Both sides claim fiscal mismanagement
Three years after being voted out as lead pastor of Celebration Church, Londa Lundstrom Ramsey is taking legal action in an attempt to regain leadership of the Lakeville church and its parent organization, Lowell Lundstrom Ministries.
With her brother, Lowell Lundstrom Jr., Lundstrom Ramsey has filed a lawsuit in South Dakota attempting to regain control of Lowell Lundstrom Ministries and its holdings, which they claim were last valued at over $23 million.
Lowell Lundstrom Ministries was founded by the siblings’ parents Lowell and Connie Lundstrom 60 years ago, and the family toured the country giving evangelical presentations for years before starting Celebration Church in 1996.
The plaintiffs’ other siblings, Lisa Lundstrom and Lance Lundstrom, are not part of the lawsuit, which claims Lundstrom Ramsey was wrongly terminated and the church and ministry are mismanaging church assets.
“Since my illegal freeze-out, defendants
have sold five acres of real property to a corporate furniture business,” Lundstrom Ramsey stated in a June 19 affidavit. “Additionally, defendants are trying to sell the corporate office in Sisseton, South Dakota,” which she called “essential” for carrying on the ministry.
The Sept. 16, 2016, complaint alleges board members breached LLM’s articles of incorporation and bylaws by voting Lundstrom Ramsey out as president and chief executive officer in September 2014, and selling LLM-owned land for purposes inconsistent with the ministry.
The ministry’s assets include its 23-acre Lakeville church campus, a 58-acre parcel south of the property in Lakeville and its Sisseton, South Dakota, headquarters, which has been for sale for years.
The Lundstrom siblings said in the lawsuit the land’s sale “threatens irreparable injury” because the corporation needs the property to “expand and spread the word and teachings of Jesus Christ.”
Former Celebration Church employee Jimmy Papia worked at the church from 2008-2015, according to his affidavit.
He said he was “heavily involved” when Lundstrom Ramsey “made the decision to close the Sisseton office.”
He said she tasked him with logistical operations involving transitioning staff to Minnesota or letting them go and choosing what property to move from Sisseton and what should be sold or discarded.
Papia said the Sisseton office closed, but had not sold when he left in 2015.
Paul Kelly also said in an affidavit he worked at Celebration Church overseeing facilities management and Lundstrom Ramsey was looking at consolidating all operations to Lakeville and closing down the Sisseton part of the ministry.
“The closing of the Sisseton office was well in motion when everything exploded in Lakeville,” he stated.
Court documents include a July 26 affidavit from commercial real estate salesman Timothy Bloom and a document Lundstrom Ramsey signed July 27, 2009, hiring him and listing the five-acre Lakeville property for sale.
There was a lack of interest in the property due to the recession, Bloom stated, so it was removed from the market and re-listed when the economy improved. It is now home to Schniederman’s Furniture.
Eight charges are brought in the lawsuit against Lowell Lundstrom Ministries and a several current and past church board members: Jan Hawkins, Si Liechty, Jim Olson, Randy Dirks, Derrick Ross, Jim Olson, Kurt Ringley, Lynda Bordreau, Jason Heath, Jeff Jonson and Darnell Jones.
Celebration Church attorney Shelia Engelmeier said the court denied on July 31 Lundstrom and Lundstrom Ramsey’s filing for a temporary restraining order against the church.
Engelmeier said the restraining order was intended to stop the ministry from selling property the nonprofit owns, including its headquarters in South Dakota, where the ministry started.
She said in denying the temporary restraining order, the judge said critical elements were not met, including proving the siblings are likely to win and demonstrating they would be harmed if there was not a ruling in their favor.
Lundstrom Ramsey became lead pastor at Celebration Church in 2010 and was involuntarily removed from the position in 2014 during a major falling out at the church involving her and her husband Brent Clark Ramsey.
Clark Ramsey had been permanently removed from his position by the church’s board of directors in July 2014, and the church’s association had opened an investigation into allegations against him which were at the time not fully explained publicly.
The lawsuit includes details about the investigation and results, Lundstrom Ramsey’s actions and reasons she was also removed from her position in September 2014.
According to affidavits from multiple Celebration Church board members and former employees, including Tina Weyand, the comptroller and senior accountant for LLM, Lundstrom Ramsey had mismanaged church funds, verbally and mentally abused staff and covered up sexual abuse allegations against her husband Clark Ramsey while he was a pastor at the church.
Clark Ramsey’s position as pastor was not supported by church board members from the beginning, according to several board members’ affidavits.
