New Life Church Searches for Pastor, Closure Three months after New Life Church pastor Ted Haggard stepped down amid a scandal over his relationship with a male prostitute, members of the congregation are still searching for closure.
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New Life Church Searches for Pastor, Closure

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New Life Church Searches for Pastor, Closure

New Life Church Searches for Pastor, Closure

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Ted Haggard used to be the head of the National Association of Evangelicals. He was also pastor of the 14,000 member New Life Church in Colorado Springs, but that all ended in November after a male prostitute revealed that Haggard was a regular customer. Months later, the members of New Life Church are still struggling to get up after Haggard's fall.

NPR's Jeff Brady reports.

JEFF BRADY: In the end, it was Haggard's own opposition to gay marriage that prompted a male prostitute in Denver to reveal the reverend's secret life. Within a few days, Haggard was fired and whisked off to Arizona for intensive counseling. Except for a few open letters to the church, Haggard has remained silent. More than three months later, the pain hasn't yet passed for some members of his congregation. Gwen Cordova(ph) is waiting for Sunday services to begin.

Ms. GWEN CORDOVA (Member, New Life Church): I love Pastor Ted. I am sad that I'm not going to see him or - I miss him. As a church, it's not about a man, it's about God. It just shows to me that we're all human.

BRADY: In the church lobby, Michelle Fallentine(ph) says it was difficult to explain to her children what happened.

Ms. MICHELLE FALLENTINE (Member, New Life Church): With Braden(ph), he is 10 years old, and with him I just explained that there were things going on in the church. The pastor had made some mistakes. You know, we all make mistakes.

BRADY: Fallentine says her 12-year-old son needed more information. She assumed kids at school would talk about what Haggard had done.

Ms. FALLENTINE: And so I wanted to explain to him, we don't know if Pastor Ted is a homosexual, but he chose to do things that, you know, were homosexual behaviors. He has a wife and kids. He loves them, but this was something that he was struggling with in his life. We all have different things we struggle with. So that's kind of where I went with him.

BRADY: As the crowd quiets down, the music in the auditorium begins to roar. There's a band complete with fog in the background, a light show, and down near the stage something resembling a mosh pit.

(Soundbite of song)

BRADY: One of the key pastors who investigated Haggard's behavior delivered the sermon last Sunday. Larry Stockstill has his own mega-church in Louisiana. He said there was evidence of sordid conversations, overt suggestions, and relationships the church doesn't approve of.

Reverend LARRY STOCKSTILL: These findings established a pattern of behavior that culminated in the final relationship, in Ted - in which Ted was, as a matter of grace, caught.

BRADY: The church will pay Haggard's $130,000 salary through 2007. In exchange, Haggard and his family will move from Colorado Springs.

Rev. STOCKSTILL: You know that Ted had an enormous personality. As hard as this action appears, it is considered a unanimous judgment of the restorers and overseers, that Ted's presence is so large, and his wrongful conduct was so tangled, that this church and its leadership would become distracted by his continuing presence.

BRADY: Stockstill wrapped up by addressing the big question any church faces when there's a leadership crisis: will it stay together?

Rev. STOCKSTILL: I feel an anointing of unity and the gates of hell shall not prevail against this church.

(Soundbite of cheering and applause)

Rev. STOCKSTILL: Shout hallelujah.

BRADY: One big test for the congregation came a few weeks back when Haggard's accuser, Mike Jones, showed up on Sunday morning. Jones says he was gathering material for a book. The former prostitute said he was greeted warmly and was thanked for exposing Haggard. Church member Landon Arnold echoes that sentiment.

Mr. LANDON ARNOLD (Church Member): We should be grateful to him for what he did, to some extent. He revealed a flaw in our system. He revealed a flaw in one of our members. I believe, as a body of believers, we are grateful for that because he has made us stronger.

BRADY: That strength will be tested in coming months as New Life Church searches for a senior pastor. That process is expected to take most of the year.

Jeff Brady, NPR News, Denver.

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