Charity regulator opens investigation into the running of Green Pastures church in Ballymena amid turmoil among leadership

The charity regulator has begun an investigation into the running of Ballymena’s Green Pastures church.

By Adam Kula
Wednesday, 4th May 2022, 2:58 pm
Updated Thursday, 5th May 2022, 10:48 am
Jeff Wright of Green Pastures, pictured in 2017; the Charity Commision has indicated it is looking into the charity, rather than Mr Wright personally
Jeff Wright of Green Pastures, pictured in 2017; the Charity Commision has indicated it is looking into the charity, rather than Mr Wright personally

The Charity Commission NI refused to divulge any further details about the “concern” which has been raised with it.

The news has emerged following claims on Tuesday that long-standing leader Jeff Wright has stood down as the church’s main pastor.

And that news in turn had come on the heels of media reports that eight members of the church’s executive team had quit.

No comment had been received from the church at time of writing.

The church has long had ties to Wrightbus.

In 2019, when Wrightbus went into administration, it emerged that the church had been given £15m by the business over a six-year period.

The Charity Commission told the News Letter last Friday that the church “recently” made it “aware of some internal governance issues”.

It had said at the time: “The Commission is monitoring the situation and engaging with the charity but an investigation has not been opened at this time.”

Now the commission has told the News Letter: “The Commission is continuing to work with the charity and can confirm that a concern about the charity, Green Pastures, The People’s Church (NIC101855), has been opened.

“No further comment will be provided while the investigation is ongoing.”

SHINING A LIGHT ON FINANCES:

Both the UK official business register Companies House and the Charity Commission list the church’s proper name as “Green Pastures, the People’s Church”.

It was registered in 2007 with Companies House, the official UK business leger.

It is listed as a “limited-by-guarantee” company – a category which is typically used by non-profit outfits.

It was then registered as a charity in 2015.

Company records show that as of the year ending 2016 (when it first started filing expanded accounts) income stood at £8.3m.

It was then £5.2m in 2017;

£7.8m in 2018;

£7.4m in 2019;

and £4.35m during a 16-month period from May 2019 to September 2020.

One individual familiar with the congregation estimated the combined attendance on Sundays to be between 700 and 800, and the most recent charity accounts list the membership as being 800-plus adults.

The accounts state the church has some 400 volunteers working towards its charitable aims.

The Charity Commission breaks down its most recent £4.3m in reported income as follows:

£2m from “donations and legacies”;

£2m from “other trading activities”;

£1,100 from “investment”;

£371,300 from “charitable activities”;

And £12,200 from “other”.

Meanwhile spending for the same period was £3.6m, broken down as:

£1.4m on “charitable activities”

and £2.3m on “other”.

‘WE AIM TO REFLECT THE HEART OF GOD’:

Documents lodged with the commission state: “The church’s desire is to be a reflection of God’s Heart through a vibrant 21st century church.

“We are committed to building a spirit-filled people who are inspired by Christ, enjoying us, enjoying Him; a people who are driven by compassion to reach lost and hurting people, and to be a transforming presence in the communities we serve.”

They state that in 2019/20, 64 people “came to a new faith in Jesus Christ”.

The previous year it had been 89.

At time of writing the commission’s ledger shows Mr Wright to be a trustee of the charity alongside Mrs Karen Kernohan, Mr Brian Somerville, and Rev Roy Todd.

In terms of the company side of things, he is a director of both GREEN PASTURES, THE PEOPLE’S CHURCH (company number NI062702) and another entity called GREEN PASTURES CHURCH (NI660107), which was founded in March 2019.

He is also director of: GATEWAY BUSINESS PARK LTD (NI643244);

AEG PENNYBRIDGE (BALLYMENA) LIMITED (NI636857);

CONFIDENCE ENTERPRISES LIMITED (NI633890);

THE GATEWAY SOCIAL INVESTMENT LIMITED (NI618278);

KINGDOM SOCIAL INVESTMENTS LIMITED (NI073763);

and CONNECT MINISTRIES (NI033172).

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