A Christian News Exclusive
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Orthodox, evangelical Lutheran pastor and chaplain Mark Dankof was fired on September 28th from his post as Director of Pastoral Services for Lima Estates, an affiliate of ACTS Retirement-Life Communities, Inc. based in suburban Philadelphia. The ax fell at the hands of Lima Estates Executive Director Jane Young, a member of the pro-gay, pro-abortion, pro-Goddess Sophia Presbyterian Church–USA (PCUSA). What really happened and why? Christian News begins the process of finding out.
The ACTS Retirement-Life Communities, Inc. company is the largest consortium of Continuing Care Retirement Communities (CCRCs) in the United States. Its web site may be accessed at http://www.acts-retirement.org. ACTS is a not-for-profit corporation in possession of $850 million in corporate assets and 17 individual retirement communities divided into Northern and Southern divisions. The corporate headquarters is in suburban Philadelphia, as are eight (8) of its communities. The remaining nine (9) CCRCs are located in Boca Raton, Florida; Vero Beach, Florida; Pensacola, Florida; Matthews, North Carolina; Columbus, North Carolina; and Gainesville, Georgia outside of Atlanta.
Housing more than 7, 500 seniors nationwide, ACTS Retirement-Life Communities, Inc. boasts of a number of amenities for its residents. One of these is a full-time Chaplaincy program which consists of a chaplain assigned to each individual Estate.
Particularly interesting in this regard is the stated character of the Chaplaincy program as overseen by the Rev. George R. Gunn, Chief Executive Officer (C.E.O) of ACTS and Chief of the ACTS Chaplains at large. Rev. Gunn is an ordained pastor of the conservative-leaning Presbyterian Church of America (P.C.A.). His chaplaincy program is limited to ordained pastors who possess Master of Divinity degrees (M. Div.), have a traditional, evangelical theological orientation, and are male pastors. A cursory inspection of the clergy list of the chaplains obtained by Christian News clearly indicates that at least in the Northern Division of the ACTS company, the chaplains are uniformly representative of well known starboard-of-center denominations, and graduates of some of the most recognizable conservative evangelical schools and seminaries in America. This reflects the beginning of the company’s origins in the early 1970s, when ACTS founder Richard Coons–a graduate of Bob Jones University and an independent fundamentalist pastor with Church of the Open Door in Fort Washington, PA–started the operation with the initial goal of providing retirement for full-time Christian pastors and missionaries who could not otherwise afford to retire. By ACTS statute, the individual Chaplains must sign a doctrinal statement each year, attend occasional seminars for continuing education, and conduct services and visitation in the assigned location. Most importantly, the chain-of-command for issues pertaining to the hiring and firing of Chaplains, the character of the preaching, and the overall oversight of the ACTS Chaplaincy Program goes from the individual Chaplain to the Senior Chaplain in either the Northern or Southern Division of the Company, and then directly to C. E. O. Gunn himself.
In February of 2003, the Northern Division of the ACTS Retirement Life Communities, Inc. hired its first orthodox, evangelical Lutheran pastor--Mark Dankof, a member of the clergy roster of the Lutheran Ministerium and Synod–USA based in Indianapolis (http://www.lmsusa.org). Dankof had previously worked for almost five (5) years for the ACTS affiliated Fort Washington Estates and two different ACTS Executive Directors in that time frame. Providing pulpit supply to both Fort Washington and Gwynedd Estates while pursuing post-graduate education in systematic theology at Westminster Theological Seminary in suburban Philadelphia, he was subsequently recommended to the C. E. O. of ACTS for a full-time chaplaincy program by the late Donald Knapp, a Gwynedd Estates resident and recruiter for the ACTS Chaplaincy Program.
After one (1) year of employment at Lima Estates, Pastor Dankof wrote a confidential letter to Rev. Blair Hills, the Senior Chaplain for the Northern Division of ACTS. His letter of February 29, 2004 alleged that Mrs. Jane Young, the Executive Director of Lima Estates, was interfering in his preaching and teaching ministry; demanding to know the confidential specifics of which residents were speaking to him and in regard to what subjects when desired; and disinviting the pastor from specific functions, including one event where the pastor was invited in writing by the Chief Executive Officer (C.E.O.) and Chief Operating Officer (C.O.O.) of the Corporation to the event in question. Christian News reproduces three (3) specific exhibits in this controversy, for reader perusal and evaluation.
Exhibit One: The February 29th letter of Mark Dankof to his ACTS Chaplaincy Supervisor, Rev. Blair Hills, Senior Chaplain for the Northern Division, ACTS Retirement Life Communities, Inc.
29 February 2004
Pastor Blair Hills
Northern Division Senior Chaplain
ACTS Retirement-Life, Inc.
