THE Evangelical Lutheran Church in the Republic of Namibia (ELCRN) has failed to pay its staff's salaries this month without giving any reason, prompting concerns that funding has become uncertain for one of the biggest churches in the country.
The church has 54 congregations countrywide and more than 100 employees are said to be affected.
Payments by the church are normally made on the 15th of each month but church staff told The Namibian yesterday that that date came and went this month without word from the leadership of the church on when they will get paid. This, they said, led them to believe that the church had no money to pay them, despite assurances from the church leadership a few months back that the church was out of the red financially.
Also, a decision was passed by the church senate recently that all congregations are expected to give 40 percent of their weekly income to the head office.
Staff on the payroll of the church include pastors, chairpersons of the various arms of the church, lecturers at the seminary in Windhoek and administrative staff.
Some of the church staff The Namibian spoke to said that normally when payments are late, they are issued with notifications and reasons for the delay.
"We get paid on the 15th of every month. This is the second day that we are going without pay and nothing has been said. They said a while back that the church was out of the red financially but now we have not been paid," said Willem Pieters, former Chairperson of the Synod.
Another employee said there was a sense of desperation among the church staff as they did not know where to get the money to pay their bills.
"People feel bad. Some have gone to the banks to see if they can borrow money to pay for their houses, children's school fees and all other debit orders that go off on a monthly basis," said one of the staff.
The Namibian could not get comment from the church leadership yesterday as they were said to be attending a meeting in Otjiwarongo. The church office said Bishop Zephania Kameeta, who is apparently also attending the Otjiwarongo meeting, could not be reached yesterday, and they did not have his new cellphone number.
Several calls to the church's finance manager, Lenie De Vries, went unanswered.
When contacted for comment, Deputy Bishop Paul Kisting said he was busy and requested to be called back later. However when called back later, his cellphone was switched off.
Calls to the church's acting general secretary, Wilfred Diergaardt, also did not yield any results as he said he was in a meeting.
This non-payment episode comes not so long after The Namibian learnt that at least 20 church elders and pastors were said to have been expelled, suspended or questioned in connection with the misuse of church funds.
This came after a probe into one of the church's accounts, the 'Projects and Partnership Account' revealed that more than N$1 million had been embezzled from the account over a period of three years.
Those suspended included pastors Japhet Sem and Mark Beukes, Dean Paul Goagoseb of the Okakarara mission and Dean Lesley Du Toit of the Rehoboth mission.
The probe revealed that "curious transactions" from the account included bailing clergymen out of personal financial problems.
The church has since said that disciplinary hearings and charges will be brought against those responsible for the fraud.