Sorrowful Followers Meet Test of Faith
Their Pastor's Scandal Is a Reminder He's Human, Say Parishioners Carrying on His Work
By Joey Bunch and Katharine Bernuth
November 5, 2006
Colorado Springs - As a young trio played contemporary Christian music, worshipers stood, closed their eyes and stretched out their hands as if they were hung on a cross.
Teenagers and adults had joined together Saturday afternoon to pray for their senior pastor, Ted Haggard, at the World Prayer Center on the New Life Church campus.
Haggard's giant picture hovers over the water fountains in the lobby. His presence, if not his face or name, is seemingly everywhere on this scenic campus, which faces Pikes Peak and the blue-green foothills of the Rocky Mountains.
Pastor Ted, as everyone calls him, is their rock star, and certainly their rock.
"We need Pastor Ted," said Tiffany Adams, a teenager who came to the church Saturday.
Saturday was a day for reflection and speculation, as the possibility that Haggard had paid for gay sex and used methamphetamine hung over the mega-church, which boasts 14,000 members.
"This is the worst possible situation," Adams said.
Several members spoke of Haggard's lesson of faith: People will fail you, no matter how much you love and respect them, but the Holy Spirit never will.
"Pastor Ted has always told us to keep our eyes on Jesus, not on a man," said Jane Waller, church receptionist.
Several church members said Haggard's sudden fall only humanizes the pastor who had grown larger than life. He now clearly understands struggles with addictions and inexplicable sin.
"As a man of God, he has things in his life like everyone else," said Bob Mayhew, 41. "It makes him more like me."
At dusk, word began to spread that Haggard had been fired, an independent board determining that he committed "sexually immoral conduct."
Undeterred, New Life volunteers gathered to distribute pizza to the homeless in a downtown Colorado Springs park, just as they do every week. After all, Haggard would want them to continue their good works, said congregant Charlie Clark, a New Life member since 1998.
"He would say, 'The thing you can do for me and (wife) Gayle is stay strong and keep doing what you're doing in the name of God,"' Clark said.
The line of homeless people awaiting food stretched half the length of a football field.
"Wild Bill" Hart leaned on a crutch and said he had read all about Haggard's fall in the newspaper, and it brought him no comfort to see the powerful fall.
"He's just like Job in the Bible," Hart said, digging in his backpack for his own Bible, given to him by a New Life volunteer years ago. "The Lord is testing him. Everybody does things they're ashamed of. How he bounces back is the thing that will matter to God.
"We're all forgiven if we ask for it."
The sorrow Haggard's acquaintances and parishioners felt was a test of their faith, not a destruction of it, they said.
Candi Kloverstrom, who with her husband leads a prayer group, one of nearly 1,000 such ministry groups at New Life, said the refocusing of faith will reach far beyond the Colorado Springs campus.
"It will have ramification for millions of Christians," she said. "It will shake the camp, but sometimes it's good to have the camp shaken."
Haggard's assistant for two years, Stephan Larson, said faith is stronger and more everlasting than disappointment or sorrow - and that's the message Haggard would be preaching if he were not in the center of his own stumble.
"Faith is about something you can't see. It's about believing," said Larson, who moved from Montana to Colorado to study at New Life under the famous evangelist.
Outside the administrative offices, where Larson spoke, a giant black and white picture of Haggard hung over Larson's shoulder. The pastor, dressed in jeans, speaks to a small group, his left hand stretched toward an invisible horizon in a pose befitting Jesus guiding his flock.
Larson said if Haggard was guiding the flock through this crisis, as he has so many others, he would say, "People are people, sin is sin. That's life and we deal with it.
"The sun will come up tomorrow, and it will be a new day."
Staff writer Joey Bunch can be reached at 303-954-1174 or email@example.com.
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