238 Street Road Apt F-222
Southampton, PA 18966-3149
Greetings on this fine Leap Year February Sabbath's Day. I have three (3) reasons for writing. First, I inquire as to whether or not you finally cashed the check Carmen gave Marjorie back at the December Chaplains' Christmas dinner. You will recall we owed you $278 from last May's seminar in Edison, New Jersey that I attended with Edwin Miller, Mike Elwell, and Doug Rogers. Carmen informs me that the repayment hasn't shown up in her records yet. Let us know.
Secondly, I am currently on some vacation time from Lima, until March 8th. It was not my intention to use this time right now, but I did so at the last minute upon hearing word of the death of my old friend, mentor, and academic advisor at Trinity Evangelical Divinity School, Dr. Paul Feinberg. He died on Saturday, February 21st (see http://www.tiu.edu for the obituary). I was informed in the wee hours of Thursday, February 26th. This necessitated a quick trip to Chicago and back. I will also spend some time with friends of mine from TEDS where the wife/mother is dying a fast death from breast cancer. I'm also going to try and see my father for his 84th birthday on March 3rd in Texas. I have a premonition that he may not be here a year from now. He is facing his 4th major surgery in the last 18 months in May, after seeing the graduation of his 3rd grandchild from college at the University of Iowa.
There is a heretofore unstated reason for my taking this spontaneous vacation time at present, one which I did not even tell my wife about until after the fact. I needed some time away from Lima Estates, more specifically from my situation with Jane Young, the Executive Director there. During my first year's evaluation process with her in her office on February 11th, she indicated that she had initiated some conversations with top Corporate Officials about me, including Mr. Gunn. She said they were "not happy" with what she had to say. I can well nigh understand this, presuming the objective truth and accuracy of her presentations to them. The problem, however, is that I believe her evaluation of me is based on the twisting of half truths, combined with the calculated omission of occurrences which I believe would paint a different picture of Mrs. Young–occurrences which in my mind suggest a unprovoked personal vendetta toward me based upon her own biases--and what I frankly feel is an overtly, yet concurrently well-concealed demonic agenda on her part. I believe her methods and motives to reflect the same sort of dynamics that you experienced while a student at Eastern Seminary, and what Pastor Gunn told me of his own experience with Princeton Seminary and the PCUSA. It may not be an accident that Mrs. Young is an "elder" with a PCUSA congregation somewhere in the Philadelphia area, and is bringing her own theological and political assumptions about ministry to bear upon the ACTS model for the same. Perhaps this is combined with her own ideas about the prerogatives and responsibilities of the Executive Director in supervising individual ACTS chaplains and their work, which is neither my own nor the stated ones of our company. I simply do not know. But I do know this. Before Pastor Edwin Miller died last July, he informed me that my predecessor, Pastor Ernest Breen, had been fired–not voluntarily retired as publicly advertised--at Lima. Edwin told me he would tell me the entire story for my own discernment and protection, as he was afraid for my own situation there downstream. Unfortunately, he died before he could do so. And Pastor Jim Zinszer of Fort Washington Estates, in trying to engage me in conversation in his office about my circumstances at Lima months ago (which I quietly demurred on at the time), stated that the Lima administration had, ". . .run Pastor Breen ragged. You [Dankof] will have to fight for who and what you are down there. . . ." What were these two fine, faithful ACTS chaplains trying to warn me about? Or have I now discovered the truth on my own?
During that encounter on February 11th, Mrs. Young indicated that certain changes had to be forthcoming from me per her instructions, or my future career with the ACTS company generally--and Lima Estates specifically–would end. She spoke of my job being "on-the-line." This is not the first time that Mrs. Young has overtly threatened me; it reflected the general tone of voice and demeanor I have experienced with her on each occasion when there has been a private discussion in her office. She consistently conveys a spirit of negativity, condescension, and disrespect toward me that I cannot understand, personally or contextually. Events of minor significance are distorted beyond any reasonable perspective. On occasion, she crosses the line into specific intrusion in areas of my pastoral ministry as an evangelical Lutheran pastor and ACTS chaplain that I believe to be illegitimate, unethical, and predatory. Since I have not been forthcoming in overt acquiescence to some of these directives and agendas, I have been repeatedly made the subject of an attitude–and specifically targeted actions derived from it–designed to personally denigrate me and encroach upon what I believe are my legitimate pastoral prerogatives at Lima. I will give you only a handful of examples as illustrations. They are the mere tip of an ugly iceberg.
