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Posted November 19, 2010 | comments 10 Comments

Ahlemann steps down

Pastor cites coverage of bankruptcy filing

By Preston Knight -- pknight@nvdaily.com

STRASBURG -- The Rev. Jay Ahlemann has stepped down as pastor of the nondenominational Church of the Valley after his filing for bankruptcy became public.

The bankruptcy itself, though, is not why he has left the church he founded five years ago, he said Thursday. Instead, it was a newspaper account of it that sparked his departure.

Calling a story published in The Northern Virginia Daily on Nov. 6 "unjust," Ahlemann said it implied that the nearly $5 million he owes in debt was borrowed from people and spent on "all fun and games," when it was actually meant to save the AZTV Network of Christian television stations that he had purchased.

Most of the people owed were original shareholders of the network before he bought it, he said, but high interest rates forced him to continue to borrow money to serve the debt. With the downturn in the economy happening at the same time, Ahlemann was unable to turn the network around, and that prompted the Chapter 7 bankruptcy filing in U.S. Bankruptcy Court last month from him and his wife, Patricia, he said.

"We have nothing," Ahlemann said.

However, that alone did not remove him from the pulpit. It was the newspaper story, and the effect it had on him and Church of the Valley's congregation, that worsened the situation, he said.

"The average person would read it and wonder, 'Why in the world did he spend $4.7 million of these people's money?'" said Ahlemann, 65. "I just gave five of the most important years of my life [to the church]. To have it pretty much destroyed by a newspaper article is pretty painful. ... Most people are believing I took $4.7 million of other people's money and used it on whatever I wanted."

He said he did not want to put his congregation into a position of constantly having to answer questions from outsiders about its pastor. A week after the story ran, he said, he stepped down.

"I'm not willing to put my church through this," Ahlemann said. "It's better [for them] to say, 'Well, he's not there any longer.'"

He said associate pastor Chuck Jarrett is now leading the church, which is off of Va. 55 (John Marshall Highway) and perhaps best known for its tall, lit crosses visible to motorists on Interstate 81. Ahlemann said attendance recently has been around 500 worshippers, and that it nearly doubles on special Sundays such as Easter.

According to the bankruptcy filing, Ahlemann, whose JLA Media and Publications has been ordered to pay $360,000 plus unpaid back interest after defaulting on payments for WAZT-10 in Woodstock, has a large amount of credit card debt, including $12,711 owed to American Express, $10,977 to AT&T Universal and nearly $36,000 to Capital One. A number of people and couples are also owed millions of dollars.

John Bobby, 95, of Leesburg, is among the people who invested in the television network before the pastor's ownership. Moved by the Holy Spirit, he said he offered $50,000 "years ago." Court documents show Bobby is owed nearly $84,000.

"All I know is they owe me money and I'm never going to get it," he said.

Bobby does not seem too bothered about his investment, however.

"I feel sorry for [Ahlemann]," he said. "There's one consolation. There's nothing we can take with us when He calls us."

Alexandria resident Jackie McGinty, who is owed about $53,000, also sympathizes with Ahlemann.

"I think that he has tried and with this economy like it is, under the president we've got, things were just against him when he bought [the station]," McGinty said. "The money was contributed in furtherance of the kingdom of God. When I paid that money in, I didn't expect anything back. I gave that to help with the ministry. That's not worrying me."

If he had to do over, Ahlemann said he would not have paid so much -- $3.86 million -- for the television network, if he should have purchased it all.

"I, unfortunately, got into something I didn't really know about, and that was television," he said.

But Ahlemann also didn't expect to accrue so much debt, and when people in a down economy were left to choose to prioritize such things as paying for a pastor, a mortgage or a television network, the latter was the one that had to go, he said.

Ahlemann said his congregation expressed shock, sadness and dismay at his leaving, but he thinks his decision was in the best interest of the church.

"I'm the one that has to face this. Everywhere I go, the restaurants I eat at, people will say, 'There's the pastor that ripped off all those people,'" he said. "I pray God's blessings on the church and I pray that it does well."

