Mediator hired to help ease Columbia dispute was center of '92 rift; Consultant resigned as minister after church questioned leadership


A consultant hired to "facilitate" the controversy surrounding the Columbia Association president was the subject of controversy himself during his brief tenure as minister of a local Unitarian church, where he was all but fired by the congregation.

Steve Beall of Beall Consultations resigned as minister of the Unitarian Universalist Congregation of Columbia in 1992 under immense pressure from its members, some of whom recall him as "arrogant," "impossible" and "rigid."

"I think somebody might have murdered him if he hadn't [resigned]," said Eva Moore, a former Mount Airy resident and member of the congregation for 13 years.

Once, she said, after questioning Beall about one of his sermons, he told her: "Why don't you take a nap next time while I'm preaching?"

Beall was hired last week by the Columbia Association for "transition, facilitation and public relations consulting." Columbia Association President Deborah O. McCarty authorized spending up to $25,000 for Beall's services on an "emergency" basis, which allowed him to be hired without competitive bidding. The former minister came recommended by a "very, very close friend" of Columbia Council Chairman Joseph Merke's.

Merke said Friday that he is not familiar with Beall's time with the Unitarian Universalist Congregation. He described Beall as "insightful" and a "good listener."

"I feel very comfortable with Steve," he said.

But one of the founding members of the Unitarian church remembers Beall as exhibiting "colossal arrogance" and "insensitivity."

"If he liked people, he could be very gracious," said Dave Haykin, who with his wife helped found the church, originally the Unitarian Universalist Society of Howard County, in 1964. "If he didn't, he'd cut you off at the knees. He could not hold an old lady's hand and comfort her in her problems.

"Unless a leopard changes his spots, I couldn't see him being successful in a mediation role," Haykin said. "People do change. He may have. If it were my $25,000, I wouldn't want to risk it."

In an interview, Beall said he warned the search committee and the congregants that he was "radically different than they were" before he took the job. He said he knew it would be "pure bloody hell" because the church was experiencing internal conflicts, but accepted it because he was "called."

"It was vicious," he said. "It was a lot like some of the stuff that is said about the president of CA."

After narrowly surviving an ouster by a majority vote of the church's members, Beall said he resigned "because there wasn't anything more I could do for the congregation."

After he left, some church members broke off to found Channing Memorial Church in Clarksville. Beall said he was asked to minister to the new church but declined. He let his fellowship lapse, started work in human resources and opened his own consulting business.

John H. Weston, a minister with the Unitarian Universalist Association, based in Boston, said the then-director of ministry had been "sorry to see him go."

After meeting last week with McCarty and nine of the 10 Columbia Council members for individual one- to two-hour sessions, Beall presented a preliminary report of his findings. He said the Columbia Association is suffering from the "trauma" of a leadership change after the departure of former President Padraic M. Kennedy and advised the council not to "assassinate" -- or fire -- McCarty.

Three council members have called for McCarty to step down.

McCarty said Beall's services have cost the association about $6,000 but that his services may be used further.

Moore, who lives in Frederick, called Beall "impossible" and "totally insensitive."

"It harmed that congregation to the point [where] financially, it took us several years to get back from this mess. The strife was so enormous trying to get that man out."

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