1. Despite 20 years of service as an evangelical pastor, 3 years of preaching for ACTS at Fort Washington Estates and Gwynedd Estates, and your own personal evaluation of my messages and their content at Southampton Estates, Mrs. Young believes that it is her legitimate prerogative to review my sermon titles and to judge their legitimacy and effectiveness with our people at Lima Estates. She has never attended one of my services; to my personal knowledge has never watched one of my messages on channel 11--and the overwhelming number of people at Lima you could talk to who do either one, are totally supportive of my exegetical, expository style based upon Scripture. On February 11th, however, Mrs. Young indicated that she wanted me to put together a committee to direct my selection of messages and texts. She went so far as to say that she would like to see topical messages based upon such things as "current events" and "not necessarily tied to a specific Biblical text or the use of the Bible generally." This is in direct conflict with the ACTS Chaplains' Mission statement, its explicit theological foundations, and the conditions under which I was hired for this job by Pastor Gunn.
This is not her legitimate prerogative in any sense of the term. She is neither an orthodox, evangelical Christian as the ACTS Mission Statement for Chaplaincy Ministry has defined that notion; nor does she have the professional or theological credentials necessary for any credible evaluation of my gifts and abilities as a called and ordained servant of the Word of God. Most significantly for our present discussion, it is my understanding that if there is a question about my theology or homiletical ability, this falls into your lap as Senior Chaplain for the Northern Division, and that of Pastor Gunn. Am I correct? And what has prompted this incremental, predatory move on Mrs. Young's part? It certainly does not reflect anything I have heard in the way of feedback from our Vespers Committee, our parishioners, those who consistently watch my sermons on channel 11, or the responses of the people who answered my Chaplain's Survey of last summer on these matters which was distributed to every independent and OBT resident at Lima Estates. What is really going on here?
2. Mrs. Young indicated in her evaluation of me on February 11th that I was spending an inordinate amount of time with one specific resident at Lima Estates, to the detriment of the rest of the community. Worse yet, she has repeatedly attempted to engage me in conversations designed to pry out of me the nature of my conversations with this individual. Let me be clear about this particular issue. An evangelical Lutheran pastor is required to keep confidential pastoral conversations between only himself, the troubled person in question, and God alone--and any actions to the contrary are specifically seen as a treasonous violation of what he owes the counselee and the Lord Jesus Christ in terms of his ordination vow and oath. I do not know how this works with liberal, mainline Protestants and their clergy, but in my own Lutheran synod I would be rightly defrocked and stripped of my ordination for violating the Confessional Seal. This I will not do, even at the point of Mrs. Young's overtly threatened sword of termination. And I wish to assure you that this person's right to see me will continue as long–or as short–a period of time as you and Pastor Gunn desire for me to continue as an evangelical Christian pastor at Lima Estates. I wish to emphasize that the individual in question is a godly, aging woman; a graduate of Bible Institute of Los Angeles; a long-time servant on our Vespers Committee; and both Pastor Breen's assistant and mine in the preparation of the Lord's Table whenever Holy Communion has been celebrated at Lima--for a very long time. She has perfectly valid and compelling reasons I cannot share, for wanting to engage me in confidential conversation, along with other residents who do see me in my office and elsewhere on a regular, weekly basis–70x7 if necessary. Mrs. Young ordered me on February 11th to stop using this person as my assistant in preparing the Eucharist and to find "anyone else." She put this in the context of having informed George Gunn of this issue. She specifically stated that my "job was on the line" if I did not carry this specific directive out. There is no simply no valid reason for this. And let me be clear again. I will not do any such thing under overt threat of disemployment. If there is a movement afoot to relieve me involuntarily of my duties at Lima Estates, it will not change what I will continue to observe in terms of my Confessional oath and my individual Christian responsibility and conscience as a pastor. Mrs. Young is simply out-of-bounds, as she is in the case of my preaching and teaching ministry. And her actions and motives in points #1 and #2 are not simply designed as an incremental, encroaching threat to what God has called me to at Lima Estates. I believe what she is doing, if allowed to stand, will ultimately threaten the practical integrity of the ACTS chaplaincy program nationwide, and the specific responsibilities entrusted to Pastor Gunn and yourself to oversee its theological foundations and practice.
3. Last fall, I received an invitation from ACTS Corporate Headquarters to file for a gift in appreciation for five (5) years of service to the company. I ordered the gift on-line as instructed, and then forgot about it. I did not realize at the time that this gift was to be given out in conjunction with an event sponsored by ACTS Corporate until I subsequently received a written invitation to an awards event for Lima and Granite Farms Estates employees, under the signatures of Pastor Gunn and Mr. Mashner. The instructions told me to RSVP to the Administrative Assistant at Lima, Mrs. Shirley Barlow. I did so. Mrs. Barlow's subsequently received list from Corporate had me down as one of the invitees. She appropriately checked my name off as indicating a desire to attend with my wife. Later that same afternoon, Jane Young encountered me in the Lima parking lot as I was preparing to leave the facility for pastoral visits to Fair Acres, Riddle Hospital, and Crozier Hospital. She told me it was not appropriate for me to be on the list of Lima employees going to the event. She ordered me not to attend, and to instruct Shirley Barlow to remove my name and my wife's from the Guest List. I did not argue (and have not where any of these other situations have occurred), and did what she instructed. Mrs. Barlow was both shocked and embarrassed, shaking her head and musing out loud that I must have "been a bad boy." Mrs. Young later rescinded this idea and my wife and I were allowed to attend. I have no idea as to why she initially told us not to come, or why her initial revocation of the invitation issued by Pastor Gunn and Mr. Mashner was later rethought. But I have my suspicions. Perhaps there was a concern about darkness being brought to light and subsequent examination.
