Former CCC member speaks out

To the Editor: While reading the Tribune article about Ian Lawton’s heading to Australia, several thoughts came to mind.
Aug 8, 2013

Some were pleasant memories of a healthy, vibrant church where nearly a thousand members called CCC home. Other thoughts were of how fast that community was decimated by primarily one individual who imposed his beliefs and style on an unwitting congregation, in spite of their pleas for Christian traditions and rituals.
One by one, crosses were removed, hymnals set aside, rituals without Christ, hymns rewritten, traditional services abandoned and other ministers forbidden to deliver Christian messages or perform ceremonies. The church was being dismantled!

Within the first six months, half the members left. Month after month, more members stopped coming. From 600-700, the weekly attendance slipped to under 300. Offerings diminished and assets started to be liquidated. Eventually, the bank took over the property and what was left of the congregation moved. Perhaps as few as a dozen families of the original congregation still attend C3. So, in nine short years, a thriving church became history.
There wasn’t just one reason people left CCC, there were many. No one was able to intervene on the direction the church was going. The executive minister had a vote on the seven-member board, which meant only three other votes were needed to control decisions. So, when Easter was minimized, Christmas pretty much set aside and America ridiculed from the pulpit, there was no way to say “enough.” In disgust, anger or embarrassment, members stopped attending. Their survey results had been discarded, along with their desire to maintain a friendly community of progressive Christian believers.
With a substantial initial salary and a handsome contribution to a home mortgage, which was forgiven by 10 percent a year, it is not surprising that the leader is now leaving in the 10th year of American residency. So, with Mr. Lawton’s leaving for Australia, it’s a clean sweep. The church is gone, the congregation is gone and finally he’s gone.

— Leon Stille, Crockery Township



I'd like to ask Mr. Stille, What is worse - Removing a cross to be more inclusive or forcing a woman to engage in a sexual relationship because "God" told you to?



Maggi C

Everyone who is talking about C3 being a "Christian Church" don't seem to remember that C3 (which was Christ Community Church" started to accept atheists as part of their community. The word "Christian was taken out of their name. It doesn't make a difference whether they are associated with an accepted "church" name. They have alienated their followers by changing their view of a church. Then the membership waned and so went to money. Did anyone in the leadership not notice this a long way before this happened? No--they just wanted to take a group of people to follow their way of thinking. After the membership declined, the money was doomed to dry up. I feel that I am spiritual person, but I don't go to church. Part of which is that this type of change happens in every community in every state. I read a bumper sticker (yeah sometimes they make a lot of sense) "I believe in God, I just don't like his fan clubs".


The sexual misadventures of a former pastor indicate to me that he was one of those men who can "sense" disturbed or unhappy women, and then manipulate them into affairs. That is one issue. The destruction of an entire church is another. Inclusivity is great, but using that to highlight one man's ego is not. Lawton is billed as the "architect of rational spirituality." Check his Web site. He used Christ Community Church to promote himself. He took the most attended church in the area, and left it in shambles. Mr. Stille is absolutely right to speak out. It is a shame that a church which used to host communitiy Thanksgiving dinners for hundreds of people in need, can't even gather enough congregants to worship at the Community Center!


Well said.

Fact Check

theQuin, in your haste to jump on the judgment bandwagon about a situation which you likely know little about and likely have little interest in, you have referenced a different Ian Lawton. Ian Lawton of C3Exchange has nothing to do with rational spirituality.


Check his Website, and note his picture on it. Unless he has a twin - also named Ian - he is the rational spirituality guru.

Fact Check

Check the address. The rational spirituality guy lives in the UK. Same name, different person.


So it's Rhem's fault that Lawton drove the church into the ground? I've heard the comments that Lawton was hired because he is "progressive," the direction the church was going under previous leadership. Now, is the previous leader to blame or the board for heading full steam in that direction?


Mr. Stille is likely too busy dumping his personal garbage in the Spring Lake High School dumpster to answer my question.


We left for the same reasons as Leon, sad it used to be a nice church.


So you're saying you were fine with a minister who used his power of position to sexually abuse a member, but not with one who wanted to change the words of hymns?


We left in 1995 when we seen the way things were changing then.


So you left 9 years before the new guy arrived. And from what I can tell, about 9 years and 6 months or so before Mr. Stille left. Therefore, your reason for leaving was not the same as Mr. Stille. Your problem was obviously with Richard Rhem, not Ian Lawton.


We were still members until Lawton came on board, we just didn't attend. Myself and Leon are long time friends, we were on the same page then as now.


If you are truly longtime friends, perhaps you could ask Mr. Stille my original question, which involved his support of a man who forced a woman to engage in a sexual relationship because "God" told him to.


Let's be careful about using some kind of "church"" judgement as fact.......


That was WAY before Ian Lawton arrived....


