The pastoral credentials of a former U.S. Conference of MB Churches (USMB) district minister have been revoked.
The USMB Board of Faith and Life and the Pacific District Conference Board of Faith and Life have revoked the ordination and credentialing of Gary Wall, Pacific District Conference (PDC) minister from 2002 to 2019. Wall’s ministry status has been updated to state that Wall is “not suited to serve in a district, national or international role in the Mennonite Brethren denomination unless and until he chooses to re-engage in a satisfactory reconciliation process with denominational leadership.”
Pat Coyle announced the decision Nov. 29, 2022, during a meeting for PDC pastors and church members held at North Fresno Church, Fresno, Calif., and on Zoom. Coyle chairs the Restoration Team formed in June 2021 to address matters surrounding Wall’s departure and is a former PDC moderator.
Claims deemed accurate
Wall’s ordination and credentials were revoked because claims regarding Wall’s conduct and intent in connection with a “reverse” sting operation at a massage parlor were determined to be accurate. The Fresno Police Department and FBI conducted the sting Jan. 23, 2019, in response to suspected of illicit activity and human trafficking.
The PDC Restoration Team contracted with Telios Law Firm of Monument, Colorado, a practice that assists nonprofit and religious groups, to investigate the events of January 2019. The Restoration Team submitted its final report in May 2022. The report stated that “based on the findings of the Telios Law Firm, the Restoration Team is unanimously recommending that PDC/USMB leadership revoke Gary Wall’s Mennonite Brethren ordination and credentialing.”
Delegates to the July 2022 USMB National Convention who attended a Friday afternoon session hosted by the USMB Board of Faith and Life were told of the recommendation. At that session, USMB BFL chair Tim Sullivan said that the national BFL and the PDC BFL would be meeting in fall to process the recommendation. This was the first time PDC or USMB leaders addressed Wall’s actions in a public setting.
Coyle reported that the national BFL had affirmed the recommendation when it met in October 2022 as did the district BFL when it met in September. Wall had voluntarily returned his credentials, and according to Coyle, Wall was hopeful they would be restored as part of the restoration process. That did not happen, and his credentials are now revoked.
Coyle provided a review of the timeline before answering questions.
On January 23, 2019, Wall was detained, questioned and released by the Fresno Police Department and FBI during a sting operation at Angel Massage in Fresno.
In April 2019, Wall met with Coyle to submit his letter of resignation as the PDC minister effective Dec. 31, 2019, to serve with the International Community of Mennonite Brethren (ICOMB) as the U.S. national director. At that time, Wall did not inform PDC leaders of the January incident. In May, the PDC announced Wall’s resignation.
In April, as he was returning from an ICOMB staff meeting in Mexico, Wall was informed that the Fresno prosecutor would press charges against him in connection with the January sting operation. Wall immediately informed Coyle. He also told Josh Wilson, chair of the Fresno Pacific University board of directors and a member of the PDC executive board, and Jay Wiebe, a member of the Executive Board and a friend of Wall’s.
“Gary was very distraught,” Coyle said. “I was concerned for his safety. He was in rough shape.”
Wall was formally charged April 22, 2019, with a single count of engaging and agreeing to engage in prostitution stemming from the January events.
During June, Wall secured legal counsel and met twice with the PDC Executive Board. Wall “laid out his story” for the Executive Board and the board asked questions and gathered information. At the time, “everything lined up,” Coyle said.
Based on a plea agreement reached in August 2019, Wall was able to withdraw his plea of no contest given that he had met certain conditions. Wall’s hearing, initially set for nine months later, was delayed when courts closed due to COVID-19. In August 2020, the case was dismissed.
In November 2019 Wall resigned from ICOMB citing personal reasons.
Details of the case were made public in December 2019 when an article was published by Mennonite World Review, an independent magazine (now Anabaptist World) that serves the global Anabaptist church.
During 2020, the PDC Executive Board continued to process what was happening with Wall, began looking for a new district minister and continued to “try to give leadership to the district,” Coyle said.
Restoration Team formed
In the spring of 2021, Wall indicated to USMB BFL chair Sullivan that he desired restoration. In a meeting with PDC representatives, Wall stated this his desire was for restoration of relationships, restoration of his reputation, restoration of his MB ministry credentials and an opportunity to offer repentance, confession and forgiveness before a representative group of constituents.
A Restoration Team of Coyle, Dennis Fast, Dina Gonzales-Piña and Valerie Rempel, all of the PDC, and Jana Hildebrandt, a member of the USMB Board of Faith and Life, was appointed by the PDC and in consultation with USMB leadership. The team decided to employ Telios Law Firm to provide an objective assessment.
Members of the Restoration Team met with Wall in February 2022 to clarify the process and to confirm Wall’s goals in the restoration process. The involvement of Telios “bothered” Wall, Coyle said, and he withdrew from the process without offering a reason for doing so.
Despite Wall’s decision to no longer be involved, “the team felt we needed to carry on,” Coyle said. The Restoration Team received Telios’ final report May 16, 2022, and shared the report with Morris, Sullivan and USMB Leadership Board chair Luke Haidle. The Restoration Team and USMB leaders prepared a statement for the USMB National Convention.
Details of the Telios report were not shared in July at the USMB National Convention or at the November PDC meeting.
“We weren’t prepared”
PDC leadership has been criticized for how it handled the situation, and Coyle addressed some of those concerns when he offered personal “take-aways” for local, district and national church leaders.
“You have to have a plan in place that you understand and, in a sense, rehearse so that—not if something like this happens, but when something like this happens—you know what to do. Without an objective plan, you’re going to get lost pretty fast.”
Coyle continued, “We simply did not do a good job, and a lot of it was we weren’t prepared.”
Coyle apologized for not leading “as well as we could have.” He said, “We made missteps and made decisions that I know were questioned. We have to be honest, in hindsight, we just didn’t always know what to do.”
When asked what has been done to hold leaders accountable going forward and to help congregations develop protocols, PDC Board of Faith and Life chair Dina Gonzalez-Pina spoke about the importance of accountability and talked about making changes to the licensing process. Gonzalez-Pina reported that the PDC BFL had a retreat in September to begin developing recommendations to churches and will hold a second retreat in March 2023.
Jordan Ringhofer, PDC minister, reported that two years ago the district created a document outlining a procedure and recommendations to follow when a leader is accused of sexual misconduct and/or abuse. The USMB BFL also has a resource manual. The PDC employee manual has also been updated and funds are budgeted for the district minister and spouse to receive regular counseling. Ringhofer encouraged all churches to provide similar resourcing for pastors.
Coyle also apologized for the lack of care PDC leaders had shown Wall’s wife and daughters and their families. The Restoration Team along with USMB’s Morris and Sullivan has prepared a letter addressed to the family requesting forgiveness for the lack of care and stating their commitment to provide care moving forward. Part of that commitment is that a liaison, someone the family is comfortable with, will be identified to “make sure that happens,” Coyle said.
PDC minister Ringhofer added that the Executive Board is committed to providing funds for counseling or other resources that Wall family members would request.
When asked if the Presbyterian church in Las Vegas that is currently employing Wall has been informed of Wall’s status, Coyle said there has been no official communication from the Restoration Team or PDC or USMB leaders.
Connie Faber joined the magazine staff in 1994 and assumed the duties of editor in 2004. She has won awards from the Evangelical Press Association for her writing and editing. Faber is the co-author of Family Matters: Discovering the Mennonite Brethren. She and her husband, David, have two daughters, one son, one daughter-in-law, one son-in-law and one grandson. They are members of Ebenfeld MB Church in Hillsboro, Kansas.