4. The current Activities Director for Oak Bridge Terrace (OBT) at Lima, presently on an unpaid leave of absence for three (3) months, invited my wife and I to several OBT special events that involved the commemoration of a special occasion. She indicated that the people there wanted us to come. At least one of the two events involved my day off from work at Lima, but my wife and I agreed to come to both because of the thoughtfulness of the Activities Director and the people associated with my OBT devotionals and Bible studies, who apparently put the thought in her ear. Jane Young called me into her office after discovering that I had been invited to these gatherings. She disinvited my wife and me from the events in question, and indicated that 1) our presence was inappropriate; and 2) she would not be a party to creating the false impression that the Chaplain was "considered better than any other employee at Lima Estates." She also called the Activities Director into her office (apart from me) and instructed the latter not to repeat any such action in the future. This person was embarrassed, humiliated, and denigrated for absolutely no legitimate reason I can think of. Her heart-felt motives for the residents of OBT, and the Chaplain and his wife were–and are–unassailable. She later told me that she did not know how she would explain my absence to her people in OBT who were looking forward to our coming. She was especially fearful that my wife would interpret this course of events as a personal affront. On the latter issue, she was correct. But I assured her that Carmen quietly understood that it was not of her doing–but was the entire doing of the Executive Director of Lima Estates, for reasons unknown. And I would continue working with the Activities Director and the people of OBT without any reference to the incident in question--as has been the case with each and every one of the situations encountered since last February. Carmen subsequently asked me if Jane Young's actions toward her (us) had something to do with the fact that my wife is a Latin American and a Roman Catholic. I have no idea what the reason (s) is (are), and am wasting little time trying to decipher the attitude and motives of the Executive Director--but now looms a practical question: What I am now to do when we are having a Chaplain's Dinner and Ministerium for wives and chaplains at Lima Estates on March 31st? Carmen has nothing but complete love and respect for you and Marjorie, and the other chaplains and wives who will be there. She had a wonderful time last summer at the ACTS Chaplains Retreat in Gainesville and knows the hearts and the commitments of all of you. She loved Mr. White and Mr. Nimey and the people of Fort Washington Estates when I was assigned there for almost five (5) years in a lowly post while in post-graduate classes at Westminster Theological Seminary. But how do I encourage her to come to an event at Lima under our ACTS Ministerial auspices after she has received one disinvitation from Jane Young to a Corporately sponsored function, and disinvitations to several Lima activities in Oak Bridge Terrace that among other things, were specifically designed to make her feel more a part of my ministry there and the ACTS company generally? She simply does not want to be there. I cannot blame her. She has maintained the discouraged but loyal silence of a faithful pastor's wife and continues to do so, and has played no role in my decision to finally level with you as to what is really in her heart and mine. But I will say to you right now that if nothing else, I believe the Executive Director of Lima Estates should be required to officially apologize to my wife for these disinvitations. But again, that has to be your call and that of Pastor Gunn. In any event, I cannot personally reconcile the Corporate policy of encouraging spousal participation in ACTS chaplaincy ministries with these specific actions taken by Jane Young. If a message of discouragement and embarrassment is truly the one intended, it has most assuredly been received and duly noted.
5. Some months ago, I received a written e-mail communication from Mrs. Nancy Glatfelter, the Activities Director for Willow Brook Court (WBC) at Lima. She apologized for sending me an invitation to an event in WBC on the same day it was to be held, and invited me to come there that late afternoon and evening for a dinner-entertainment gala that involved staff and WBC residents. She thought it appropriate for the Chaplain to come. I rearranged my schedule on short notice, and did so. There was no further information or contextual explanation in her note, but when I arrived in WBC, she told me that I would be asked to say a prayer at the beginning of the event/meal. I specifically asked her about other responsibilities or needs after that assignment was concluded. She said that everything else was taken care of, and suggested that I find a table at which to sit, with some residents. I did precisely as instructed.
