The junior pastor at one of the country's largest evangelical churches preached the virtues of wealth and smart investment to his working-class congregation yesterday.
It was the same morning the Toronto Star published an investigation into how Paul Melnichuk, patriarch of the Prayer Palace, and his twin sons, Tim and Tom, have amassed a fleet of fine cars and a pricey portfolio of fancy homes while doing little of the charity work their church claims to do.
The Star exposť, part of an ongoing series on Canadian charities, documented the Melnichuk family's lavish lifestyle, including about $12 million in personal real estate north of Toronto and in Florida, in contrast to the bulk of their congregation. Most church members faithfully give 10 per cent of their income.
"You see, you weren't designed to live in a apartment building. You were designed to own the apartment building you're living in," Tom Melnichuk said, calling for his followers to think positive. "If you don't watch it, you'll be eating at Denny's for the rest of your entire life."
The speech seemed at times more business seminar than sermon. In it, Tom called himself a "smart investor" and suggested church members learn to be the same.
Paul Melnichuk, or "Pastor Paul" as he is called by some at the church, is expected to respond to the exposť this Sunday. He was seen yesterday sunning on his dock in Bradenton, Fla., alongside his wife Kathleen.
"How many of you love Pastor Paul?" a smiling Tom asked the crowd gathered near Highway 400 and Finch Ave. "He's a very, very special man."
Hundreds of congregants listened to Tom's folksy speech and shouted amens as he delivered an energized and rambling sermon on everything from compound interest to the time in high school when he set out on the road to wealth.
"My neighbour calls me Donald Trump," he grinned. "I'm not really Donald Trump."
Approached by two Star reporters after the service, Tom said he had no comment. Asked whether he has a message for people, he added: "Shrewd business, faith in God."
Two congregants leaving the massive, UFO-shaped church called the reporters "wicked."
"The people don't feel taken advantage of," said another church member, who identified herself as "Erica," after the service.
She said the fact the pastors are wealthy, combined with the church's pattern of declining investment in charitable programs, "doesn't mean the money they've accumulated has come from the charity."
Meanwhile, the Star was deluged yesterday with calls and emails from readers. But some questioned why Prayer Palace leaders should be scrutinized if congregants are content.
"If the entertainment offered by the Melnichuks was not meaningful and worthwhile, the admission-paying public would stay away ... and the money would dry up," wrote Toronto resident David Moffat.
The Star also reported details of deals the Melnichuks obtained for personal properties during Prayer Palace construction, such as having a paving company build Paul's King City driveway in lieu of full payment to the church for land rental.
Tom Melnichuk didn't mention questions about his family's affluence at the altar yesterday. Instead, he called on men to ensure they don't allow their wives to live in a "dusty apartment" watching a television with a coat hangar antenna while eating half-cold Kraft Dinner.
"How many of you have thought about living in a good house?" he asked. "How many have thought of driving great things?"