© 2024 WSHU
NPR News & Classical Music
Play Live Radio
Next Up:
0:00
0:00
0:00 0:00
Available On Air Stations

Hartford pastor and city council member faces questions over use of church funds

Members of South Church in Hartford are "alarmed and concerned" after questions surfaced regarding use of church funds by an associate pastor. (Mark Mirko/Connecticut Public)
Mark Mirko
/
Connecticut Public
Members of South Church in Hartford are "alarmed and concerned" after questions surfaced regarding use of church funds by an associate pastor.

A Hartford church leader who also serves on the City Council has been terminated from his position as an associate pastor after questions surfaced in May over his use of church funds.

Officials at South Church removed Alex Thomas from his position after they became aware of charges made to a church credit card, said Rev. Adam Thomas Söderberg. Söderberg said the church has since filed a report with Hartford police.

“It was important for us for other people to be made aware,” Söderberg said. “However, until [Hartford police] can verify the information that we provided them with, it’s all still speculation.”

Lt. Aaron Boisvert, a spokesman for the Hartford Police Department, said Wednesday the department has begun an investigation to determine whether or not a crime has been committed based on information received from the church.

Thomas declined to comment on the circumstances when he was reached at his home in Hartford Wednesday afternoon.

Thomas previously served as director of family ministry at the historic church, located on Main Street in Hartford. Thomas was also a leader of its youth programs for two years, Söderberg said.

In that role, Söderberg said, Thomas led group activities for more than a dozen Hartford youth on Friday nights – an idea that Söderberg said Thomas generated to help give teenagers a safe and positive environment to spend time after school.

“Kids loved him,” Söderberg said, adding: “They don’t know how to completely process it, how two things can be true, because he was such an important, positive part of the last two years of their lives.”

Eulalia Garcia, senior deacon at the church, said the situation raised alarm and concern among members of the congregation.

“Of course it was a blow to the trust of the congregation,” she said, “but everything was reported, and now we have to let the court system run its course.”

Thomas, a Hartford native, was sworn into office for his first term on the Hartford City Council in January as a member of the Working Families Party.

According to a biography on his campaign website, Thomas grew up in Hartford’s North End, attended local public schools and was active in Hartford City Mission, the Hartford Artists Collective and the Wilson-Gray YMCA.

The biography indicates he is the first Black pastor of South Church, an independent Congregational church that traces its history in Hartford back more than 350 years.

“Alex is passionate about providing enrichment and development for Hartford’s youth,” the biography reads. “Through his past work as a youth pastor, program director, and camp counselor, Alex has a connection to and understanding of Hartford’s young people that informs his priorities for City Council, including increased city programs for youth, improved parks and public spaces, and safe, affordable housing.”

Hartford City Council President Shirley Surgeon said Wednesday she was unaware of the circumstances involving the investigation and Thomas’ termination from the church. Surgeon said Thomas demonstrated honesty and integrity during his time on the council, and has been a positive influence on kids in the community.

“As an elected official, we have to certainly uphold the most trust we can for the community,” she said, “so I do hope this is not true.”

Jim Haddadin is an editor for The Accountability Project, Connecticut Public's investigative reporting team. He was previously an investigative producer at NBC Boston, and wrote for newspapers in Massachusetts and New Hampshire.