The next day, Jane Young sent me a terse e-mail note demanding my presence in her office. I responded immediately and appeared there. She shut her office door, and ordered me to sit down. What followed was a tirade on her part regarding my presence the day before at the WBC event. She was livid over the fact that I was seated with residents and was not assisting staff in the administration and preparation of the food at the event. I was informed that I was at Lima Estates to " . . . serve people, not pursue my own agenda", and that my job there involved the " . . .interests of staff and residents, not my own." I did not engage in any verbal rebuttal with Mrs. Young at that point (or at any other time), and merely apologized for the misunderstanding. But you must understand that as a new staff person at Lima I had no idea of the tradition and staff roles in this event that were historically required or involved; there had been no such delineation of my expected role by Mrs. Glatfelter–quite the contrary, what she expected and explained to me was what I did, to the letter; after this particular encounter with Mrs. Young, I felt completely blind-sided by how something of this sort could result in the reaction and verbiage that were directed at me the following day. Until now, the only person I have told of this occurrence has been my wife.
6. It has come to my attention that Jane Young has been talking to other people within our organization about me in ways that suggest something both insidious and ominous. This past February 20th–my day off and my wife's birthday–I cancelled the plans that we had made a month before to make a requested appearance at Mrs. Young's event at the Lima Auditorium at 2 p.m. The event involved Mrs. Barbara Hudson, the ACTS Corporate University spokesperson, and Mr. Vanderbeck. Mrs. Hudson was to make a Lima Town Hall presentation to the residents about the program of ACTS Corporate University. I recognize that it was legitimately appropriate to Mrs. Young's position and standing at Lima that I come in for this event. I did so. But before the event began, I was approached by Mrs. Hudson, who asked me if I had " . . . finally managed to get adjusted to my position at Lima Estates." I believe Mrs. Hudson is a fine person, with no hidden malice of any kind toward me. But the nature of the question led me to believe that she had been given access to tidbits of a landscape--a painted portrait of me--with future purposes in mind on the part of Mrs. Young. Why do I say this? Because two days earlier, on February 18th (Luther's birthday!), Pastor Crichton called me from Granite Farms to speak to me. I had earlier left a v-mail message for him that day that I would not be attending a happy hour at Duffer's Lounge that he and Jeff Kaighn had invited me to some days before. My reason was that I was having some slight difficulty again with my right ear and Eustachian tube from last summer's upper respiratory debacle that followed my urinary tract infection of the late winter and early spring of 2003. I had decided to go home a half-hour early, and to stop by the doctor's office on the way home. When Iain returned my call, I was already gone. But he made it a point to say to me at our Ministerial meeting of February 25th at Fort Washington, that his call of February 18th to me had been fielded by Jane Young. Her tone of voice and comments apparently took Pastor Crichton aback, for he asked me at the Ministerial meeting at the Fort, " . . . if Jane Young liked me. . . . Do you get along with her?" I merely replied, "I guess so." I was, as you might imagine, caught off-guard by all of this. I did not know what else to say, and certainly did not want to say anything to Iain which would make any of this any worse than it already is. And I have discussed these matters with no other ACTS chaplain or official since their inception.
You must understand that all of this is related to a crack in Mrs. Young's external canvas which occurred at a Staff Meeting at Lima on February 3rd and which has exacerbated my perceptions and concerns about my own situation there. The meeting of February 3rd was a pleasant and cordial one, with related business and organizational concerns being addressed efficiently and quickly–until the end of the meeting. Our Culinary Director innocently asked about the fact that we had a newly elected Resident Association President (Mr. Walter Koch). He was merely inquiring about Mr. Koch's background and how long his term would be (Mr. Koch is on my Vespers Committee–he is a wonderful person and entirely supportive of my ministry at Lima.) Mrs. Young used this innocent question to subsequently speak, not of Mr. Koch, but of the outgoing Resident Association President, Bill Hartman. Mrs. Young told the entire senior staff of Lima Estates present, that Mr. Hartman was a dishonest person with his own agenda; that he had not served Lima well as our Resident Association President and was not to be trusted by any of us, especially since Mr. Hartman continued to serve as the ACTS Chairman of the Northern Division Resident Association Presidents. Mrs. Young explicitly indicated that Mr. Hartman was deliberately pursuing an agenda in this role designed to hurt Mrs. Young personally and the overall well being of the people of Lima Estates. Jane Young seemed to be maintaining special eye contact with me while discussing Mr. Hartman's alleged motives and deficiencies with the entire staff. For I guess I made the mistake on the night of January 22nd of accepting Mr. Koch's honest invitation to make a ten-minute presentation to the entire Lima residential community on the nature and history of the ACTS Chaplaincy program, and what I do at Lima Estates specifically. At the conclusion of that ten-minute presentation, I said encouraging and positive things about both Mr. Koch and Mr. Hartman. What I said was appropriate and sincere, based on my personal, albeit limited experience with both men. It was designed to be encouraging and to get Mr. Koch off to a good start that evening in his new role as President of the Lima Estates Residents Association. I had no idea that Mrs. Young bore ill-will toward Mr. Hartman, or what I might be getting myself into inadvertently. I am convinced that my remarks of January 22nd were the reason for Mrs. Young's unsolicited, unnecessary verbal air-strike on Mr. Hartman on February 3rd before the entire Lima staff. And aside from the fact that I happen to personally disbelieve every word Mrs. Young uttered on February 3rd to the staff on this matter (Mr. Hartman is known to be an evangelical, fundamentalist Christian, and has been supportive of me from a distance throughout my initial tenure at Lima Estates), what was the appropriateness, purpose, and longer-term motives in Mrs. Young's personal attack against Mr. Hartman behind closed doors to her senior staff, even if her remarks are true? And does her revealed methodology and malice against Mr. Hartman reflect something that has been going on where I am concerned, for a very long time? I am forced to conclude that there is a connection, and for many additional reasons I have left unstated in this letter to you.
