There are better days ahead for The Church of the Cross in Haughton.
The pastoral team and congregation have been dealt a heavy blow with the resignation of senior pastor Andy Harris following his arrest on March 7. Harris, who admitted to authorities that he had meth in his home, had led the church as senior pastor for more then two decades.
The news was absolutely devastating.
“My heart is broken,” church secretary/treasurer Doyle Dempsey said. “We’re experiencing all manners of emotions. I’ve been through them all in a matter of days.”
Dempsey, who has known Harris for 18 years, considers him a spiritual mentor and friend. Through all the doubts and uncertainty right now, there’s one thing he’s still sure of.
“My faith is unshaken,” Dempsey said. “The word of God that has been taught from this pulpit is our guide to moving forward.”
Dempsey read aloud a letter from Harris during the March 11 morning service, which was streamed live and is posted to The Church of the Cross Facebook page. In it, Harris describes living in a “pressure cooker” situation through recent years and how it finally took its toll on him.
“A few months ago, in a time of weakness, I attempted to ease the pain in the wrong way,” Harris wrote. “I have sinned and I have asked the Lord to forgive me, I’ve asked my family to forgive me and I’m asking all of you to forgive me.”
He also asked the congregation for prayers.
“Pray that God will heal us mentally, emotionally and spiritually. Pray that we can rest in body, soul and spirit. Pray that all of the good the Lord has done through us will outshine the bad that the devil has done to us,” Harris wrote. “ God has more great things in store for The Church of the Cross. I believe he is already preparing the next pastor who will be able to take you to the next level. Be faithful, be supportive, keep serving and somehow God will turn this around for all of our good.”
Harris is no longer in custody since posting bail the night of his arrest, according to law enforcement officials. Instead, he will be receiving “counseling and restoration” at Emerge Ministries in Akron, OH, according to a post on his personal Facebook page.
“I may be knocked down…but I am getting back up…I have definitely not been knocked out,” he wrote, thanking The Church of the Cross leaders and members for their loyal support.
Church member Greg Tilley has known Harris since they were kids at R.V. Kerr Elementary in Bossier City. He also addressed the church March 11.
“It’s been rough week on all of us,” Tilley said. “This has knocked the wind out of us. But we can’t let the faults and actions of one man destroy this church.”
Tilley told the congregation that now is the time to become more faithful, not discouraged.
“We want to be a shining light in this community,” he said. “Our light is not that bright right now. But the light on the cross outside is as bright as it has ever been. The cross never changes. God will bring us through this. We just have to be faithful.”
The Church of the Cross’ board of directors has implemented a short term plan to keep the church moving forward. Dempsey said this plan will bring a sense of stability to an otherwise chaotic circumstance.
The board has asked the rest of the pastoral staff to remain and continue the work they’ve been doing. They’ve also asked them to share pulpit responsibilities on a rotational basis for the time being. With their help and guest speakers that are already on the schedule, services will continue as usual.
The board will soon meet to begin the process for selecting a new senior pastor. Until then, Dempsey said they’re taking it one day at a time.
“There are many moving parts and details to this situation,” he said. “We want to protect the church from any additional harm and make decisions based on what’s best for the church as a whole.”
Although the church does not condone Harris’ behavior, they are grateful for his years of service to the church and community.
“Nothing that has happened will change the good fruit produced by his work,” Dempsey said. “What he has done for each of us, for the work he has accomplished for the kingdom of God must be remembered, celebrated and cherished. Although we have been shaken, we are not destroyed. There are brighter days on the horizon. I have hope in my heart for what God is about to accomplish among us.”
By Amanda Simmons