Gatlinburg church day care center closing as ex-pastor investigated over money issues

Feb. 13, 2013 @ 10:47 AM

The day care center sponsored by Gatlinburg Presbyterian Church will close its doors for good Thursday amid an investigation into allegations the church’s former pastor misused funds meant for the facility.

Gatlinburg Presbyterian is currently without a pastor, and church spokesman Bill Ball said Tuesday its Child Care Center is closing due to alleged actions by former pastor Ronald Lukat. Those alleged misdeeds left the church with no choice but to close the center, which opened in 1995.

“Thursday of this week, the day care is being forced to close its doors as a direct outcome of the alleged criminal activities of the Rev. Lukat,” Ball said.

Gatlinburg Police Chief Randy Brackins confirmed Tuesday his department is investigating charges at the church involving misuse of a credit card, but said the detective overseeing the case was unavailable and that the chief could not confirm details of the case.

Lukat could not be reached for comment Tuesday. Calls were made to his home and cellular telephone and messages left.

Lukat came to the church as its pastor in early 2011. Soon after he did so, the treasurer of the day care decided to step down from that job, and Lukat volunteered to assume those duties as well, Ball said.

The church became aware of issues in December and contacted authorities. Lukat was immediately removed from any duties at the day care center, and within a week he resigned as pastor of the church.

He had been a pastor for more than 34 years.

Judd Shaw, general presbyter for the Presbytery of East Tennessee, confirmed Tuesday that Lukat had resigned from the church and was the target of an investigation. He said it was his belief Lukat is was not looking to be placed at any other church.

The presbytery — the administrative group that helps oversee churches in this district — is helping the Gatlinburg church in its search for a new pastor, Shaw said.

“We are striving to be as supportive with that congregation as we possibly can, as they are members in good standing,” Shaw said.

Ball said members of the church are saddened by the decision to dismiss the remaining staff at the child care center, which served children from infants to elementary school age.

The building is now for sale, he added.

n jfarrell@themountainpress.com