Blair, I am sorry that my temporary health issues that hit me in the last year got me off to an admittedly slow and tenuous start at Lima Estates. This did not help any of us in my initial beginnings with Jane Young. But I could not help this. I have been gaining strength and speed over the course of time, with renewed effectiveness and new opportunities for ministry at Lima Estates. My reception among the residents has been almost exclusively positive and supportive. I am loyal to you, to ACTS, to Pastor Gunn, and the people of the respective Estates where I have worked and have been assigned. It is my hope that we can work together to resolve these issues in a way which uplifts and serves the Lord Jesus Christ and our company. I believe that a meeting involving you, me, Pastor Gunn, and if necessary, Mrs. Young and Mr. Vanderbeck sometime after I return on March 8th, might enable this resolution to occur under circumstances which would enable me to renew my ministry at Lima Estates under Mrs. Young with reestablished understandings and beneficial foundations for both of us. But this is obviously for you to determine and decide. If this cannot take place, it would appear that the only alternatives for you and me would be either; 1) my eventual reassignment to another ACTS facility in either Northern or Southern Division; or 2) a termination of my employment at Lima Estates as Mrs. Young seems to desire. In the event that it proves to be the latter, my wife and I have decided that we would sell what we own, quietly leave the Philadelphia area, and pursue another ministry opportunity as God directs. We do not know where we would end up--possibly Texas, North Carolina, or the Midwest. We confidently leave all of this to Him, without any doubt that He would help us in His grace and wisdom. I would still finish my Westminster dissertation, albeit from a geographical distance.
I have one other thing to say to you in all sincerity. My wife and I value you and Marjorie, Pastor Gunn, and the other ACTS chaplains and wives. However our situation plays out, it is only in the love of the Holy Trinity and in total regard for His Word and your respective ministries that I finally feel compelled to convey what I have attempted to hide up until now for only the best and most honorable of reasons. We have felt your unconditional love and encouragement in every way from the beginning. And if there is any way in which I have been personally responsible for letting you down because of my difficulties with Jane Young, I confess that to you and the Lord in advance. Up until now, it has been my intention–and Carmen's–to maintain absolute silence about this situation and to avoid conflict, controversy, or escalation at virtually any price--for our own sake, yours, and that of the ACTS Chaplaincy program overall.
If I do continue at Lima Estates as you and Pastor Gunn determine, I look forward to a time when I can go there without a daily dreading of the circumstances and ambience emanating from the Executive Director's office at that facility. It has permeated my entire situation there. I only want to continue developing my ministry under brighter and more hopeful future circumstances. I am not looking for any trouble or institutional conflict, both because I abhor this sort of thing, and am under no illusions that I would be the one to come out beneficially as a result of any such situation. And I would merely like for my wife to feel welcome and comfortable at Lima Estates, for her own sense of internal peace and acceptance as well as my own.
At our Ministerial gathering at Fort Washington Estates on February 25th, my old and treasured friend Pastor Jim Zinszer, treated the chaplains to a devotional dedicated to the theme of serving Jesus Christ in the context of work in the milieu of the culture and ethos of Corporate America. I want to believe that this is still possible for Carmen and myself. But frankly, in the last year it has seemed to be a constant challenge to avoid the conclusion that these realms are in tragic tension and irreconcilable antithesis. This is not a conclusion my wife and I want to reach, but if we do, both of us will choose the Lord as we know all of you would as well.
I look forward to receiving your advice and counsel after March 8th. We will see where the Lord takes it after that.
Sola Gratia, Sola Scriptura, Sola Christus–
(Pastor) Mark (Dankof)
Exhibit Two: The written e-mail reply of Pastor Blair Hills to Mark Dankof on March 03.
March 3rd, 2004
Rev. Blair Hills, Senior Chaplain–Northern Division (ACTS)
Southampton Estates (ACTS)
238 Street Road
Southampton, PA 18966-3149
(215) 364-0500, ext. 320
Pastor Mark Dankof
Director of Pastoral Services
Lima Estates (ACTS)
411 N. Middletown Road
Media, PA 19063
Thank you for making me aware of what has been happening with you at Lima. I can understand your reticence to share this information, but it is a matter that needs resolution, and that will not happen without the information being shared.
