Gatlinburg Presbyterian Church
A small East Tennessee church worried they wouldn't be able to go on after their pastor was charged with stealing money from the congregation.
But six months later, Gatlinburg Presbyterian Church says they are not only doing well, but better than expected.
"When we found out the misdeeds of our pastor, we were devastated. How could a man of god behave like that?" said Gatlinburg Presbyterian's clerk of sessions, Peggy Noblitt.
The former pastor of the church, Ronald Lukat, will go to court on August 27th. A grand jury indicted him on felony theft.
He is accused of using the daycare's credit card for personal use. The church also says he did not pay the daycare's taxes totalling $40,000.
"Now we owe penalties and interest on top of that so we owe closer to $60,000," Noblitt said.
Lukat has admitted in a police report that he did not pay taxes on the church's daycare. The church is currently working with a tax attorney and the IRS to get the situation sorted out.
The missing funds forced the child care center to close its doors. It was the only child care center in Gatlinburg.
The Director of the Gatlinburg Child Care center, Melody Huddleston, said at the time she was did not have much hope to open a new center. After much work getting state and local approval, with the help of two parents turned business partners, Huddleston recently opened a new center, Cuddly Cubs.
"We have come through so much," Huddleston said, "It's been so wonderful getting this open."
Cuddly Cubs has taken in some of the children from the church daycare. The church is not affiliated but said they offer them full support.
Noblitt said the church has also rebounded. They found a new pastor and started new ministries including Sunday School and a weekly hiking excursion.
"We didn't lose any members because of this. They almost took a circle the wagons mentality and bonded together as a family," said Noblitt.
It is a bond that came from difficult circumstances, but left them closer as a congregation.
"Sometimes when bad things happen, God is able to make good out of it. And that's certainly what happened here," said Noblitt.