HAMMOND | Layoffs have hit the First Baptist Church of Hammond with a quarter of the church's staff estimated to be let go, a church spokesman confirmed Tuesday.

The layoffs come in the wake of a federal guilty plea by the church's former head Pastor Jack Schaap, who admitted to a sexual relationship with an underage parish girl he had been counseling.

Church officials said incoming donations to the parish have been "pretty much the same" since the July firing of Schaap.

However, church leaders decided to wrap an approximately $1 million per year loan payment into its budget, which forced the layoffs, said Eddie Lapina, the church's interim pastor.

Lapina said outside donations have been used to support the payment, but those have not met expectations. The church took out the loan when it expanded and built its auditorium nearly seven years ago and has $16 million remaining to pay.

“I just have never had to do anything more difficult in my life,” said Lapina of the layoffs, calling people who were laid off excellent workers.

Layoffs began Thursday and may continue through the week, said church spokesman Eddie Wilson. The cuts left the church's radio station, WRTW-FM 90.5, with one employee.

Along with the loan payment, the church has seen a steady decline in donations and gifts since 2008, Wilson said. Lapina estimated donations are down 10 percent from last year.

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“In looking at this, it has been a long time coming,” Wilson said. “And we've had some major donors that have not been able to give at the same level as they have."

The church is not required to file a Form 990 with the IRS, which would show financial information, Lapina said.

But a separate 990 non-profit tax filing for the church's City Outreach Foundation, which supports a homeless shelter and addiction treatment program, shows a steep decline in recent years.

According to the foundation's 2009 Form 990 tax filing, the foundation's contributions and grants fell to $216,597, a 92 percent drop from the previous year's $2.65 million. In 2010 contributions fell to $72,490.

Wilson said the decline resulted from the church beginning to underwrite the shelter and addiction program from church offerings instead of relying on large fundraising efforts as it did when it first took on the operations.

Wilson said the recent restructuring efforts will position the church in a “positive manner” for a new pastor. A committee will be formed within the next two weeks to begin the search for the church's new leader.

Wilson said the church-affiliated Hyles-Anderson College in Crown Point also will restructure, but no decisions have been made on layoffs. The church's two other school systems, Hammond Baptist Schools in Schererville and City Baptist Schools in Hammond, have not been affected by the layoffs, he said.

Times Investigative Editor Marc Chase contributed to this report.

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