In the News

Pastor took church funds, congregants allege in suit

By SANDRA K. REABUCK for the Tribune Democrat
July 27, 2006

EBENSBURG — Nineteen members of the Chickaree Union Church – known as the Jesus Saves Church – are suing their former pastor, saying he depleted church accounts of upwards of $25,000 without authorization.

The Rev. Randy L. Rugh was pastor of the small Jackson Township church from January 2002 until March, when he abruptly told parishioners he was “closing the church,” according to the lawsuit.

The suit said he doesn’t have that authority, and the church’s 19 members said the church continues to hold services.

Neither Rugh, who lives in New Alexandria, Westmoreland County, nor his lawyer, Leonard Reeves of Latrobe, could be reached for comment.

No criminal charges have been filed.

Parishioners said Rugh – and the nonprofit Chickaree Union Church Inc. he formed without their knowledge – used the funds to start a new church in Blairsville. The New Beginning Fellowship reportedly held its first services in April.

The suit says Rugh cashed in two certificates of deposit and closed a savings account totaling $25,675 between June 2005 and March.

Another account with more than $20,000 also may have existed based on a page in a 2003 church ledger, said attorney Timothy Burns said of Ebensburg. He represents the 19 members of the non-denominational congregation.

But they don’t know the full extent of any loss because Rugh supposedly has the books.

“These church members feel betrayed by him, especially because he’s someone who’s a spiritual leader,” Burns said.

A hint of Rugh’s thinking was noted in a police report when he returned some property – including 52 hymnals and 21 pew Bibles – he had moved out in March. Rugh told police, “They didn’t know if the church would be demolished because of the (Route) 22 construction, and his lawyer … told him he can take anything that isn’t bolted down.”

The Chickaree Mountain house of worship sports a lighted “Jesus Saves” sign above the door.