Church Cites "Stress, Grief, and Fatigue" For Embattled Pastor Steve Wingfield's Sabbatical

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Pastor Steve Wingfield. - FACEBOOK, USED WITH PERMISSION.
  • Facebook, used with permission.
  • Pastor Steve Wingfield.

After months of criticism, pastor Steve Wingfield is taking a paid sabbatical to escape the hubbub. Boasting a congregation of more than 2,000 members, Wingfield's church, First Christian Church of Florrisant (or FCCF), is among the largest evangelical institutions in north county. It's also become a battleground between Wingfield's supporters and those who believe he failed to improve the church's sexual assault policies after a former youth minister was exposed as a child a molester and sentenced to 25 years in prison in March.

In a statement made during the July 26 Sunday services, Stan Dubose, vice chairmen of the church's board of elders, told the congregation that Wingfield needed a break.

"During this time away from the church, Steve will be seeking counsel, not only to address the stress, grief, fatigue and emotional trauma that he has sustained, but also to address issues that have become deficits to his management and leadership style," Dubose said, according to a recording made by a church member. "It is important for you to know that this action is in NO way a reflection of a change of direction on the part of the elders regarding our support, trust and belief that Steve Wingfield is a man called of God to be and to serve as senior pastor here at First Christian Church."

The statement is curious, since it appears to play on both sides of the Wingfield controversy: On one hand, Wingifeld's supporters insist their pastor has the endured "emotional trauma" of unfair criticism and harassment; Wingfield's opponents, however, argue that his authoritarian "leadership style" is destroying the church.

FCCF's most ardent critics view the sabbatical as an empty gesture, which isn't surprising considering that Wingfield previously filed a defamation lawsuit against several former and current church members who dared to publicly oppose him.

First Christian Church of Florrsiant  occupies a sprawling, $18 million campus. - DANNY WICENTOWSKI
  • Danny Wicentowski
  • First Christian Church of Florrsiant occupies a sprawling, $18 million campus.

There's also the matter of former youth minister Brandon Milburn, who confessed to molesting two eleven-year-old boys he'd met through FCCF events. Those who worked with and knew Milburn allege that Wingfield ignored warnings and then tried to suppress whistle-blowers.

"The Brandon Milburn situation was kind of the impetus that opened Pandora's box," says Matt Mueller, one of Wingfield's most outspoken critics. "It got people talking and looking at FCCF and the leadership there. As we examined the overall leadership of the church, a large group of people came to believe that the Brandon Milburn situation was simply a symptom of an overall leadership failure."

For Mueller, the campaign to unseat Wingfield and reform FCCF is also personal. Once an active church member, he was informed last month that he and his wife had been banned from FCCF property.

"They've basically ignored my attempts at reconciliation," Mueller says.

Messages left at FCCF seeking comment were not returned.

Even as FCCF considers its future with Wingfield, the church community continues to struggle with the aftermath of Milburn's crimes. Although the church has offered to pay for counseling services for the victims, Mueller and others were dismayed to learn that the counseling would be limited to only twelve sessions and would require the victim to meet with a church official first.

"If you're one of the victims, or a family of the victims, it's a slap in the face. It's re-victimizing," Mueller says. "I think FCCF is at a point where they've addressed the sexual abuse as much as they're going to address it. In their own words, they're moving on."

To dig deeper into the sordid backstory of the FCCF and Brandon Milburn controversies, make sure to check our previous coverage:

-- A Youth Minister's Downfall Is Tearing First Christian Church of Florissant Apart -- Whistleblowers Fight Back Against Pastor Steve Wingfield's Lawsuit -- Pastor Drops Lawsuit Against First Christian Church of Florissant Whistleblowers -- Professor's Accusations Led to South County Pastor Yanking Bible College Funding

Follow Danny Wicentowski on Twitter at @D_Towski. E-mail the author at Danny.Wicentowski@RiverfrontTimes.com

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