A Peckham church that says its aim is to promote Christianity and relieve poverty had spent more than £181,000 on business class flights over five and a half years, according to an investigation that found a wide range of “mismanagement” and “misconduct”.
The Everlasting Arms Ministries, at the corner of the Old Kent Road and Peckham Park Road, was investigated by the Charity Commission after it sold its church building to a developer in 2016 for £8 million.
Among the many findings from the commission’s years-long investigation, which ended this week, were that:
- The church spent more than £457,000 from April 2015-March 2018 on “international outreach”, with money spent on luxuries like five star hotels and business-class flights
- The church spent more than £181,000 on business class flights between April 2015 and October 2020, because flights “can be cumbersome”
- Expenditure rose to nearly £900,000 in the financial year ending April 2018, while income sank to about £327,000
- The ‘senior pastor’ got nearly £216,000 from the church for private and charity spending over the four years to March 2020
- The senior pastor and the deputy senior pastor – his wife – got large pay rises without proper documentation
- Some £2 million of the £8 million the church got from selling off its building was not included in its accounts
- A company of which the deputy senior pastor is a director got more than £27,000 from the church over three years
The charity commission’s investigation found that “the charity was spending significant sums without proper oversight and checks and no clear long-term strategy” which “put the charity’s funds at risk”.
The church, which describes itself as “an inter-denominational Christian ministry devoted to deliverance, holiness, preaching of the word and setting the captive free”, only sold its building because it ‘could not keep up with mortgage payments’. Investigators said that this “points to a long-standing lack of sound financial management within the charity which is further highlighted by the way in which the funds of the sale proceeds were spent.”
That included payments of at least £140,000 to a now-dormant company whose majority shareholder is the church’s head of finance. The payments were for security after several burglaries on the church – but to support the payment the church could only show an unsigned contract and incorrectly filled out cheque requisition forms.
As a result of the investigation, the previous trustees – including the senior pastor – who were responsible for this huge outlay stepped down and were replaced by a new group. The commission also froze the church’s assets in February 2020, before unfreezing them two years later.
Investigators said: “The previous trustee board is responsible for serious management and/or misconduct in the administration of the charity. How they governed and managed the charity prior to the Commission’s intervention falls well below the standard that the Commission expects.”
But the new board has made “significant efforts” to improve the way the charity is run, investigators said. “Because of the inquiry, the current trustees are more aware of their trustee duties, the importance of proper record keeping and decision making, and have taken measures to reduce expenditure.”
The Everlasting Arms Ministry did not respond to a phone call asking for comment.