Sometimes, the pastor wonders if he should have raised Hell.
Edwin Melhorn alleged in a lawsuit he is no longer the spiritual leader of Cedar Grove United Methodist Church in Parkton because he questioned whether the church was committing fraud or tax evasion by accepting a seven-figure bequest.
A Baltimore County Circuit Court judge threw out Melhorn’s wrongful discharge case earlier this month. Melhorn, in an interview last week, said he would like to appeal the ruling although he wasn’t sure it would be worth it.
But neither, he has concluded, would it have been worth it to be combative or mean-spirited as he attempted to right what he perceived to be a wrong, that some of the money was earmarked for a cemetery the church no longer owned.
“It’s not the way I was brought up,” he said. “It was not the way I was trained.”
Melhorn, 81, brought a three-page, typed timeline of his version of events – headlined “Meeting with Daily Record reporter” – to our interview. He wore a sweater between his blazer and his tie and referred to himself in the third-person enough times that it was noticeable but not enough times to sound pretentious.
Why, for example, did he raise a fuss in the first place?
“Somebody’s going to find out about this,” he recalled thinking. “Someday, they’re going to ask, ‘Melhorn, why didn’t you do anything about this?’ I felt I was in jeopardy.”
So he spoke with the church’s lawyer. He spoke with the church’s board of trustees and remained professional even after the board “humiliated” him by not inviting him to church meetings and scolding him for speaking to a painter hired to work on the church. He spoke to officials with The Baltimore-Washington Conference of the United Methodist Church as well as the United Methodist Foundation, which provides financial services to member churches. He even called the bank that was giving the church the money, informing them the church did not own the cemetery, a fact he says the bank did not know.
“I’m convinced if church did not receive bequest, I would still be there,” he said. “When money comes, trouble comes.”
What hurt Melhorn the most, he said, was being told his dismissal at the end of December 2012 was because Cedar Grove had “lost faith in his spiritual leadership.” He cited his exemplary evaluations in previous years and scoffed at accusations he wore his heart on his sleeve.
The accusation also stung, he said, because at the time he had been visiting hospitals every day for six months to visit two dying congregants. A relative of one of the congregants later told Melhorn he made the deceased feel “comfortable” with death.
“I tried to solve it on my own,” he said of the bequest issue. “I felt I was in a difficult position. I was a shepherd of the church and these were my sheep. I didn’t want to do anything that would harm the community.”
The loss of his job not only cost him a salary but his reputation. Should Melhorn apply for a job at another church, he will be asked why left Cedar Grove. To which he will reply the church lost confidence in leadership.
“Who is going to hire me?” he asked rhetorically.
Melhorn has had no contact with his former church since he was let go. Before he left, I posed a hypothetical situation: He wins his appeal and Cedar Grove invites him back as pastor. Does he go?
He did not hesitate with his answer.
“I do not want to go back to Cedar Grove,” he said. “I’m not a masochist. It’s the principle of the thing.”