Staff writer Sally Voth contributed to this story.

10 Comments |

    "I think that he has tried and with this economy like it is, under the president we've got, things were just against him when he bought [the station]," McGinty said.

    Of course, It's the Presidents fault??? Give me a break!

    What gets me related to this article is: (1) MY CHURCH... (2) Founded five years ago... (3) Who was the church's accountant and why wasn't the clergy informed about the financial situation that led to this??? Reggie Arno, Danville, VA...

      The church and the "financial situation" are two separate issues. Pastor Ahelmann's financial situation that lead to the bankruptcy proceedings has nothing to do with the church. Read the article again. The church did not purchase the television station, JLA Media and Productions did!

    My family and i are one of many families in Pastor Jay's congregation that is sad,hurt. But the hurt isn't cause of Pastor Jay, it's because of the new media! Why is it that a man of God ALWAYS gets trashed in the media but let the "non-believer" do the same thing or worst and nothing is said?
    So i am very proud to say that Pastor Jay is our pastor and will continue to support him and Pat. We love them very dearly!

    We talk about kids being bullied all the time and say that has to STOP. Then maybe as adults and new MEDIA that needs to stop tooo!

    Leave Pastor Jay and his family alone while they are going through this tough time in their lives!!

    What kills me about the article is the sympathy that this guy is getting. I own a business and because I didn't over leverage myself, I still have a business and a home, I don't create excuses, I take personal responsibility for everything I do and hold myself accountable. According to Jackie McGinty, the "president" forced this guy's company to fail. Give me a break!! it's because he's a poor businessman who obviously had a half-baked business plan, took shortcuts and was over leveraged. This guy isn’t a victim and I’m tired of the victim culture that we’ve created in this country. Being a business owner, I can tell you straight up, my problems started in 2006 and started to subside in the summer of 2009 whether we are talking revenue, cash on-hand or available credit. I’ve got a balance sheet which tells my story. And I’m sure that if we look at this guy’s balance sheet, it will show he started to have BIG problems in 2007 / 2008 as the adjustable rate on his loans skyrocketed.

    Further, I’m tired of all of these revisionist historians. What caused the financial crisis and “bad” economy (if you do the root cause analysis) was the failure in the mortgage markets starting in 2007, which triggered a cascade of failures in the financial market in 2008. This was caused by Fannie and Freddie Mac issuing subprime loans starting in early 2000’s. PERIOD. Fannie and Freddie went from originating 20% of the US home loans in 2001 to 85% at the end of 2006 / early 2007, with most of these loans being subprime. And WHY did this happen? Because rules were lifted on Fannie and Freddie so that they could originate these types loans and they were directed by the Bush Admin to make these loans in order to increase home ownership. It was a noble cause, but bad policy which has cost us dearly.

    The Jim and Tammy Faye Baker method of empire building claims new victims. Who knew a newspaper could be blamed because the Jesus factor doesn't work?

    This has nothing to do with no one liking the church and what the church has done for the community. This is about one man standing in front of a pulpit preaching one thing and doing another thing in private. I thank God for the news media, for without them, people would be more vulerable to being taken advantage of.
    Keep reporting so others may learn.

    I have only met the Pastor once, and had a generally favorable impression of him in person. But the issue here is not whether he is a nice man, a man of faith, or even a good counselor. The issue is whether he made a really bad financial stewardship decision. Like it or not, any place of worship, let alone a huge one with broadcasting facilities, has to survive financially. I have been a church treasurer of a much smaller church, and attention must be paid to details. In this case, millions of dollars were lost. Even in a bad economy, that shouldn't happen. It sounds like Pastor Ahlemann might do very well in a small church, or in a position where he has no significant financial responsibilities. But no one is questioning the basic facts of the NVD article -- the money is gone, and the Pastor was accountable. According to these facts, resignation was an appropriate choice for him.

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    It was a bad business deal in nearly impossible conditions. Chapter 7 is for Christians as well as non-Christians... last time I looked at the Federal Code. I hope the Crosses stay on Rte 81.


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