Church Will Report on Moomaw Episode : Religion: Bel Air Presbyterian is expected to discuss offenses by the former minister, who stepped down two years ago over unspecified indiscretions.


Two years after the Rev. Donn Moomaw--a once-prominent athlete and clergyman best known as former President Ronald Reagan’s minister--resigned as pastor of Bel Air Presbyterian Church for unspecified indiscretions, Presbyterian of ficials are expected to announce Tuesday night what the minister did wrong and what penalty he faces.

Moomaw, now 63, has never said publicly what he did to cause him to surprise the congregation of 2,000 active members in February, 1993, by suddenly resigning after 29 years as senior pastor. His statement said only that he had “stepped over the line of acceptable behavior” with some church members.

The long process of investigating the reasons behind Moomaw’s resignation and deciding on his clergy status was handled by officials of the regional Presbytery of the Pacific. The ruling will be announced at a presbytery meeting at the large church on Mulholland Drive on Tuesday night, which many of the church’s members are expected to attend.


Saying that rumors about Moomaw’s reasons for resigning had left the congregation with many questions, the Rev. Paul Pierson, the interim senior pastor, said the church elders “wanted to be up front” with the membership, which has dropped to between 1,600 and 1,700 members.

“We are not interested in airing dirty laundry, and we love Donn and his family, but the congregation has been deeply wounded and needs to deal with this honestly, openly and then move toward healing,” said Pierson, a former dean of Fuller Seminary’s School of World Missions in Pasadena.

In a circumspect letter to the congregation after his resignation, Moomaw wrote that he was going to seek help for “issues dating from childhood, years of denial and faulty coping techniques.”

Moomaw is not expected to attend the meeting Tuesday. Pierson said he believes that Moomaw retired when he turned 62 in October, 1993. “It is my understanding that he has no financial problems,” Pierson said.

Moomaw could be disciplined by the presbytery’s seven-member Permanent Judicial Commission with a rebuke, a temporary suspension of his clergy status or a permanent exclusion from clergy ranks--traditionally called defrocking----according to the Rev. Charles Doak, the executive officer of the Presbytery of the Pacific.

An All-American lineman at UCLA, Moomaw passed up a chance in 1953 to play in the National Football League in order to enter Princeton Theological Seminary. In 1964 he succeeded the Rev. Louis H. Evans Jr. as pastor of Bel Air Presbyterian.


Ronald and Nancy Reagan attended the church in the 1970s, joining the congregation in later years. Moomaw was the only member of the clergy invited to offer prayers at Reagan’s first presidential inauguration in 1981, and one of four clergymen who took part in Reagan’s second inaugural four years later.

The Reagans still attend Bel Air Presbyterian regularly, Pierson said. “On . . . the Sunday right after his (Reagan’s) birthday, the congregation sang ‘Happy Birthday’ to him,” the pastor said.

While Moomaw was pastor, Bel Air Presbyterian dedicated a new, $13.5-million sanctuary and classroom building in September, 1991, but a year later a money shortage forced the congregation to cut its staff and budget.

Pierson said the congregation is optimistic about turning the corner now. “We owe less than $3 million on the building project,” he said, “and we hope to have a new, permanent pastor named by June.”