Supporters of the Rev. Dyanne Pina held a prayer vigil Wednesday in Hicksville, after at least three board members of the Long Island Council of Churches had resigned in protest of her ouster as the group’s executive director.
The Rev. Tracie Saunders, who also is a physician at Stony Brook University Hospital, said she no longer trusts the five-member executive committee that eliminated Pina’s position on Sept. 8 before bringing the issue to the general board.
She said she resigned from the 30-member board on Monday. Another board member, the Rev. Marjorie Nunes, pastor of Hicksville United Methodist Church, said she resigned on Saturday.
“I don’t trust that it is the same organization that I thought it was,” Saunders, pastor of Grace Presbyterian Church in Selden, said Wednesday in an interview. “I don’t think it is living up to its mission.” She said Pina “is wonderful and she worked really, really hard and she loved the institution.”
Members of the executive committee have said they eliminated the executive director position because of the group’s financial problems. Members of the group’s two general boards reaffirmed that decision at a meeting Sept. 14.
A third board member, the Rev. Vicky Eastland, pastor of Brookville Reformed Church, resigned the day the council stuck by its action. She was a member of the executive committee.
In a letter of resignation, Eastland said she was quitting because of “personal and ministry stressors in my life” and that “the timing of my resignation is due to the internal conflicts that are occurring within the LICC.”
About 15 people attended the prayer vigil held at Hicksville United Methodist Church. They formed a semicircle in front of the altar, held hands and offered up prayers.
“I agree that a terrible injustice has been done,” Irene Goodman, a representative of the Quakers on Long Island and a member of the council’s board, said afterward.
“I don’t know if the executive committee meant to be cruel, but they were,” she said.
Goodman said she is not resigning from the board because she still hopes for a resolution to the conflict and for Pina to return.
“I would love her to come back,” Goodman said. “I’ve never given up hope that in the presence of the Spirit among people of goodwill, that forgiveness and love will take over.”
Pina, who was at the vigil, said she thought returning to the council would be difficult because there has been a loss of trust between her and members of the executive committee.
The council, which is the main umbrella group for 800 Christian churches on the Island, has an annual budget of about $750,000. The group runs three food pantries, provides social services and seeks to establish ties among different religions.
Pina, whose salary was $81,000 a year, took over the post in June 2016. She was the first woman and the first African-American to head the organization since its founding in 1969.
Hank Boerner, a member of the executive committee and vice chairman of the board of directors, said earlier Wednesday in response to Saunders and Nunes: “It’s understandable they would have a different understanding or perspective on what happened and why. But the record stands. We’ve been saying it’s financial. It’s financial.”
Nunes said the group’s financial troubles were “not new” and a “long time coming.”
She said she resigned because Pina “was not given due process,” in part because she had not received a formal performance review.
Boerner said it was accurate that Pina never received a year-end performance review. He said board members had had numerous conversations with her about the financial state of the council and her work.
Pina has said she was fired because she was exposing the group’s long-term dysfunction and trying to bring it “into the 21st century.”
She said the group’s finances were tight, but that it was operating in the black and she expected more improvements soon.
Tom Wallace, a member of the executive committee and chairman of the board of directors, has said Pina’s position was eliminated as part of a restructuring of the organization.
“We have had fiscal problems, yes,” he said last week. “She was hired in part to address those.”
But “we have a budgetary shortfall, a financial condition that requires us to make structural changes,” he said. “And we have more structural changes that we have to make.”
Wallace said the group received a large bequest about six years ago that helped it cover the deficits, but that money was coming to an end.
“She did a great job with certain things, and she was very respected in the community for the job she did,” he said of Pina. “And we respect her.
“I don’t want to disparage her. She did some good things on the financial end, too. We made a decision to restructure. And God bless her, she did a good job.”
The council will be run by the executive committee, including himself, until the restructuring is completed, Wallace said.
“This was a painful, painful decision,” he said.
Saunders, however, said, “I don’t believe the statements from the executive committee about it all being a financial decision to get rid of the position. They wanted to get to rid of her. They didn’t like the way she was doing things.”
“If you have a new executive director, then you have to give them time to actually implement their vision,” she said. “You don’t cut them off in the middle of it.”
At the vigil, the Rev. Luonne Rouse, pastor of First Church Baldwin United Methodist and head of Clergy for Minority Youth Matters, a national coalition of clergy and lay people, called for churches and other organizations to withhold their donations to the Long Island Council of Churches.
“Many of us were getting ready to financially support the organization because we were hearing positive things about her work,” or to increase donations if they were already providing funding, Rouse said.
But Pina’s removal as executive director “gave a semblance of injustice, of unfair treatment,” Rouse said.
Pina told the group she still is in shock over her ouster nearly two weeks ago, and that it seems surreal.
“I’ve been dealing with the emotion, ‘Has this really happened?’ ” she said. “It was unjust, and it is an injustice. It was unethical and downright un-Christlike.”