Mr. Stille's memories of that time are very different from my own. The church wanted Mr. Lawton to come for the very reason that he was Progressive, which is the direction that the retiring minister was leading the congregation. While it is true that, in EVERY church transition of leadership there is attrition of members, Mr. Stille exaggerates in saying that half the members left within the first 6 months, and he doesn't mention the many who came TO the church BECAUSE of the new minister.
Hymns were being re-written well before Mr. Lawton arrived, rituals were being simplified, and small changes (such as the elimination of the Lord's Prayer from the liturgy) were overlooked by the congregation because of the charisma of the man they followed. Mr. Lawton's vision was one of authenticity,and was supported enthusiastically by those who brought him here. I remember hearing people complain of not being "heard" about their concerns. I remember going to meeting after meeting where they were listened to. Their interpretation of not being "heard" meant that things did not always go back to how they wanted. So they were angry and left.
Look, because CCC wasn't a part of any denomination at the time of the transition, it was not required that the former minister stay away and an interim minister come serve for the transition. That was a major mistake on the part of the governance and selection committee. People tend to fight change, and, rather than give new ideas/practices time to develop, they leave. The church was not thriving. It was in a huge debt situation, the building was unsustainable, and all of the older benefactors who bankrolled it in times of need were dying off. Add to that the $400,000.00 payment to the RCA, which just increased the amount of debt that Mr. Lawton inherited. Mr. Stille's mention of the Lawton's mortgage situation is inappropriate. I recall the congregation actually paying off the mortgage of his predecessor. No one was forbidden to deliver Christian messages. That is simply not true. Please don't confuse the facts with all the rumors, back-stabbing and nastiness that was circulated among those who left....people who, from the moment they left, had no first-hand knowledge of the facts.


Spoken like a true minion abcWTF Carry on with your worthless cult driven hypocritical comments. Are you that illiterate to the fact your so called house of worship is the laughing stock of both Grand Haven and Spring Lake. Rhem was the first to start the collapse of this church, Lawton sealed the coffin.


It's ironic how you misused the word "illiterate."


Good catch, someone was paying attention.




YIKES. My comments are based in fact. I have no interest in what GH or SL thinks of where I go to worship. I certainly don't care where anyone else does, either...


This letter really shows your true Christian spirit of love, forgiveness and acceptance.

Leon, please read Ian's response in the comment section of the original article. I hope you can get past your anger and hatred and continue on your path without all this negativity in your heart.

Luke 6:37
Do not judge, and you will not be judged. Do not condemn, and you will not be condemned. Forgive, and you will be forgiven.


Kelly LaMore

Thank you, abckdb, for stating much of what I was thinking as I read this letter. I knew members of both CCC and C3 exchange. Some left when the cross was taken down, some stayed through out the changes, many joined as C3Exchange grew and got their message out. Inclusiveness. I attended a couple of their services and was pleased to hear the word of God spoken and discussed from many different perspectives. I was pleased to see many people from many different walks of life, denominations, religions, finding a spiritual home here. Let's face it, it is a wonderful thing to have a "home church". Somewhere you belong and feel a part of the family. The Tri-Cities area has an abundance of churches where you can feel welcome. There was only one church like C3Exchange that accepted individuals who came in the door with the heart and desire to worship and live a life closer to God. Whether they were Christian, Jewish, Buddist, Muslim, non-denominational...all were accepted. To the Lawton family I have to say, for every letter written with bitterness, for every word said with hate, I hope you feel the love of the many whose lives you have touched, healed, and helped. God bless you on your journey back home to be with family. It has been a pleasure to know you and your family for the past few years!

Katie Bar the Door

Thank you, Kelly. You've said it eloquently.


What made it great is it what made it fall. CCC was on its way out long before Ian Lawton came there. Probably about the time the news crews showed up on the front steps for the first time. The powers that be at that point in time (which included Leon Stille) pushed and pushed until there was nothing left to seek. It was sad to watch. So much for the "ten best ways to live."

Katie Bar the Door

Mr./Ms. ghresident likely has never met me, knows nothing about me, and wouldn't recognize me on the street. Yet, he/she feels absolutely free to call me a minion, question my morals, question my intelligence, assail my belief systems, and denigrate something dear to me simply because I am part of a community he/she disagrees with.

I am one of the many, many people drawn to C3 by the absence of dogma, the acceptance of all people, the encouraged questioning and challenging, the absence of rote creeds and prayers, the reminder that we are all responsible for each other, the reminder to be the change we want to see in the world, and the loving example Ian Lawton lived. Based on the letters and comments from the opposition, I'm guessing none of those is welcome in many religious communities.

Rather than "they shall know we are Christians by our love," I think Mr./Ms. ghresident and his/her "minions" should adopt Tina Turner's "What's Love Got to Do with It?" as their anthem. It is obviously more descriptive of their world view.

Small wonder traditional church membership is falling.


Here's what I take out of all the news about CCC - it's the new norm (from a government perspective, at least)


Post a Comment

Log in to your account to post comments here and on other stories, galleries and polls. Share your thoughts and reply to comments posted by others. Don't have an account on Create a new account today to get started.