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Notice of Brenda's Resignation from Vineyard USA

March 1, 2023

Hello,

On Monday, February 22, 2023, Vineyard USA announced on their website Brenda Gatlin’s resignation as a Super Regional Leader for Vineyard USA and Michael Gatlin’s resignation as a Trustee on the Vineyard USA Board and on the Board of Vineyard Worship.

As a reminder, we encourage all reports of criminal activities to be reported to law enforcement. Please do so by calling 911. We have also contracted with a company called Godly Response to Abuse in the Christian Environment (GRACE) to conduct an independent investigation into allegations related to the Gatlins. If you have information that may be relevant to their investigation, please contact GRACE by emailing Emily Petrie at [email protected]

The grace of the Lord Jesus Christ be with you,

The Special Committee of the Church Council (Ben Mork,  Ann LaCosse, Jerry Lieffring and Gerry Nierengarten)

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This message is sent on behalf of the Special Committee. Please contact John Kliewer with any questions or concerns.


We encourage all reports of criminal activities to be reported to law enforcement. Please do so by calling 911. 


At present, these allegations are being independently investigated by a contracted company called Godly Response to Abuse in the Christian Environment (GRACE).

If you have information that may be relevant to this investigation, please contact GRACE by emailing Emily Petrie at [email protected]


Available local resources:


 

Update on Investigation

February 26, 2023

Michael Gatlin's Resignation As Our Senior Pastor

February 23, 2023

Hello,

This week, Michael Gatlin submitted his resignation as Duluth Vineyard’s Senior Pastor.

His resignation comes in the context of allegations of misconduct against one of our former pastoral assistants and Michael’s son, Jackson Gatlin. There are also allegations that Michael and Brenda Gatlin knew about this misconduct at the time and failed to act. This matter is being investigated by the police. And, we have contracted with a company called Godly Response to Abuse in the Christian Environment (GRACE) to conduct an independent investigation. More background information is available on the updates page on our website

As part of his employment, Michael had been repeatedly directed to cooperate fully with both any law enforcement investigation and our independent investigation. Immediately prior to Michael’s resignation, we directed him to provide a statement to the Special Committee detailing his response and the actions he took, if any, to certain allegations of misconduct regarding Jackson Gatlin. We are Michael’s supervisor, yet he missed our deadline and never provided a statement. We had also advised him that his failure or refusal to provide information we had requested or to be interviewed by GRACE may result in the termination of his employment. In his resignation letter, Michael told us that he found himself unable to cooperate with the process established by GRACE and the Special Committee.

We view the GRACE investigation as crucial for finding the truth and helping our community heal and move forward. If you have information that may be relevant to their investigation, please contact GRACE by emailing Emily Petrie at [email protected]. We also encourage anyone with information related to criminal activity to report it to law enforcement. Please do so by calling 911. As the investigation continues, we want to reaffirm our commitment to Jesus, to the truth, and to putting victims first.

Also, we want to again say to all survivors of abuse that we hear you and believe you. It is

never your fault. And, you are not alone. We are praying for you and we call our community to a time of prayer and lament. As Jesus was always on the side of the vulnerable and the wounded, in our response to abuse the safety and care of survivors must always come first.

For all of us who love Michael and have benefited from his ministry as the Senior Pastor of the Duluth Vineyard, we remind you that more than one thing can be true at the same time. Michael is a gifted leader and God has used him in powerful ways. Michael has helped many of us experience the love and new life that Jesus brings. And, at the same time, Michael is human just like us. We all fall short. We need to be patient and wait for the fact finding to be complete, yet the allegations against Michael are serious.

We are going through a difficult time. And, we are going through it together. Please reach out to your friends, small group leader, and pastors for support. If you don’t attend a small group, there is no better time to start. And, let’s also offer support to each other. Further, let’s never forget that we are going through this with Jesus as our comforter, friend, savior and king. God’s loving presence through the Holy Spirit is always available to us. Holy Spirit, Come!

As a community, we are going to be dealing with this for a while. During that process, we don’t want to be overly optimistic or pretend that this isn’t heartbreaking and very serious. And, we always want to look for the good that Jesus is doing in this troubled world, because he has overcome this world. Often in the midst of our suffering, that good is in us. 

We also glory in our sufferings, because we know that suffering produces perseverance; perseverance, character; and character, hope. And hope does not put us to shame, because God’s love has been poured out into our hearts through the Holy Spirit, who has been given to us.  – Romans 5:3–5

This is going to hurt. And, God could make the Duluth Vineyard a stronger, better, more loving community because of the work he does in our hearts as we walk through this together.  Let’s not miss what the Holy Spirit is doing in us and in our community.

