Members of the New Life Church in Colorado Springs have reacted with shock to news that their senior pastor, Ted Haggard, has stepped down after allegations were aired that he had a sexual relationship with a male prostitute.
The evangelical leader has admitted that he bought methamphetamine and received a massage from the man. But Haggard, who has been an outspoken opponent of gay marriage, denied having sex with him.
Thursday, the man, Mike Jones, told the Associated Press that over the course of three years, he and Haggard had sex dozens of times.
The New Life Church's acting pastor told parishioners Thursday night that Haggard acknowledged that some of the charges were true. When Haggard spoke to local reporters Friday, he said he bought drugs from Jones, but that he did not have a sexual relationship with him.
Haggard has also resigned as President of the National Association of Evangelicals.
Inside the cavernous foyer of the church, the scene was very much business as usual Friday. Christian pop played from speakers in the ceiling, and banners advertising the upcoming Christmas show hung from the ceiling. In the church's bookstore, a sign advertising "Pastor Ted's" books was still prominent.
Friday morning, in a corner of the vast parking lot at the 14,000-member church, teenagers Joclyn Garcia and Terra Bear came to pray before school, something they say they do fairly often.
The young women said they were shocked to learn that Haggard had admitted that some of the allegations against him were true.
"I thought it was elections, with the timing," they said. "Thought it was a complete scam. Now that he's admitting to it, its just hard. It's just heartbreaking to comprehend."
Terry Collins, an outreach volunteer who comes to the church every day, said that in the face of their pastor straying, the congregation needed to unite.
"Pastor Haggard, he's made some mistakes," Collins said. "I'm going to try to be a positive example."
The following is an e-mail obtained by NPR that was sent to members of the New Life Church by Acting Senior Pastor Ross Parsley.
Dear New Lifers and friends of New Life Church,
Many of you have expressed concern about today's news regarding our pastor. Thank you all for your prayers and support, and for your concern for our church family.
As you've likely heard by now, Pastor Ted has voluntarily placed himself on administrative leave as New Life's senior pastor to allow our external board of overseers to work effectively. Below is the statement that we released to the media on Thursday afternoon.
Since that time, the board of overseers has met with Pastor Ted. It is important for you to know that he confessed to the overseers that some of the accusations against him are true. He has willingly and humbly submitted to the authority of the board of overseers, and will remain on administrative leave during the course of the investigation.
I am serving as the acting senior pastor of New Life Church. I met with the pastoral staff and elders Thursday night, and I assure you that the leadership team is strong and united. We remain resolute in our commitment to serving New Life Church and the people of our community.
Please continue to keep Ted and Gayle and their family in your prayers.