The Sting (part 1 of 3)

The story below happened to me. I wrote it up as a case study for a class I taught. Every word (except the name of other people) is true – including the twist at the very end. I promise it isn’t made up.

As you read it, think about what you would do in my situation. Over 20 years have now passed since this happened, but embezzlement happens every week in some church in America. Be aware of the opportunities for theft and prevent them.


The Story

The administrator had been at the church for about three months when Rachel called. Rachel was in her 70s and a long-time Finance Office volunteer. She was a sweet lady known for helping and occasionally putting her nose in where it didn’t belong; she always meant well but she had her quirks. Rachel told Steve that the church’s Sunday School secretary, Jody, was stealing money. Rachel was good friends with a man who worked with Jody. Every Monday the man made a bank deposit for the company and every Monday Jody gave the man about $60 in ones and fives to deposit into her personal bank account. Rachel made the accusation that the cash was stolen by Jody each week from the church.

Steve didn’t know what to do. It would have been ridiculous for him to accuse Jody. For 20 years she had been volunteering at the church and her dad did the same job for 20 years before that. It was a revered family and it was still recovering from the early death of Jody’s mom just a few years before. Jody was in her 50s and Steve was just 33 and brand new to the church. Steve told Rachel that there wasn’t anything he could do until Rachel had some proof. Rachel scoffed at that and said that because it was all done in cash, there wasn’t any proof. Steve did nothing and told no one.

Steve continued to work with Rachel and Jody for the next several years, never forgetting that accusation. Three years after that first call, Rachel walked into Steve’s office and closed the door. “Steve, she’s continuing to steal money. I don’t have proof, I just know that she’s doing it. Why else would she have cash every Monday to be deposited? She’s taking money from the church. It’s not much, about $30 each week, but that adds up over the year.”

By now Steve knew Rachel – she had a good heart, loved her church, volunteered often, and was not mean-spirited. By now Steve had built up a good reputation at the church and was a trusted staff member. Steve knew that Jody was always well-intentioned, much beloved at the church, always willing to help anyone in anyway, and just a nice person.

Steve decided to share this confidentially with two church leaders: Larry, the church’s legal counsel and Bob, the Administration lay coordinator (lay member responsible for all non-ministry things such as the building and finances). Both Larry and Bob were also church elders and highly respected members. Steve asked both of them to meet him off-site and told them the story.


Background Info

The church had an 8 a.m. Sunday early worship and an 11 a.m. Sunday regular worship. The ushers were trained to place all tithes and offerings from the early worship in a bank bag which was then left in the church’s Sunday School office in Jody’s care. Jody got to the church every Sunday about 7 a.m. and stayed in the office till the 11 a.m. worship. The ushers at the 11 a.m. service also collected their offerings into a bank bag; they took their bag and the 8 a.m. worship bag (which they got from the Sunday School office) to a church safe next to the Finance Office. Two ushers always accompanied the bank bags as they traveled around the church. Every Monday, the church treasurer and volunteers got the money out of the safe and counted the offerings. Then, the money went to the bank about 2 p.m. on Monday.

Steve knew that the combined Sunday morning cash was only about $250 each week and that about $75 of that came from the early worship service. If Jody was taking $30 each week from the early service she was probably also taking money from the Wednesday Supper receipts which had about $500 in cash each week. Every Wednesday a volunteer collected supper payments and put all the money in a bank bag. The volunteer left the bank bag in the Sunday School office under Jody’s care till the church treasurer finished eating. Then the church treasurer took the bank bag to the safe. Steve thought that if Jody was taking about $30 from both the Wednesday supper money and the 8 a.m. Sunday worship offerings, that would equal the $60 her co-worker deposited each week in her bank account.


Lead On!