The Pen

Harvest Bible Chapel Congregants Walk Out during Sermon “How to Respond to a Storm,” Proclaiming ‘This is not a Storm, It was Sin.’

[Morgan Greene and Patrick M. O’Connell | Chicago Tribune] and As snow coated the Rolling Meadows campus of Harvest Bible Chapel, congregants watched a video recorded sermon Sunday from Pastor Rick Donald titled “How to Respond in a Storm.”

“If I had to choose a word that kind of describes where we’re at as a church right now, I would use the word storm,” Donald said.

The sermon, which drew from the Samuel 1:30 story about David’s battle with the Amalekites and how he faced down the storm — by remembering God, doing what God says and waiting for God’s “provision” — was originally delivered at a Saturday night service, where it prompted a number of people in attendance to walk out.

Last week, the church announced that Senior Pastor James MacDonald had been fired, nearly one month after elders said the popular preacher was taking an “indefinite sabbatical.” MacDonald described actions that “can only be called sin” as the primary reason why he was taking leave. His removal “accelerated,” elders said, when “highly inappropriate recorded comments made by Pastor MacDonald were given to the media and reported.”

Now, some congregants are taking issue with Donald, a longtime assistant senior pastor and elder, and the fact that he was delivering the sermon in the aftermath of MacDonald’s firing. Donald was viewed as the right-hand man of MacDonald, a founding member of the network of evangelical churches in Chicago and the suburbs that attracts thousands of worshippers.

Rene Cross, of Carol Stream, was among the dozens of attendees who walked out of the service Saturday and headed to another area of the church to pray.

“I’m willing to stay, and I’m willing to rebuild,” said Cross, a member for more than seven years. “But I was really surprised that they chose Rick Donald to come in and preach, seeing as he’s been James MacDonald’s friend and they built the church up for 30-plus years.

“I just got up quietly and walked out because I felt like that’s the right thing to do,” Cross said. “We’re not in a storm. It was sin.”

Congregant Jen Thorman echoed that in a Facebook post addressing why she walked out of Saturday’s service.

“Our church is not in a trial,” said Thorman. “Our church is being disciplined and experiencing consequences of decades of unchecked sin. These are very different things.”

“Sometimes you have to take a stand and allow other people to know to not be afraid,” Cross said.

As part of the video message played at Sunday’s 9 a.m. service in Rolling Meadows, Bill Sperling, an elder on the executive committee, said the executive committee will be completely replaced in the coming months.

Sperling said it’s been “without question one of the most difficult weeks in the history of the church.” He acknowledged the elders must hold themselves accountable and “failed in some of those areas,” including direction, discipline and response time.

“We failed to identify opportunities to prevent new grievances and in addressing these matters privately we failed to communicate with the church in a timely manner and in a way that gave clarity and prevented confusion among the congregation,” he said.

Sperling also said the elders will be announcing changes in the near future regarding the composition and structure of the board.

The turning point for church leadership may have been the audio recordings broadcast on Erich “Mancow” Muller’s morning radio show on WLS-AM 890 in which MacDonald appears to disparage his critics.

Muller, once friends with MacDonald, said last week that MacDonald is “a carnival barker actor” who was running the church as “essentially a giant Ponzi scheme.”

[Editor’s Note: This article was written by Morgan Greene and Patrick M. O’Connell and originally published at the Chicago Tribune. Title changed by P&P.]