Without going into a lot of detail at this time, here are my thoughts:
1) I have absolutely no authority with regard to your Executive Director at Lima Estates, or the Executive Director of any other community.
2) I need your permission to send copies of your letter to George Gunn and Mark Vanderbeck. Let me know if I have your permission. Without it, there is little I can do.
3) You offered to leave your position at Lima Estates, if that is the desire of George Gunn and I. It is certainly not my desire for you to leave with the issue unresolved. If you do (assuming your concerns are valid), it would only serve to perpetuate the problem when the next chaplain takes your place. It is my desire to see you serve Lima for many years to come, but not with conditions remaining as they now are.
4) Your wife, Carmen, is a significant factor in making it possible for you to be an effective chaplain. She, like the other chaplains’ wives, supports you and assists you in various ways that have a positive impact either directly or indirectly on the work that you do. For her to be seen at your side at public functions to which she is invited provides a wholesome image and allows her the opportunity to interact in a direct way with the residents.
5) Chaplains are in a special category. This is not to say that our role is superior to that of others. It is simply to acknowledge that we relate to people in a different way because of our calling, our position, and the nurturing nature of our ministry. It is important, therefore, to use every opportunity to get to know the residents and for them to get to know and trust us. This includes visiting them in their apartments, in the hospital, in their rooms in WBC (medical) or OBT (assisted living). And it also includes joining them for meals, especially when invited to do so. This is why chaplains are granted a special privilege of occasionally joining with residents for dinner and are allowed to bring their wives with them.
6) Maintaining confidentialities is one of the sacred responsibilities of all clergy, as with many other helping professions (psychologists, doctors, lawyers, etc.). There is no one in the corporation who can require you to violate that principle.
7) Each chaplain is responsible to his Executive Director for carrying out the day-to-day responsibilities of a chaplain as set forth in our Position Description. At the same time, he is responsible to the Senior Chaplain (operationally) and the C. E. O., who is also the Chief Chaplain (administratively) for the quality of his ministerial performance.
One final note: I will be greatly disappointed if Carmen does not attend our March dinner meeting at Lima Estates. I have invited her. It is not something you have done on your own. All the chaplains’ wives are invited. This is true for all our monthly meetings. I do not anticipate any problems over this, but if anyone questions it, please direct them to me.
In His Service,
Blair W. Hills
ACTS Northern Division
The letter of March 3rd from Blair Hills to Mark Dankof was the last time the latter would receive any direct or indirect communication on the subjects raised in the Lutheran clergyman’s letter of February 29th from either Pastor Hills or ACTS C.E.O. Pastor George Gunn, or any other official of the Corporation. Summoned by the Executive Director of Lima Estates, Mrs. Young, to a meeting purportedly involving only herself and Pastor Dankof (and for reasons unstated by Mrs. Young in an ACTS e-mail communication to the pastor the previous week), the latter would arrive at her office on schedule for a 2 p.m., September 28th meeting. Joining Mrs. Young were ACTS Executive Vice President Mark Vanderbeck, and ACTS Vice President of Human Resources, Warren Johnson. Mr. Vanderbeck told the Pastor he was being terminated that day. The sole stated reason? “You’re not connecting with the residents.”
What is going on here? Why were Gunn and Hills, the administrative heads of the ACTS Chaplaincy Program incommunicado with Mark Dankof from March 3rd to the day of his termination? Why was no meeting scheduled between Gunn, Hills, and Dankof, along with Mrs. Young and her own administrative superior, ACTS Executive Vice President Vanderbeck? Whose theological orientation should prevail within any ACTS facility? That of the Chaplain and the doctrinal statement ACTS requires him to sign? Or an Executive Director whose membership in a liberal Protestant denomination is suggestive of a larger conflict with the world-view of the ACTS Chaplaincy Program? Does the ACTS Corporation seriously believe that an evangelical Lutheran pastor–or any other pastor–should betray pastoral confidences shared by trusting elderly residents of ACTS with their assigned Chaplains? What does the Dankof case foretell of the future of the ACTS Chaplaincy program, theologically and otherwise? Will other evangelical Chaplains be vulnerable to similar summary executions by Administrative Firing Squad? And was the ACTS Retirement Life Communities, Inc. news release of C. E. O. George Gunn’s retirement on September 8th (effective February 1st) the green light to other Corporate Chieftains to ax the Lima Estates chaplain without explanation and due process?
