Updated: June 6, 2010 at 12:00 am
What was supposed to be a launch party Sunday for St. James Church in Colorado Springs turned out to be much more.
Standing on a wooden riser surrounded by hay bales, Ted Haggard gave his first sermon as pastor of St. James in a barn next to his home on Old Ranch Road. About 160 people sat elbow to elbow on folding chairs to hear Haggard sermonize about sin, love and forgiveness.
“This is Easter morning for me,” Haggard told the congregants, referring to his view that the establishment of St. James represents his “resurrection.” “We will be cheerleaders for good.”
Haggard’s church plans have been under a microscope since he started prayer gatherings at his home in November.
Last month he incorporated the name “St. James Church.” On Wednesday he officially announced he was starting a new church.
The founding of St. James comes 25 years after Haggard began New Life Church, which he grew into a 14,000-member congregation. He resigned as New Life’s senior pastor in November 2006 when his relationship with a Denver gay escort became public.
During the St. James service, which was filmed by the production company Long Pond Media, Haggard choked up a few times when people gave testimonies about the importance of the new church.
Jessica Williams, a 31-year-old massage therapist in Colorado Springs, stood next to Haggard on the riser as she told of her drug addictions, and how much Haggard has helped her in their one-on-one counseling sessions.
“I believe in Ted,” she said.
Haggard told her, “I don’t judge a thing in your life. It’s God’s role to judge, the devil’s role to accuse, and our role to encourage.”
Jordon Ross, a 23-year-old Springs resident, spoke of his numerous mistakes, including petty theft that resulted in jail time and his use of illegal drugs. Ross, who has fathered two children out of wedlock, said he attends St. James because other churches are too sanctified.
“People need a break,” Ross told the congregation. “I needed a break, and that usually is not (going to come) from a member of the Christian body.”
The half-dozen people giving testimonies came to Haggard’s ministry in diverse ways. Some, like Ross, were former New Life members who believe Haggard has a worthwhile message.
But at least two speakers had answered Craigslist ads placed by Long Pond Media, a Los Angeles-based company making a documentary on the planting of St. James.
Williams and Mikey Manschot, a 22-year-old San Antonio, Texas, resident, say they answered a Craigslist ad offering counseling, then were told Haggard would be the counselor.
Manschot, who is gay, said Long Pond paid his airfare both ways and hotel cost so he could talk Sunday at St. James.
Manschot told the St. James congregants that, while others ridicule him for his sexuality, Haggard is accepting.
“I like Ted’s church because it’s open to everyone,” Manschot said after the service.
The St. James service was followed by a launch party in the backyard of the Haggards’ home.
On Sunday there will be a church planning meeting at 10 a.m. at the Haggards’ home, and plans are to rent an auditorium or building big enough to accommodate congregants for the June 20 service.