EMMETT TOWNSHIP, Mich. (WOOD) — A Battle Creek-area church is speaking out after a former member is accused of embezzling nearly $40,000 from the congregation.

Laura Clingenpeel, board chair of First Christian Church, says they first noticed a problem with their accounts in December.

“Her explanation was for the last month (was) ‘I’ve gotten the cards mixed up and I accidentally used the church card instead of my personal and I’m so sorry,’ she was in tears, (she said) ‘I will pay it back,’” Clingenpeel said. “I said ‘you mean just the last month’ and she said ‘yes just the last month’ and I had 78 pages of Lowe’s receipts for the last year.”

Marcia Lutz
A mug shot of Marcia Lutz.

Marcia Lutz was formally charged with embezzlement in July but was already facing charges for allegedly concealing her mother’s death and failing to report her body.

Police unearthed Phyllis Lutz’s body from the yard of her Leroy Township home on Jan. 17.

“We called in the embezzlement and then we said ‘let’s just have police do a well check because we haven’t seen Phyllis,’” Clingenpeel said. “We’ve asked and asked to visit her, and we were turned down.”

After reviewing the accounts, the church found money missing dating back to 2015 for a total of approximately $38,000, leaving the church with just $3,244 in the bank, according to Clingenpeel.

She says a variety of charges were made that clearly were not for the church.

“AT&T bills, Comcast bills, an air conditioner, lawnmower, a cow for butchering,” Clingenpeel said.

Pastor Kingery Clingenpeel, Laura’s husband, says what happened has been devastating for the congregation. The two agreed to stop receiving a salary to save the church.

“There’s also a certain amount of guilt. You think to yourself ‘why didn’t I see this’ and then you feel terrible,” Pastor Clingenpeel said.

With money from the denomination’s main office currently paying the bills, the future is uncertain.

“We literally are week to week and month to month right now trying to decide what are direction is going to be and we simply don’t know,” Pastor Clingenpeel said.

It is still unclear whether the church will be able to stay open after losing so much money.