As LLM founder Lowell Lundstrom Sr.’s Parkinson’s disease symptoms had worsened, in 2010 he had advocated for his daughter, Lundstrom Ramsey, to succeed him as lead pastor at Celebration Church.
Jim Olson, a longtime board member and friend of Lowell Sr. and Connie Lundstrom, said in an affidavit the board was in “considerable opposition” to the succession plan because Clark Ramsey was not accepted by the congregation or the church board.
LLM Board Member Jan Hawkins said Lowell Lundstrom also protested Clark Ramsey having any involvement with the church, and it was agreed Clark Ramsey would not participate in the ministry.
After Lowell Lundstrom Sr. died in 2012, months after his wife Connie Lundstrom died, Hawkins said Lundstrom Ramsey became lead pastor, she gave Clark Ramsey an active role in the Celebration Church ministry.
Olson said while in charge, Lundstrom Ramsey also revealed little information to the board about finances but always painted a “rosy” financial picture until board members discovered $250,000 in overdue bills after Lundstrom Ramsey was dismissed.
Weyand said in her affidavit she observed a number of Lundstrom Ramsey’s personal charges for a California vacation appearing on the LLM premier corporate credit card, and Lundstrom Ramsey refused to identify the personal charges so they could be paid back to the ministry.
She said Lundstrom Ramsey and Clark Ramsey came to Sisseton on July 8, 2014, to tell staff there they were selling the Sisseton office and moving the headquarters to Minnesota.
“Ms. Ramsey told us they were selling the office to raise revenue,” Weyand said.
While the Lundstrom siblings’ suit claims Lundstrom Ramsey’s removal was illegal under the church bylaws, Engelmeier argues the bylaws document upon which the lawsuit is based is invalid.
Engelmeier said there was not a two-week waiting period between the proposed amended bylaws’ introduction and the time of the vote, as required in the original LLM bylaws Lowell Lundstrom established.
Adoption of new bylaws was Lundstrom Ramsey’s idea.
She said in her affidavit Lundstrom Ramsey suggested in a February 2014 meeting the board adopt new bylaws and articles, and she shared various drafts which gave Lundstrom Ramsey “significant power in the church” and provided lifetime appointments for herself and her sister Lisa Lundstrom.
At a May 2014 board meeting, new articles and bylaws were both introduced and approved which gave Lundstrom Ramsey a permanent appointment as president and chief executive officer presiding over a 10-member appointed board of directors and Lisa Lundstrom a permanent post as the organization’s chief financial officer.
Church members grew concerned throughout Lundstrom Ramsey’s time as lead pastor.
Olson said church members discovered Lundstrom Ramsey used employees to work at her home during work hours, used church vehicles and the church credit card for her family’s personal use and covered up allegations of sexual improprieties against Clark Ramsey to the board.
Multiple board members said in affidavits that Lundstrom Ramsey falsely told the board Clark Ramsey stepped down in December 2013 due to a medical issue, but it was later found to be because of allegations into sexual improprieties.
The couple kept receiving Clark Ramsey’s housing allowance and other expenses paid by the ministry due to his role in the church.
Hawkins said Lundstrom Ramsey had financial reason to deceive the board about why Clark Ramsey had left the church.
“IMF (International Ministerial Fellowship which credentialed Brent Clark Ramsey) had directed that Clark Ramsey have no further involvement yet Ms. Ramsey had his salary continue, transferred his housing allowance to herself, and continued his expenses such as a cell phone and a personal assistant,” Hawkins stated in her affidavit.
After board members learned of the allegations against Clark Ramsey, board members met with Lundstrom Ramsey on Aug. 12, 2014, and she agreed to take a six month sabbatical, but Hawkins said the next day Lundstrom Ramsey burst into a church elders meeting and announced no meeting was taking place because as the president, she was the only one who could call a meeting.
Hawkins said Lundstrom Ramsey told them the prior day’s Celebration Board meeting was illegal, overstepped the board’s authority and she had contacted attorneys.
Lundstrom Ramsey called a staff meeting Aug. 14 where Hawkins said she denounced the board.
On Sept. 2, 2014, Lundstrom Ramsey was removed as chair and all positions of authority, and the following day, Hawkins said, Lundstrom Ramsey incorporated a new “Celebration Church of Minnesota,” and held a meeting with a portion of the church, asking “core families” to vote on whether they had confidence in her.
“She would not allow board members to speak at that meeting and directed those with questions about her leadership and the claimed new articles and bylaws to be quiet,” Hawkins stated.
