Should Claude Thomas be the new chaplain at SWBTS? Lets see, we will fire all the women and replace them with ethically challenged men. Sounds like a great plan. Church reviews pastor's budget By Darren Barbee Star-Telegram Staff Writer EULESS -- Weeks before the Rev. Claude Thomas resigned from First Baptist Church of Euless, a group of church members hired an accounting firm to review how their pastor and his staff used church credit cards. Thomas, 61, announced Sunday that he was stepping down after 12 years in the pulpit of the 8,500-member congregation. Thomas has accepted a job as the first chaplain at Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary in Fort Worth. On Wednesday, many church deacons, staff members and other church leaders got their first look at the financial review, which was conducted on behalf of the church at a cost of about $35,000, said Harold Samuels, a church trustee and former Euless mayor. He has been a member of the church for 40 years. The review found no missing money and concluded that many of the church's financial practices are sound. But it raised questions about Thomas' spending during a 2002 overseas trip and about a lax credit card policy that allowed senior staff members to make purchases worth thousands of dollars without submitting itemized receipts, said sources familiar with the review. The sources, all of whom are church members, spoke on condition that their names not be used because they did not want to discuss church business publicly. They said they wanted to address rumors about Thomas' departure and the church's finances. Samuels said he did not know whether Thomas resigned at the request of church leaders. "I would not say it was a coincidence," Samuels said. Asked whether the review was a factor in his resignation, Thomas said Friday that his decision to leave came from prayerfully seeking God's direction. Church officials have said Thomas will deliver his last sermon Oct. 10. A guest preacher had been scheduled to give this Sunday's sermon before Thomas resigned. As Southwestern's chaplain, Thomas will serve about 3,000 students at the country's second-largest theological school. Samuels said the church will use the review to improve its policies and procedures. "Everything that comes out of this is going to be good," Samuels said. The Fort Worth certified public accounting firm Rylander, Clay and Spitz conducted the review. The firm declined to comment on its findings, and the church would not provide a copy to the Star-Telegram. The review examined a $25,000 European trip and monthlong sabbatical that the church gave to Thomas in 2002 on his 10th anniversary as pastor. It found that Thomas had exceeded that budget by several thousand dollars, according to sources familiar with the review, but Thomas disputed the figures. The review also found that some of the expenses for that trip were listed under the church's Sunday school budget, said a source familiar with the review. Thomas said church business administrator Gary Hill made decisions on how such expenses were accounted for in the church budget. Hill could not be reached for comment this week. Thomas said the church's personnel committee was responsible for money used during the trip and was aware of how it would be accounted for. The review also examined credit card purchases made for meals, gifts and travel, Samuels said. It is unclear which period of time the review covered and which other financial areas may have been examined. "There were some questionable charges to the credit cards of all the senior staff, some more than others," Samuels said. "I won't single anybody out." Thomas and Hill were among several staff members who had credit cards. Some of the tens of thousands of dollars in staff credit card purchases covered by the review did not include itemized receipts. The church's credit card policy did not require them, Samuels said. But, Samuels said, "A prudent traveler should have kept those receipts and attached those to the credit card" bill. Thomas said neither he nor anyone with a credit card took advantage of the church's policy. Thomas always spent money with the intention of furthering the church's mission, he said. "Inappropriateness many, many times is in the eye of the beholder," Thomas said. About a dozen church members approached Thomas several weeks ago and asked him for a review of church finances. Some financial questions could not be answered because the church's 2002 and 2003 annual financial audits were not available from the auditor, Samuels said. A comprehensive audit for those years is being conducted by an Arlington company that regularly examines church finances, Samuels said. State Rep. Todd Smith, R-Euless, a longtime church member, called the review's findings a bump in the road for a church that has changed his life and brought meaning to many others. But Smith said it was best for the church and Thomas to part ways. "My understanding is that the financial discrepancies were obviously something that could not be tolerated and should not be tolerated," Smith said. Smith said that church procedures need to be stronger to avoid future problems. "These are wonderful people who had done wonderful things for the church in many instances but who apparently made mistakes in judgment," Smith said. "I think this will serve as a ... reminder that the purpose of the church is much bigger than any one person or any group of people," Smith said. Next week, church members plan to vote on an interim pastor for the church, Samuels said. Church members said the Rev. James Draper and the Rev. Bill Anderson, both former pastors at the church, may be asked to fill in while a new pastor is found.