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Pastor accused of weilding ax, shotgun

Police suspect Rev. McCulloch had been drinking when he allegedly threatened an Alcoholics Anonymous group

by:  - Ronnie McCulloch

News Editor
    June 4, 2003 — A Lutheran pastor who allegedly threatened an Alcoholics Anonymous group with both an ax and shotgun was arrested Thursday by police, who said they suspect he was under the influence of alcohol.
   The Rev. Ronnie McCulloch, 53, was taken into custody just after 9 p.m. He spent one night in a detoxification holding cell before paying $1,350, or 10 percent, of his $13,500 bail to gain release the next afternoon.
   "This was an unfortunate incident and it's behavior not expected from someone in his position," said Madras Police Chief Tom Adams. "Our investigation into this continues."
   According to police and witness accounts, McCulloch approached five members of the AA group with an ax just after their meeting at the Lutheran Church of the Good Shepard had ended.
   He angrily demanded their keys to the church, witnesses said, and by some accounts was shifting the ax back and forth between hands while yelling.
   Police said the AA members were leaving the church property when McCulloch retrieved a 12-gauge Mossberg shotgun and began wielding it and the ax together.
   McCulloch was ordered to the ground at gunpoint. He was booked on misdemeanor charges that include disorderly conduct and five counts of menacing. Combined, these charges are punishable by up to 5 1/2 years in prison.
   Police said he admitted to consuming two beers, but refused to submit to a breathalyzer test.
   McCulloch is scheduled to appear in Circuit Court for arraignment on June 30.
   Paula Carlson, president of the Lutheran Church Council, said McCulloch has been placed on paid leave for two months. She said he has returned to Lake Oswego, where his family lives, and might go on disability.
   "The Bishop of our church is working with him," Carlson said. "He's going to go through some counseling."
   McCulloch did not return a phone call Monday.
   Carlson said McCulloch's behavior might be linked to a lack of medication he had been taking since a near-death auto accident nine years ago.
   He has been with the church for more than two years, at first in an interim capacity. He was installed permanently as the Lutheran Church's half-time pastor on Jan. 19.
   He lived in the church parsonage at 395 S.E. C St. four days a week — Saturday through Wednesday — returning home to his wife and two sons during the remainder.
   "After we installed him, he quit taking his medication and I think that was his problem," Carlson said. "He needs to go back on it."
   McCulloch has bachelor's and master's degrees in psychology. He has experience in marriage and grief counseling, and has coordinated several support groups, including Alcoholics Anonymous. He has been a pastor for 15 years.
   According to witnesses, McCulloch allegedly had been asked to leave a recent Alcoholics Anonymous group meeting after he showed up and began preaching — reportedly under the influence.
   They recieved a notice shortly after that meeting that the church no longer would be available to their sessions come June 19, witnesses said.
   Carlson said Monday she spoke to the AA group to make sure they'd found a new facility. She said the Lutheran Church will be needed for another use.
   Retired Revs. Craig Jorgenson and Frank Brocken will handle pastoral duties at the church in the immediate future, Carlson said.