BY JOE MARVILLI
Dozens of parishioners gathered outside their church in Flushing on Sunday, demonstrating against their pastor for what they saw as a misuse of church funds.
Around 50 individuals gathered outside the First United Methodist Church in Flushing on April 27, holding up signs and wearing masks in a form of silent protest. This action was the result of months of back-and-forth motions with letters and attempts at a mutual conversation with Pastor Dong-Il Chang. All of these efforts failed to materialize in a meeting, making a protest the next step.
The main complaint that the parishioners have is about Rev. Chang’s lack of transparency when dealing with the church’s money.
“We just want a church conference and we want to investigate our own way to the church finances,” Henry HJ Chae, one of the demonstration’s leaders, said. “But he doesn’t want to do that. He doesn’t want to open the books.”
According to a letter sent by several members of the congregation to Bishop Martin McLee in November, Chang has taken money out of the church and has not submitted receipts or any proof of where the money went. One of the reverend’s main projects was a “Jesus Festival,” which the church held a few times under his leadership. The letter mentioned that these congregants thought the event wasted a lot of money.
“Without talking to the appropriate leadership committees, Rev. Chang has invited his pastor friends from Los Angeles as the guest preachers for the early dawn morning services each day. They were five pastors with their spouses,” the letter said. “All they said was that we should love our pastor, care for him, serve him and obey him no matter what. In order to hear that kind of shallow, defensive message, the church had to pay for their airfare, lodging and on top of that, the honoraria ($1,000 to each pastor).”
The letter further states that Rev. Chang has “abolished” a cell group volunteer system that serves meals for other volunteers, like the choir members. Instead, it said he hired a chef. He has also reportedly refused to live in the parsonage on the church property, having the church instead rent a residence for him in Bayside.
While the parishioners sent letters to Rev. Chang in an attempt to form a church conference or town hall meeting where these issues could be discussed, he refused to do so. With no movement on the issue, a follow-up letter was sent in February 2014. In this notice, the members said that the church lost 250 parishioners, who felt alienated by the Pastor’s methods. The letter also stated that the title to one of the church’s cars was transferred to Chang’s wife. The transaction was never brought to the attention of the Board of Trustees or Administrative Council.
The Queens Tribune acquired a document stating that the current owner of the car in question is the pastor’s wife. The original owner is listed as the First United Methodist Church.
Another follow-up went on to say that Rev. Chang called out the concerned members who had sent the letters during a dawn prayer meeting.
“During his preaching on the Book of Revelations at these meetings, the Pastor has described our group as ‘evil spirited,’ ‘Satan’ and ‘New Heaven and Earth heresy.’ This is an abuse of the pulpit,” the letter said.
On March 24, McLee sent a response to the parishioners, in which he said the complaint was “vague and general and does not rise to the level of a chargeable offense,” and dismissed the matter.
When asked to comment, McLee said that the protestors were a small number of a large congregation of more than 2,000 that is satisfied with the state of the Flushing church.
“It is not unusual for church’s where you have a small group that is unhappy to take that unhappiness to public display. In any situation where I have gotten letters, I have responded and met with the individuals. Unfortunately for some, that is never enough,” he said. “The overwhelming majority of members are very happy.”
Rev. Chang did not respond to requests for comment.
Reach Joe Marvilli at (718) 357-7400, Ext. 125, firstname.lastname@example.org, or @Joey788.