“If we have no peace, it is because we have forgotten that we belong to each other.” ―
I will provide the entire announcement from the leaders at the Vineyard at the end of this post. In my opinion, they now have been handling this situation well.
The following comment from a reader was appreciated. Notice how well he expresses his frustration and confusion as he seeks to respond to this situation. Baird: thank you for caring about the victims.
For anyone following this story, Michael Gatlin has resigned as our head pastor now: https://duluthvineyard.org/our-response-to-allegations-of-misconduct/
Like his son, he apparently wasn’t cooperating with the GRACE investigation. I get that it’s maybe the expedient thing to do if you’re in that position, but so much for all those sermons about Christian values like honesty, love, and caring for the community!
The thing I’m struggling to shake is the idea that Michael and Brenda were the only two that allegedly knew about the accusations and did nothing. The student and kids ministry pastors really didn’t know or hear about it. Even if they didn’t, how did no one notice this creepy thirty-year-old man spending so much private time with young girls or not think that was inappropriate? I feel frustrated and confused about what to do. I feel so sorry for the victims and that our community has failed to protect them.
Michael Gatlin’s Resignation As Our Senior Pastor
February 23, 2023
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 firstname.lastname@example.org. 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)