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Belleville Church Granted Stay on Suspending Pastor

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On Sept. 13, Classis Quinte (a regional group of churches) voted to suspend Rev. John Visser, pastor of Maranatha Christian Reformed Church in Belleville, Ontario. But the church applied to the denomination’s Board of Trustees for a stay of that action while it appeals that decision, and on Oct. 1 a stay was granted. (The board acts on behalf of synod, the church’s annual leadership meeting, when it is not in session.)

The classis also decided on Sept. 13 that an accredited independent assessment team would evaluate the policies and practices of Maranatha’s healing ministry. That assessment will go ahead. 

Maranatha’s healing ministry is at the heart of the dispute. Members concerned about the healing ministry raised several issues, including excessive power imbalance between counselors and counselees; labeling and diagnosing, a practice in which staff members diagnose a counselee's condition; and confidentiality—staff sharing a counselee's personal information with the Maranatha church council.

Classis Quinte appointed an independent team of church members primarily from outside the classis to assess the healing ministry. That team’s assessment was that Visser was guilty of breaking confidentiality and abuse of office, which are grounds for deposition in the CRC.

The classis voted in May and again in June to request that the Maranatha council depose Visser. The Sept. 13 decision to suspend rather than depose stems from the fact that the church has appealed the earlier decisions to Synod 2012.

Potentially the classis and the denomination could be named in any future lawsuits filed against Maranatha.

One former member already filed a $1 million-dollar lawsuit against the church, charging that the pastor had abused his position of influence in a counseling relationship for his own gain, but the lawsuit was subsequently dropped.

Legal counsel for the classis advised that the classis should take whatever steps it can to manage potential future liability.

Following the Sept. 13 classis meeting, Rev. John Suk, pastor of Cobourg (Ont.) CRC, said, “This is hard. It was done prayerfully.”

Of the classis decision, Visser said, “Obviously I’m disappointed, but I have confidence in the appeal process that the issues at stake will be clarified.”

The appeal will go through the denomination’s Judicial Code process. The Judicial Code is part of the Church Order of the CRC to ensure just treatment of those involved in judgments and decisions of the church.

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