After founding pastor's firing, Harvest Bible members want to heal

  • Pastor James MacDonald gives a sermon at the Harvest Bible Chapel in Elgin in 2013.

      Pastor James MacDonald gives a sermon at the Harvest Bible Chapel in Elgin in 2013. Bev Horne | Staff Photographer

  • Courtesy of Tyler NewmanTyler Newman, 22, of Palatine, helped direct the recording of a Harvest Bible Chapel service last weekend. Though saddened by the firing of founding pastor James MacDonald, he said he believes it's the right decision for the church.

    Courtesy of Tyler NewmanTyler Newman, 22, of Palatine, helped direct the recording of a Harvest Bible Chapel service last weekend. Though saddened by the firing of founding pastor James MacDonald, he said he believes it's the right decision for the church.

 
 
Updated 2/13/2019 11:02 PM

Members of the Harvest Bible Chapel community were dealing with mixed emotions Wednesday when they received word their founding pastor had been fired.

Several said they believed the dismissal of James MacDonald was a positive step for the megachurch, which has been surrounded by controversy in recent months. Others expressed feelings of hurt and sorrow over the fall of their leader -- and concern over how the congregation will move forward.

                                                                                                                                                                                                                       
 

Tyler Newman of Palatine said his reaction was a combination of the two. Newman, 22, has been attending services at Harvest Bible Chapel since he was born. He and his brother attended school, went to camps and made lifelong friends there, he said, and he later worked as a freelance cameraman with "Walk in the Word," a program that aired MacDonald's Bible teachings.

Newman said he learned invaluable lessons from MacDonald, whose mission has united Christians and spread the word of God. Though MacDonald made mistakes, and his words and actions were often misguided, Newman said, he believes the pastor had good intentions.

But Newman also understands the church's need for separation.

"It makes me really sad because Harvest is like home to me, and I have a family there," he said, noting the entire congregation is mourning. "It's also something that needed to happen for the church to grow."

During their 11 years attending services at the Elgin campus, Algonquin residents Jon and Stephanie Singer said the church introduced them to great people and built up their family in many positive ways. They recently decided to leave "when we saw half-truths and cover-ups, beyond just Pastor James," they said in a statement. "We pray this will soon end and that Harvest can heal."

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Though no longer members, the Singers said their hearts sank when they heard the recorded comments that church elders attributed to MacDonald. The audio clips, which the elders described as "highly inappropriate," were broadcast by WLS-AM radio show host Mancow Muller, who had been a member of the church.

"We simply didn't want to believe that (MacDonald's) brashness was that bad offstage," the Singers said in a statement.

"We shared it with our 16- and 14-year-old kids as it's been a learning experience for our whole family. We are using it to examine our own sins.

"Romans 3:23 says all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God, so we don't expect a perfect pastor," they continued. "But someone who has a 20-plus-year sin pattern cannot lead a church."

A member of Harvest Bible since 1997, Matt Kawalek of Palatine said he fears scandal will overshadow the church's message. Though he doesn't believe MacDonald handled the situation well -- "there's a lot of information we feel like we don't know" -- he said he hopes the congregation will continue to "trust the content" of his teachings.

                                                                                                                                                                                                                       
 

"I think the congregation is going to be tested in a big way," Kawalek said. "My prayer is that people step up to the challenge."

Susan May Romano, who attends the Aurora campus, said on Facebook the church should hold meetings where parishioners are "given the opportunity to ask the hard questions and get the truth out on the table ... so that the process of healing and rebuilding can start."

With the church's founder gone, Newman said he's trusting the elders to make wise decisions about the future of Harvest Bible Chapel and its leadership. "My real hope and prayer for this whole situation is that ... we're able to come together and show the world what it really means to be a follower of Jesus Christ," he said.

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