Christian News put the case before Pastor Ralph Spears of Indianapolis, Indiana, the President of the Lutheran Ministerium and Synod–USA (see http://www.lmsusa.org) . His answer is reminiscent of the tone and flavor of October 31st, 1517:
“Our pastors are committed without reservation to the Lordship of Christ, the inerrancy of God’s Word, and the Lutheran Confessions as the correct exposition of the Scriptures. We protect the confidences of those who trust us with their lives. We do not bow the knee to the icons of Baal and Corporate America. These ACTS folks have some tall explaining to do–now.”
Finally, in the aftermath of the Dankof firing, incoming ACTS C. E. O. Marvin Mashner heard by letter from a Mr. Bill Hartman, formerly the Resident Association President of Lima Estates and currently the Senior Resident Association President for the Northern Division of the Corporation. It serves as Exhibit Three (3) in the unfolding story.
Exhibit Three: The Letter of Bill Hartman, Senior Resident Association President for the Northern Division of ACTS Retirement Life Communities Inc. to Mr. Marvin Mashner, incoming C. E. O. of ACTS Retirement Life Communities, Inc. in Philadelphia.
October 3, 2004
WILLIAM G. HARTMAN
Senior Resident Association President for the Northern Division (ACTS)
LIMA ESTATES - B - 201
411 N. MIDDLETOWN ROAD
MEDIA, PA 19063
MR. MARVIN MASHNER, President & Chief Operating Officer (C.O.O)
ACTS Retirement-Life Communities, Inc.
375 Morris Road
P.O. Box 90
West Point, PA 19486 - 0090
Dear Mr. Mashner:
Back in 2002 my wife Nancie and I received the ACTS Retirement-Life Communities Annual Report entitled “A CULTURE OF LOVING-KINDNESS.” Ten years prior to that report, we had searched for a retirement community in which we could find a Christian environment to serve as our home for our retirement years. The ACTS Community called Lima Estates, just a mile from our home of thirty years, advertised just such a community and seven years ago we moved into our apartment there. For some three years we were happy with our decision and enjoyed the amicable and compassionately happy Lima environment.
Four years ago a new Executive Director [Jane Young] was installed here in our friendly home and since then it has been transformed into anything but a Culture of Loving-Kindness. Contacts with our employees show us an atmosphere of fear - at any time they could be tongue-lashed by the ED or even fired from their jobs. This for just talking with, sitting with, or spending too much time with a resident. Not only are the employees in constant fear of losing their jobs but many of our residents feel they cannot speak their minds for fear of being “thrown out” of Lima for doing so.
Over the past year a frightening number of firings has hit the staff here at Lima. The latest is the firing of our Chaplain, Mark Dankof, in which the lack of a Culture of Loving-Kindness was overwhelmingly obvious. This man of the cloth was fired and immediately escorted out of the Estates without even allowing him to take his possessions with him. Not only was Mark spending much of his own time in visitations to residents in hospitals, but his wife Carmen had volunteered to help several of the residents with their computers - at no charge. I have now learned that this ED will not even let her on the premises to continue with her computer help.
Mr. Mashner, I personally feel ashamed of being a part of an organization that treats people like the Dankofs with such a lack of Loving-Kindness - the Christian approach. Is this really corporate policy? Or should we ask for the replacement of such an Executive Director who exhibits such a lack of LOVING-KINDNESS?
Sorry to have to write to you about this, but I am truly concerned that ACTS has lost its Christian background and is now just another business. Is this true? Please investigate what is going on here at Lima and help us get back our happy and friendly Christian home. Thank you!
William G. Hartman
Well, Pastor Gunn. The information is now before you. A Lima Estates Chaplain fired without due process; a burgeoning fear and uncertainty among your remaining ACTS Chaplains about the future character of the ministry and their own lives; and complaints from a Senior Resident Association President of the ACTS Corporation that your Lima Executive Director, Jane Young, has produced a climate of fear and intimidation in that community over a period of four (4) years among both residents and employees.
Are your answers forthcoming before your February 1st, 2005 retirement as C. E. O. of ACTS Retirement Life Communities, Inc.? And as an ordained pastor of the Presbyterian Church in America (P.C.A.), what does your church say about the sanctity of the confessional seal between Pastor and Counselee; and what constitutes sound Biblical, expository preaching? Within the ACTS Corporation, do you and Pastor Hills have the complete administrative authority over the Chaplaincy program, or does a secular Executive Director with membership in a liberal Protestant church body?
Christian News and Editor Herman Otten await your public answers.
Rev. George Gunn
Chief Executive Officer (C.E.O.) and Chief of Chaplains
ACTS Retirement Life Communities, Inc. (ACTS)
375 Morris Road
P. O. Box 90
West Point, PA 19486-0090
Mr. Marvin Mashner
President and Chief Operating Officer (C.O.O.)
ACTS Retirement Life Communities, Inc. (ACTS)
375 Morris Road
P. O. Box 90
West Point, PA 19486-0090
411 N. Middletown Road
Media, PA 19063