Ahead of trial, Richmond Outreach Center changes name, hires new pastor
Three days before the trial of its former pastor is scheduled to begin, the Richmond Outreach Center announced that it is changing its name to Celebration Church and Outreach Ministry and is hiring a new transitional pastor.
The South Richmond church posted on its Facebook page Friday that it has hired Robert Rhoden, who has a history working with struggling and scandal-touched churches.
According to the Orlando Sentinel, Rhoden served in 2013 as the transitional pastor at Calvary Assembly, whose congregation shrank from 5,000 members to about 650 after a series of crises that included a pastor caught in an extramarital affair and a heavy debt load.
“Dr. Rhoden has the integrity, experience and faith to lead our church and make a lasting difference in Richmond for generations to come,” said David Lynn, chairman of the Richmond Outreach Center’s board, in a statement. “His heart to empower the needy and strengthen the hearts of the membership has touched us deeply. We are honored to have him on board.”
Once billed as one of the fastest-growing churches in the country with upward of 10,000 members, the church has struggled since its founder and former lead pastor, Geronimo Aguilar, was charged in mid-2013 with the sexual abuse of two young girls in Texas.
The church hired and then, after seven weeks, dismissed a replacement pastor, Joe Donahue, who later wrote on his blog that he was caught off-guard by his firing.
“We understood that it would be difficult (a sea of red-flag warnings), but we never anticipated anything like what has occurred,” he wrote at the time.
The church also has been unloading its real estate holdings.
Last year, the city purchased the church’s previous campus on Old Warwick Road for $1.7 million. It is planning to convert the building into a community center. The church also sold its parsonage, a $500,000 home where Aguilar and his family lived.
Still for sale is a North Side building where the church housed its now-defunct School of Urban Ministry.
Aguilar was arrested May 21, 2013, on charges that he sexually abused an 11-year-old girl and her 13-year-old sister in the 1990s in Tarrant County.
His trial is scheduled to start Monday.