With pastor gone, church members try to heal rift

A popular Bellevue church that underwent a public upheaval with the ousting of its charismatic pastor met in music-only services this weekend in what regulars said began healing the church’s deep divisions.

Still, some at Bellevue Community Church expressed concern that the church may lose members and regular attendees without David Foster as pastor. All who were interviewed, even those who support the elders’ decision to fire Foster for what they say were anger problems and verbal abuse of staff, said his gift for oratory drew people to the church.

Rhonda Ethridge, a volunteer who has attended the church for a decade, said the elders’ small-group presentations describing why they fired Foster is important for everyone to attend before deciding whether to leave the church. The small-group sessions will continue this week.

She said the past week has been upsetting to her and others, but she plans to continue going to the church. “To me the church is the people, my relationships and relationship with Christ,” she said. “It’s not about one pastor, however much I love that pastor.”

Karen Kear said the past week has been difficult with the conflict over Foster’s ouster, and then she received news that a grandparent died. She tried to get through to the church on Friday for support but couldn’t reach the offices by phone. She said she’s not getting involved with the conflict, leaving it to God to heal the church.

Kear said it was important after the rough week to be at the service Sunday. “I couldn’t think of any other place I needed to be more than here,” she said, adding that after being turned off by church earlier in life, Bellevue Community Church made her “whole again” when she started attending three years ago.

There had been some concern among church leaders that Foster’s supporters would protest or try to disrupt the weekend services. Foster on Thursday posted an open letter on his Web site, www.fosteringhope.com, asking his supporters to accept the elders’ decision. “While we may differ on this decision, it has been made by good men who, at great distress to them have stepped up to do what they honestly in their hearts feel is the right thing for BCC,” Foster’s letter said.

Laurie Kerr, who sings on the church’s music team, said services were peaceful and the solidarity among the attendees at the weekend services was strong.

“I’ve never felt the Holy Spirit in this building the way I did during the service,” she said.

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(Listed if other than Religion News Blog, or if not shown above)
The Tennessean, USA
Aug. 7, 2006
Brad Schrade

Religion News Blog posted this on Monday August 7, 2006.
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