby Church


August 20, 2008

ORLAND HILLS, Ill. -- When the Rev. George Thomas was booted from a south suburban church last year for allegedly diverting hundreds of thousands of dollars for personal use, the last place the congregation expected to see him next was at the pulpit of an affiliated church.

That's why they were stunned to learn that Thomas recently was hired as school principal and associate pastor at Christian Hills Church in Orland Hills.

"I was quite shocked," said Gregory Morris, president of the board of directors of All Nations Community Church in Homewood.

The jolt comes as the congregation prepares to release an independent investigation into Thomas' spending while at the helm of its church. All Nations plans to turn its report over to the Cook County State's Attorney's Office, Morris said.

Thomas has not been charged, but the preliminary results of the church's inquiry are "stunning," Morris said.Unbeknown to congregants who dropped cash in the collection plate during Thomas' 15 years as senior pastor, they picked up much of the college tuition tab for two of his children, funded family trips to such destinations as Hawaii, and kept a son on the church's payroll as a music director more than a year after he moved out of state, Morris said. All told, the unauthorized expenses top $300,000, the church's oversight board has found, he said.

In early January, All Nations board members asked Homewood police to remove Thomas from the church, but he wasn't there when officers arrived. Deputy Police Chief James Gannon said that was the extent of police involvement because the church has not filed a complaint.

Thomas declined to comment on the allegations. His attorney, Daniel Purdom, said the claims are "baseless" and his client plans to move forward with his lawsuit challenging his dismissal from the church. The suit has been working its way through Cook County Circuit Court since January.

The decision to hire Thomas has created a stir within the congregation of Christian Hills, a church that sits along 159th Street at 91st Avenue -- particularly because church elders made the unusual move of appointing such a controversial figure without consulting members first.

"The congregation should have input," said longtime Christian Hills member Dave Oberg, who points to the church's constitution, which says members should put the hire of a new pastor to a vote. "I'm not against change, I just want it done right," he said.

Since the church is without a permanent senior pastor, the elder board decided to go ahead and make the hiring decision, according to elder Brad Noyes.

There's nothing sinister going on, Noyes said. As far as he's concerned, Thomas' experience leading a congregation and a Christian school, and his reputation, speak volumes about his character and ability.

"People can make accusations," Noyes said. "But I thought this was America -- innocent until proven guilty."

Although congregants have murmured about putting such a controversial figure on the payroll -- particularly at a time when the church has come into millions since selling a portion of its property for the expansion of an adjacent Wal-Mart store -- Oberg, who joined the congregation in 1929, doesn't put any stock in the fears that the money could be misused.

"I've known (the Rev. Thomas) for years, and he's squeaky clean," Oberg said.


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