Hawkins said Lundstrom Ramsey told those gathered she had dismissed the board, appointed all new members and directed the offering money collected from regular Celebration Church gatherings go to the church she just incorporated.
She also directed and that the locks be changed at the church, according to Hawkins.
Lundstrom Ramsey was terminated by the board in a Sept. 4, 2014, meeting.
After negotiation with the board and Clarence St. John, an Assemblies of God leader, Lundstrom Ramsey signed a settlement agreement Sept. 10, 2014, in which she recognized improper conduct, agreed to have no further involvement with the church and not to compete with the church.
The document also states Lundstrom Ramsey was to account for missing funds and disband the Celebration Church of Minnesota she had incorporated, refrain from speaking negatively about the church and would make a positive social media post or statement about the church if directed by the board of directors.
Engelmeier said Lundstrom Ramsey has not paid back any funds.
Lundstrom Ramsey has started a new church at Burnsville High School in violation of the document’s stipulation to refrain from operating another church within 75 miles of Celebration Church.
Hawkins said an investigation by the church found Lundstrom Ramsey had processed and accepted a $25,000 check from the church without consent of the board for purchase of a motor home she and Clark Ramsey owned in need of repair and which they had offered to sell to others for $15,000.
After the church spent $7,000 to repair it, the vehicle was never used for ministry purposes and was ultimately disposed of for another $18,350.
Hawkins said the church also learned Lundstrom Ramsey had purchased a recreational vehicle in Celebration Church’s name for $105,000 during a time the church was experiencing cash flow challenges but used it for her own use, including a personal family vacation.
Weyand said the recreational vehicle belonged to LLM, but they were “ordered” to mail its title directly to Lundstrom Ramsey’s home.
After Lundstrom Ramsey had left the church, the vehicle was sold at a $70,000 loss.
Hawkins reported four vehicles donated to the church were for sale in April 2014 without paperwork because according to Lundstrom Ramsey, the donor did not want a tax receipt.
“This lack of documentation impacted the church’s accurate reporting of donations,” Hawkins stated.
The church also discovered at the time Clark Ramsey’s credentials had been suspended, Lundstrom Ramsey offered church members, in exchange for a donation, to share with the couple in 15-minute “Private bread-breaking” opportunity.
Weyand said Clark Ramsey would receive donated vehicles but provide no information to process the donation.
She stated Clark Ramsey would receive donated cars from his brother and the car would be sold but there was no paperwork on the transaction.
“This had been going on for a couple of years,” Weyand stated. “When these vehicle transactions occurred, I never found out about it until after the fact.”
When she reportedly asked him for a receipt, Clark Ramsey called reporting a “headache” and said he would take care of it, sell it and take the donation credit.
“When I received a check, I would not label it as a donated asset but rather labeled it as miscellaneous income to comply with the law,” Weyand stated.
The lawsuit brought by Lundstrom Ramsey and Lowell Lundstrom Jr. said Lowell Lundstrom Ministries and its board members breached the articles of incorporation by failing to govern and use funds of the corporation in a way that exclusively supports Lowell and Connie Lundstrom’s religious and charitable mission for the ministry.
It also claims the members usurped and bypassed Lundstrom Ramsey’s authority, calling her removal from the ministry an unauthorized action in the bylaws.
The lawsuit claims the board called meetings without Lundstrom Ramsey’s consent and treated church membership votes as binding instead of advisory.
In the suit, Lundstrom Ramsey and Lundstrom also ask the court to establish a constructive trust, which benefits a party that has been wrongfully deprived of its rights.
They claim the church is mismanaging assets and not following the charitable purposes of the corporation.
Dana Ross, women’s ministry director at Celebration Church and wife of current senior pastor Derrick Ross, stated in an affidavit the church and LLM was in the process of selling five acres to Schneiderman’s Furniture to expand the building for children’s ministry, a new chapel and other uses as Lowell Lundstrom Sr. had planned a decade ago.
“The church is living out exactly what Lowell Lundstrom had hoped, reaching out to people and saving people, bringing new people into the fold, helping the community,” Engelmeier said. “And, that’s everything Lowell wanted.”
The lawsuit describes the sale of real property “for construction of a big-box Minnesota furniture store,” the sale of two tour buses, failure to rededicate corporate funds invested in Celebration Church and the proposed sale of the ministry’s headquarters a breach of a charitable trust.
Lundstrom Ramsey did not return online messages seeking comment, and a phone number for her new church, “The Father’s House,” which meets at Burnsville High School, was disconnected.
Contact Laura Adelmann at [email protected]