The pastor of a Napier church that took at least $20,000 in donations from a disabled rest home resident has allegedly tried to "heavy" the man into signing a document clearing the church of blame.
Napier's Oasis Elim Church pastor Bruce Collingwood confirmed he turned up at the rest home yesterday to ask Whetu Abraham, who uses a wheelchair, to sign the document.
Otatara Rest Care and Rehabilitation manager Lucy Dever described the move as disgusting. Staff stopped Mr Abraham signing the letter until he had legal advice.
Ms Dever trespassed Mr Collingwood from the rest home.
"He was standing over Whetu and [appeared to be] very angry. This guy was way out of line. He tried to heavy him into signing the letter."
Mr Collingwood's actions came after The Dominion Post revealed the church took nearly $12,000 from Mr Abraham last year and about $10,000 in 2008.
Mr Abraham, 54, is a partial tetraplegic with head injuries, after being hit by a car in 1986. Ms Dever said the church now had the last of his life savings and he could not afford dental care for rotting teeth.
Mr Collingwood refused to let The Dominion Post see the letter he wanted Mr Abraham to sign.
"Oh, man, I don't know what I should say here. I read him a letter that I had written. Whetu and I have an understanding. We've got a good relationship and it could all be sorted out."
Mr Collingwood said Mr Abraham had donated the money willingly "out of his own heart".
They talked about his financial and medical situation and Mr Collingwood was comfortable taking the money. "We had that conversation. I talked to him and asked him if he can afford it, absolutely. He said he wanted to give it and that was the end of that. If you get given a gift you just receive the gift out of the good nature it was intended."
The church had lived on the "smell of an oily rag" for the past 11 years and the money was a lifeline.
Ms Dever said earlier that the church rejected her plea to stop accepting large donations from Mr Abraham and came to the rest home to give him a donation certificate so he could claim a third of the money back from Inland Revenue.
Elim Church of New Zealand has condemned the Napier branch's activities. Spokesman Chris Bethwaite said an investigation had begun. "This is not the sort of behaviour we would condone, taking money from someone who can't afford it. We are working with the church to get all the facts. Whether there is any disciplinary action remains to be seen."
The organisation did not have a policy on donations; individual churches decided for themselves. "But they are told not to put pressure on anyone. We have never had complaints before.
"Most churches get by because of the generosity of people. You don't investigate every person that gives money to a church to find out whether they can afford it or not.
- The Dominion Post