By Marvin Meintjies

Pastor Ray McCauley has hit back at disgruntled members of his Rhema congregation who claim his "lavish" lifestyle and his marriage on Saturday to Zelda Ireland will divide one of the largest church groups in South Africa.

However, McCauley's spokesperson, Ron Steele, says the bitterness arose from whites who are angry and are looking for an excuse to leave the church because the majority of the congregation is now black. Steele first denied there were any divisions but later confirmed that several disgruntled congregants were attempting to "hurt Pastor Ray and his bride".

Ireland, 43, has two children out of wedlock and had two failed marriages. McCauley divorced his wife Lyndie in July last year and got custody of his son Josh, who will be 18 soon.

Disgruntled Rhema congregants approached the Saturday Star "out of concern" that his life-style and his marriage would become divisive factors in the church.

They charge that McCauley lives in a manner that would not be possible on a reported salary of R20 000 a month that he apparently draws from the church.

Steele, however, said: "This is the accumulation (of assets) of a man who is 51, a normal guy who has been wise with (his) finances."

The disgruntled congregants asked how McCauley affords:

  • A house in Bryanston (which had no bond) which he sold recently for R2,3-million.

  • A luxury holiday villa at Club Kerkira (also no bond) in Palm Beach on the KwaZulu-Natal South Coast, including a beach buggy and other sporting equipment, all with a market value of more than R650 000.

  • A 5-Series BMW, a Harley-Davidson motorcycle, a Jeep Grand Cherokee, and a Golf 4 for Josh.

    Steele went on to say: "There can hardly be any division in the church if we have 6 000 people attending the wedding. Also, the church has gained over 5 000 members in the past 18 months - hardly a sign of division."

    He suggested that "people are trying to use the Saturday Star because they don't like Zelda. (Perhaps) if he was marrying a 60-year-old virgin, they would be happy. The divorce took place last year in July; we are past that, to the point that Pastor Ray and Zelda are getting married today.

    "Nobody likes divorce, but they are using this to leave the church. There are whites dissatisfied that we (the congregation) are now 70 percent black."

    As to McCauley's apparent wealth, Steele said: "He sold the house in Bryanston so that he could pay the settlement to Lyndie, but reports that the settlement to her was R10-million is totally ridiculous. It was nowhere near this.

    "They ask: How does a guy own a R2,3-million home? Pastor Ray owned a couple of gyms before he started the ministry - he wasn't poor. He owned a house in Wendywood and then sold it and bought in Bryanston. He sold that house after a couple of years (at) some profit and then bought the present house."

    As to the holiday home at Club Kerkira, Steel said: "He owned a one-bed place at San Lameer and he sold that and made a profit. He then bought a bigger one (at San Lameer) and also sold that and made a profit.

    "Then he bought the one at Club Kerkira for R400 000, which is nowhere near R600 000."

    As to the vehicles, Steele said: "Yes, he owns a 5-Series BMW.

    "The Harley-Davidson was a gift from a church in Seattle (in the US); the Jeep Grand Cherokee belongs not to him but to the church, and is used for fetching guests from the airport and taking them around to our various programmes such as our streetchildren project.

    "Josh has a Golf, and the beach buggy on the South Coast was bought, probably at half-price, from a member of the church who makes them.

    "When you put it all in context, you see there's nothing sinister or hidden here at all. These people (disgruntled congregants) are not exposing anything at all - this is deliberate malice.

    "They have personal grudges and are trying to stir up nonsense. Pastor Ray's own accounts are handled by auditors, and everything is declared."

    Today's nuptials will be a massive event. Apart from the thousands of congregants and celebrities attending, Ireland's children James, 10, Hayley, 18, and Leon, 22, will be present along with Josh.