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Originally published December 13, 2007 at 12:00 AM | Page modified December 13, 2007 at 11:36 AM

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Overlake church leaders: Usher may have taken more than $100k from plate

A longtime usher at Redmond's Overlake Christian Church, one of the area's larger churches, apparently stole money from church collections...

Seattle Times religion reporter

A longtime usher at Redmond's Overlake Christian Church, one of the area's larger churches, apparently stole money from church collections for years.

Church leaders said they don't yet know how much money was taken. But according to a recent incident report filed with the Redmond Police Department, the man may have stolen more than $100,000 over the past 10 years.

That amount is a worst-case scenario and a church team is trying to determine exactly how much was taken, said Seth Brickman, Overlake's chief financial officer.

The man is no longer an usher but is still a member of Overlake, though he can't serve in any leadership roles.

Church leaders said the apparent thefts are not a factor in Overlake's recent financial difficulties.

According to the Nov. 20 police report, Brickman said the former usher had been "acting unusual a few weeks ago and wanted to discuss his involvement with stealing cash donations from OCC."

So far, church leaders have not pressed charges. The police report said the leaders thought it may be difficult to prosecute due to lack of documentation and the long time period involved.

The Seattle Times is not naming the former usher because it generally does not name those who have not been charged with a crime. The man could not be reached for comment.

Church elders are talking with him about what they called a larger restoration plan that could return him spiritually "to the body of the church," said Senior Associate Pastor Dana Erickson.

Erickson and Brickman declined to say whether that includes paying the money back, though Brickman said "that's a potential."

That team will also decide whether to press charges.

"The overriding factor in this [is] it's a spiritual process," Erickson said, noting that Scripture talks about not taking a brother to court.

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"We would look to Scripture to make sure we're handling every step of the process biblically," he said.

Overlake leaders informed congregants of the matter in a letter sent last month, saying that "a former volunteer member of the usher team has admitted that he sinned against God and the church in his handling of some donated monies."

The letter goes on to say that "we can say in all confidence that with the current policies, procedures and safeguards in place that something like this would no longer be possible."

Brickman said Wednesday that safeguards include not allowing one person to be alone around church money. And the church also has sheriff's deputies escort donated funds to a safe.

Overlake has experienced both financial and attendance problems in recent years. Once the state's largest megachurch with more than 6,000 members, its attendance has dropped by about half since 1997, when it opened a $37 million facility.

In the past several years, the church has lost more than $1 million a year.

The letter to congregants, though, talks about this being "a new day at OCC, and we will not allow what's happened in the past to quench what God is doing in the present."

Brickman said the church is currently "self-sustaining, meeting all our commitments, able to conduct the ministries that God has called us to do."

Janet I. Tu: 206-464-2272 or jtu@seattletimes.com

Copyright © 2007 The Seattle Times Company

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