Faith at Altitude

Religion and spirituality in the shadow of Pikes Peak

Monday, February 19, 2007

New Chapters

Sunday's services at the 14,000-member New Life Church were intended to offer some closure to the scandal that's enveloped the place the last 100 days. It was intended to tie up loose ends and set the stage for New Life's future.

It also was about spin control.

In the past two weeks, curious revelations leaked out over the Rev. Ted Haggard's "restoration" process and sexual status. Haggard sent an e-mail to some of his supporters, saying three weeks of counseling had helped him immeasurably. An overseer was quoted in another media outlet as saying that Haggard said he was "completely heterosexual."

The overseer in question -- the Rev. Tim Ralph of Larkspur -- told me Sunday he had been misquoted, but that claim certainly didn't change the arc of the Haggard narrative. While no one ever said that Haggard had been "cured" of homosexuality in three weeks, that was the impression some came away with.

Reading a letter to the congregation, overseer Larry Stockstill used Sunday's services to correct that notion.

"There should be no confusion that deliverance from habitual, life-controlling problems is a 'journey' and not an 'event,'" Stockstill said. "Ted will need years of accountability to demonstrate his victory over both actions and tendencies."

New Life Church's own recovery seems to share some similarities with Haggard's path. Yesterday, services felt pretty normal: The mood wasn't somber or apprehensive. It was boisterous and upbeat -- typical of New Life. Congregants listened intently to the overseers, but it wasn't the gut-wrenching scene that took place Nov. 4, when Haggard's letter of apology was read aloud to congregants.

But, while New Life seems fine, it still has a long road ahead of it. A senior pastor must be chosen -- a gravely important choice, particularly when you consider that Haggard's the only senior pastor New Life has ever known. The church will undergo some serious restructuring, too, which may include a personnel shakeup. New Life attendance has dipped only slightly in the months since Haggard's dismissal, but some church experts say the rockiest times may lie ahead.

The services yesterday may have marked the end of one chapter, as one congregant told me. But the chapters ahead may be, in their own ways, just as challenging.


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