Traverse City Record-Eagle

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March 7, 2014

Pastor sues former church over contract

TRAVERSE CITY — A controversial pastor’s public schism with his former church moved into the legal realm.

The Rev. David Walls accused First Congregational Church council members of breach of contract in a civil complaint filed in 13th Circuit Court. Last year he agreed to resign from senior pastor post with the understanding that he could still draw his $110,000 salary for a year.

Walls received two of 12 required payments before the church’s attorney informed him in December that the payments would stop, the lawsuit states.

“We’re not looking to expand this into a larger conflagration between Dr. Walls and his former congregation,” said Craig Neckers, a Grand Rapids attorney who represents Walls. “We want them to honor the agreement.”

David Jankowski is the church’s new council president. He said council members strongly disagree with the lawsuit’s allegations and will soon file an answer in court.

“Because litigation has just begun we have no further comment,” he said.

The lawsuit is the latest development in a public rupture between Walls and First Congregational Church, a prominent Protestant church on Old Mission Peninsula. In 2012, Walls’ decision to exclude a Muslim call to prayer from a Veterans Day concert put the church at the heart of a community controversy.

The incident isn’t mentioned in the lawsuit, but it does cite unnamed “issues” with Walls’ leadership that led church officials to propose he retire. Walls accepted a retirement agreement in August and then left his position early when the former church council president waived a notice requirement.

Many former Congregational members, including several church councilors, stayed with Walls when he opened the nondenominational Christ Church in October. Court documents state Walls received notice before Christmas that severance payments would cease because the agreement contradicted a church bylaw -- the same bylaw waived by the former council president.

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