COLORADO SPRINGS, Colo. – In a letter that was read Sunday morning to the congregation of New Life Church, ousted Pastor Ted Haggard said he was guilty of sexual immorality, and he apologized for his acts and requested forgiveness.

“I am so sorry for the circumstances that have caused shame and embarrassment to all of you,” he stated. He said he had confused the situation by giving inconsistent remarks to reporters denying the scandal.

“The fact is I am guilty of sexual immorality, and I take responsibility for the entire problem. I am a deceiver and a liar. There’s a part of my life that is so repulsive and dark that I have been warring against it all my adult life,” he said.

“The accusations that have been leveled against me are not all true, but enough of them are true that I have been appropriately and lovingly removed” from my church leadership position, Haggard also wrote.

He did not give details on which accusations were true.

Talking to members of the media following the second service, the Board of Overseers did not share details of Haggard’s actions, but focused on his acts of deception. They said part of the healing process Haggard must submit himself to includes taking a polygraph. They said at least one board member will stop by the church weekly to check in on church leaders.

The sanctuary was full at New Life Church as congregants gathered for their first Sunday service without the leadership of the beloved Haggard.

Haggard was fired Saturday by the church’s Board of Overseers, who cited the pastor’s “sexual immoral conduct.”

The mood was a mixture of sadness and determination that the church will go on. The service was rife with tears, hugging, anger and calls for forgiveness.

The congregation stood and applauded for acting senior pastor Ross Parsley, for the overseers, and for a letter written by Gayle Haggard, but not for the confession submitted by beleaguered pastor Ted Haggard.

Haggard will seek intensive mental and spiritual counseling from nationally-prominent pastors Jack Hayford and Tommy Barnett and Focus on the Family Chairman James Dobson.

The Rev. Larry Stockstill, head of the oversight board, said: “Today you’re seeing both the goodness and the justice of God. We can be mad at God, say that it’s not fair, the timing is terrible, or we can say “blessed be the name of the Lord.”‘

‘We love you’

Stockstill told the congregation that board members had met with 70 church elders in the past few days. “We love you with all our hearts,” he told the congregation. “I know hearts are broken and we are here to bring you strength.”

He described how the board looked to the Bible’s book of 1 Timothy, in which the apostle Paul instructed Timothy how to supervise the growing church.

“God chose to reveal pastor Ted’s sin,” Stockstill told the congregation.

He described how when he met with Haggard and his wife to discuss the board’s decision, he saw relief in Haggard’s face.

Pastor Ross Parsley called Sunday’s service a “family meeting” and the sanctuary the family’s “living room.” Congregants responded by rising to their feet, clapping and calling out for God’s grace.

Parsley then asked children in the congregation to go to the altar for a blessing. Parents walked down the aisles with babies in arms beside pony-tailed and spike-haired teenagers. Parsley asked for God’s protection of the children and the group sang the traditional children’s hymn “Jesus Loves Me.”

The church’s powerful rock band then broke into a song and congregants sang along, “He has set my feet upon a rock,” standing, arms raised.

Folding chairs lined the aisles of the 7,500-seat sanctuary, but there were more people than seats, and worshippers stood in the doorways and filled the cafeteria and entry.

“Forgiveness defines us,” Parsley said. “I believe in the divine destiny of New Life Church. … We have been a place where broken people can get healed.”

“It is OK to be angry. It is OK to grieve. It is OK to be sad.”

Parsley asked, rhetorically, whether the events of the past week signaled that Christianity is a sham.

“No, that’s far from the truth,” he said. “Jesus is the solution to our sins. Pastor Ted is working out his salvation with trembling.”

At one point in the service, a photo of the Parsleys’ new baby, Owen Alexander Parsley, eyes closed, wearing a blue knit cap, flashed up on the church’s large video screens. The baby was born Friday.

After the congregation clapped, Parsley told them it was his wife who deserved the applause. It marked one of the few light moments of the service.

Teresa Sahhar, a member of New Life for 11 years, took her three children, ages 17 and older, to the service.

“We have been praying together and holding onto the teachings” of the church, she said. Haggard’s dismissal and the turmoil surrounding it are “a tragedy in our family,” she added.

“Yeah, it’s a sad day,” said Jenna Spengler, 18. “It didn’t shake my faith. We are all humans. What if our demon secrets were in the news?”

‘Light is missing’

Before the service began, Anne Scott sat by herself reading from the Book of Romans, a Starbucks cup at hand. She said the finality of Haggard’s firing didn’t hit until Sunday morning when she walked into the church she has attended four years.

“A light is missing, but Jesus will redeem,” said the white-haired Scott.

She said she and other New Lifers “love Pastor Ted, but the church goes on. Jesus is with us.”

Janette Wilson, who has known Haggard 19 years and used to attend services when New Life met in an old warehouse, collapsed in tears into an usher’s arms.

He comforted her, whispering words of encouragement.

“It’s a political ploy by Satan himself and his minions to try and take the focus off the real issues of the election,” Wilson later said of accusations Haggard had used methamphetamine and had a three-year sexual relationship with a former male escort from Denver. Haggard admitted Friday he had bought meth, but denied using it and denied having sex with the escort, Mike Jones.

Wilson said when she walked into the sanctuary Sunday morning, “I saw the Holy Spirit on the platform. I will miss and will always love Pastor Ted,” the former teacher added.

Respect for wife

Some at Sunday’s services described their admiration of Gayle Haggard, the pastor’s wife and mother of their five children.

“I have the utmost respect for his wife, Gayle,” said Kilyn Roth, a former television producer and stay-at-home mom. “She is truly a godly woman. She is a woman of integrity and showed by her actions her personal relationship with Jesus. You hope you could be as godly as she is.”

Gayle Haggard said in her letter that she hopes her marriage survives this turmoil.

“What I want you to know is that I love my husband, Ted Haggard, with all my heart. I am committed to him until death “do us part.’ We started this journey together and with the grace of God we will finish together,” she said.

“For those of you who have been concerned that my marriage was so perfect I could not possibly relate to the women who are facing great difficulties, know that this will never again be the case.”

Only subscribers are eligible to post comments. Please subscribe or to participate in the conversation. Here’s why.

Use the form below to reset your password. When you've submitted your account email, we will send an email with a reset code.