As we start to look forward, the Duluth Vineyard’s mission to make disciples remains the same. Our vision to develop a community of disciples of Jesus who love and experience God, who love one another, and who partner with Christ to bring healing to our world has not changed. We’re not the best church or the only church. We pray for other churches to remind ourselves that the Kingdom of God is bigger than the Duluth Vineyard. And, there is also something special about the Duluth Vineyard. God has chosen to work in us and through us and we expect that to continue in powerful ways as we go forward.

No one is ever completely prepared for a senior pastor to leave under these circumstances, yet the Duluth Vineyard has a number of advantages. First, although Michael recently resumed working full time for the Duluth Vineyard, for over a decade he worked part time for the Duluth Vineyard and part time for Vineyard USA overseeing church planting. During that time, the church supplemented Michael’s part time leadership with a skilled and mature Senior Leadership Team, preaching team and pastoral care team. Second, the Church Council has a Succession Planning Committee and an Emergency Succession Plan that we are putting into place. Over time, we’ll see that play out as that Committee, led by Michele DeNoble, organize a pastoral search committee, finalize a job description, evaluate candidates and eventually ask the Congregational Members to vote on a new Senior Pastor. During this transition, the Senior Leadership Team (Brian Brinkert, Casey LaCore and John Kliewer) will continue to provide leadership and perform the duties of our senior pastor, as they have done so well since Michael was placed on leave at the beginning of February.

What can you do to help? Keep praying. Please. We need God and his will to be done. Remain open-minded. Resist the desire to speculate and gossip. Wait until the investigation is completed before making any judgment about allegations against anyone. The investigation will only be complete when all available information is obtained. Try to remain patient. Both a thorough investigation and a successful search for a new senior pastor can be lengthy processes. Also, let yourself feel whatever emotions arise. Allegations of wrongdoing can stir up all kinds of feelings within us, including past hurts. Let yourself feel whatever emotions arise. As discussed above, stay connected with the community and reach out for support.

May the grace of the Lord Jesus Christ, and the love of God, and the fellowship of the Holy Spirit be with you all,

The Special Committee of the Church Council (Ben Mork,  Ann LaCosse, Jerry Lieffring and Gerry Nierengarten)

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This message is sent on behalf of the Special Committee. Please contact John Kliewer with any questions or concerns.


 

February 13, 2023

Hello,

As Jesus said the truth will set us free, we are committed to diligently seeking the truth related to the allegations of misconduct by Jackson Gatlin and the allegations that Duluth Vineyard management was aware of this misconduct at the time and failed to act.

All Duluth Vineyard employees have been told that they must cooperate fully with the independent investigation being conducted by a company called Godly Response to Abuse in the Christian Environment (GRACE).

Jackson Gatlin’s employment with the Duluth Vineyard has been terminated because of his failure and refusal, as requested and directed, to meet with the GRACE investigator.

If you have information that may be relevant to their investigation, please contact GRACE by emailing Emily Petrie at [email protected]. We also encourage anyone with information related to criminal activity to report it to law enforcement. Please do so by calling 911. 

The grace of the Lord Jesus Christ be with you,

The Special Committee of the Church Council (Ben Mork,  Ann LaCosse, Jerry Lieffring and Gerry Nierengarten)

====================

This message is sent on behalf of the Special Committee. Please contact John Kliewer with any questions or concerns.

Update on Investigation

February 5, 2023


February 3, 2023

Hello,

We hope that you were able to read our message from January 29th concerning allegations of misconduct against one of our pastoral assistants (Jackson Gatlin) and how the resulting investigation and employment decisions related to Jackson Gatlin are being overseen by an independent Special Committee of our Church Council. Since then, we have also placed our Senior Pastor (Michael Gatlin) on a leave of absence.

This is a fast evolving situation, particularly with regard to law enforcement involvement. The first reports that the Special Committee received were anonymous and, when we took those reports to the police, we were told by the police that they could not start an investigation without victims' names. That changed this week when victims began identifying themselves on social media. So, we reported this matter to the police again this week and there is now an ongoing criminal investigation.

We encourage all reports of criminal activities to be reported to law enforcement. Please do so by calling 911. We have also contracted with a company called Godly Response to Abuse in the Christian Environment (GRACE) to conduct an independent investigation. If you have information that may be relevant to their investigation, please contact GRACE by emailing Emily Petrie at [email protected]

We want to say to all survivors of abuse that we hear you and believe you. It is never your fault. And, you are not alone. We are praying for you and we call our community to a time of prayer and lament. As Jesus was always on the side of the vulnerable and the wounded, in our response to abuse the safety and care of survivors must always come first.

With the love of Christ,

The Special Committee of the Church Council (Ben Mork,  Ann LaCosse, Jerry Lieffring and Gerry Nierengarten)


This message is sent on behalf of the Special Committee. Please contact John Kliewer with any questions or concerns.

