Bishop Laurie pastoral letter responding to sentencing

Bishop Laurie pastoral letter responding to sentencing

September 27, 2021

Dear Friends in Christ,
 
Trust in the Lord with all your heart; don’t rely on your own intelligence. Know him in all your paths, and he will keep your ways straight. Proverbs 3:5-6 (CEB)
 
I am writing to address an unpleasant and uncomfortable topic: fraud and embezzlement in one of our beloved churches in the Iowa Conference. 
 
Melissa Noland, who was formerly employed as a financial records keeper by First United Methodist Church in Mason City, was charged with felony wire fraud after transferring $274,000 from church accounts for her personal use, according to documents filed by acting U.S. Attorney Sean Berry. Noland was sentenced in Cedar Rapids by United States District Court Chief Judge Leonard T. Strand. Noland was sentenced to 27 months imprisonment. She was ordered to make $274,222.09 in restitution to the church. She must also serve a three-year term of supervised release after the prison term. There is no parole in the federal system. Noland was released on the bond previously set and is to surrender to the Bureau of Prisons on a date yet to be set.
 
As your episcopal leader, I am deeply saddened by this matter. This places undue tension and burden on First UMC in Mason City and challenges the trust that we each hold in our beloved church.  
 
I encourage you to review your church’s procedures for counting offerings, accounting for donations, authorizing expenditures, reconciling accounts, and financial reporting. Review your safeguards against embezzlement and fraud. 
 
Talking about this can be uncomfortable, and some will say that even discussing it indicates mistrust of staff and volunteers. I disagree. I think that having good internal controls helps protect the reputations of people who handle the funds. Good internal control procedures indicate that you care about the church’s ministry and the people who support it with their prayers, labor, and money. It shows that accountability, responsibility, and transparency are important.
 
We cannot tolerate fraud and embezzlement, or crimes being committed in any form. I lament the damage of the behavior of Melissa Norland. I extend my most profound compassion to the victims at First UMC in Mason City. The church leaders at Mason City, First UMC are volunteers. As their Bishop, I commend them for their prompt, thorough and professional response by referencing the matter to the proper authorities and taking corrective action with the inner operations of church affairs.
 
As we face this unpleasant situation our work now is to live out Proverbs 3:5-6 to trust in the Lord. To move forward with the steadfast love of Christ to Focus your eyes straight ahead; keep your gaze on what is in front of you. Proverbs 4:25 (CEB)
 
In Christ’s love, 
Bishop Laurie


Audit Guide Resources for Churches

General Council on Finance and Administration
Prepare your church for an audit

Resource UMC
Finance and Administration resources