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O.C. pastor asks for $900,000, receives $2.4 million

January 2, 2010 | 10:47 pm

A year-end plea for $900,000 yielded $2.4 million for the Lake Forest mega-church led by Rick Warren, the evangelical pastor who gave the invocation at President Obama’s inauguration.

Warren had sent out the appeal via an online communication to Saddleback Church members Dec. 30. The money was needed, he said, to offset a deficit resulting from hard economic times. Giving among church members had declined at a time of greater need for church’s aid.

Now, the church will enter the year with an unanticipated surplus, officials said.
 
“I wasn’t surprised by this offering, as Saddleback is famous for radical generosity,” Warren said during tonight's service.

Warren represented the total with a display that included 24 parishioners rising to represent $100,000 each, said spokeswoman Kristin Cole. Virtually all of the individual donations were for less than $1,000, according to the church, she added. More donations remain to be counted.

The church has launched similar appeals before, raising $1.6 million for victims of the 2004 Asian tsunami and $1.7 million for victims of Hurricane Katrina, which struck New Orleans in 2005.

“I say without fear of contradiction that I don’t know of a more generous church,” Warren said in a news release.

The church does not release comprehensive information about its budget -- or even a budget total -- so it’s difficult for those outside the leadership to get a clear picture of church finances.

The church was never in danger of going under, Cole said. But without the infusion, the church would not have been able to accomplish its ministerial work as planned, she said.

Like other charitable organizations, Saddleback has had to do more with less, even as it expanded its work in some areas, Cole said.

Warren launched the appeal online with these words: “This is an urgent letter,” he wrote in all capital letters, “unlike any I've written in 30 years. Please read all of it and get back to me in the next 48 hours.”

In a later message, Warren sought to downplay any suggestion of critical difficulties.

“The cause of our financial shortfall was NOT a management issue,” he wrote in an online message, “but simply by the way Christmas occurred in this year's calendar. After 10 packed Christmas services, and with Christmas Day on Friday, many people were out of town or too tired to come back for weekend services, so the unusually low attendance created an unusually low offering. That is understandable.”

Warren already was famous in evangelical circles when President-elect Barack Obama asked him to deliver the invocation at his inauguration. Many other evangelical ministers had sharply criticized the views of the Democratic presidential nominee; many liberal supports of Obama, in turn, faulted the choice of Warren to play such a symbolically important and visible role at the inauguration.

The church, which belongs to the Southern Baptist Convention, says that about 22,000 congregants attend services every week at its five regional locations.

--Howard Blume

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