Our Response to Allegations of Misconduct

January 29, 2023

Hello,

No one likes to receive difficult news and we are saddened that we are the bearers of that news. We share this information with a heavy heart.

Yet, let’s not forget that our God has an amazing way of using difficult situations for his glory. Our hope, our prayer is that the Holy Spirit will give us the gift of unity and strength to do God’s will. And, as we together respond like Jesus to this difficult situation, our response will bring glory to God – both strengthening his people and helping others to see his goodness.  So, we ask for your patience as we seek truth and justice. Let’s start by remembering that we are loved by God and called to be his holy people. His truth, grace and peace are what we need as we enter a difficult time as a Duluth Vineyard community. 

Our community is responding to allegations of misconduct against one of our pastoral assistants, Jackson Gatlin. At present, the allegations against him involve conduct from several years ago. We have contracted with a company called Godly Response to Abuse in the Christian Environment (GRACE) to conduct an independent investigation. One of our values is transparency, yet we are not going to say anything more about the allegations at this time because we need to protect the ongoing investigation and any victims. Accountability and integrity are also key values. When the investigation is complete, we expect to have more to say and we will say it. In the meantime, let us assure you that the safety and security of our church community is critically important to us and we have policies and procedures in place to protect them. The Duluth Vineyard has suspended Jackson Gatlin during this investigation.

During the investigation, we might experience feeling quite uncomfortable, very similar to what the Israelites experienced in the wilderness. Our community will be in a liminal space, an in-between time of transition. During this uncertain time of testing, we will have a great opportunity to grow our trust in God, to surrender to his wisdom, and to demonstrate our commitment to being his people. We encourage you to listen to Michael Gatlin’s recent sermon on liminal space and learning to trust. As a community, let’s work together to let the Holy Spirit use this time to make us more like Jesus.

Next, let us share how we are addressing the fact that Jackson Gatlin is the son of our Senior Pastor, Michael Gatlin. In keeping with our Nepotism Policy and best practices, the investigation and employment decisions related to Jackson Gatlin are overseen independently from Michael and Brenda Gatlin. Our Church Council (the legal board of directors) has created a Special Committee made up of independent members (none of them work for the Duluth Vineyard or are related to any employees). The Special Committee members are Ben Mork (chair),  Ann LaCosse, Jerry Lieffring, and Gerry Nierengarten. These are the folks who will know all that we know and will control our response to the investigation. John Kliewer is serving as staff support for the Special Committee and liaison between the senior pastor and the Special Committee. 

Here are a few of the key principles guiding the Special Committee as we proceed:

  • We will continually seek Jesus’ mind and will, through His Spirit and the Word of God, in all actions and decisions related to the allegations of misconduct.
  • As Jesus said the truth will set us free, we will diligently seek the truth related to the allegations of misconduct.
  • As Jesus was always on the side of the vulnerable and the wounded, in our response to the allegations of misconduct the safety and care of the alleged victims must always come first.

What can you do to help? Pray. Remain open-minded. Resist the desire to speculate and gossip. Don’t try to guess or figure out who is making the allegations. They deserve anonymity. And, stay connected with the community. Let yourself feel whatever emotions arise. Allegations of wrongdoing can stir up all kinds of feelings within us, including past hurts. Reach out to our pastoral staff or others and get the support you need. And, try to remain patient. A thorough investigation can be a lengthy process. Also, if you have information that may be relevant to this investigation, please contact GRACE by emailing Emily Petrie at [email protected]

May the grace of the Lord Jesus Christ, and the love of God, and the fellowship of the Holy Spirit be with you all,

The Special Committee of the Church Council (Ben Mork,  Ann LaCosse, Jerry Lieffring and Gerry Nierengarten)


Dear Duluth Vineyard Church,

As this situation unfolds, I want to assure you that I’m not leading in this process, and at the same time, I am still serving as the senior pastor of the Duluth Vineyard Church. I am incredibly thankful that I do not bear this responsibility alone. The staff, leadership, and ministry teams who serve alongside us are sensitive and capable leaders we can trust.

I have complete confidence in the team involved: the members of the special committee, who are tasked with overseeing this process; our church council, our senior leadership team, our staff and our leaders. I also have complete confidence in the Lord to lead us in this difficult time.

I will participate in the fact-finding process and I encourage you to participate in this process as well. I hope to see a full and thorough investigation of these allegations. There is great freedom to be experienced as we bring hidden things into the light. We don’t need to fear the truth. It’s only as we walk in the light that we can experience the healing Christ offers.

Standing firm in God’s unending love, 
Michael Gatlin


This message is sent on behalf of the Special Committee. Please contact John Kliewer with any questions or concerns.

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