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Church repents for attitudes toward former pastors

Wed, 20 Feb 2013 - 3:21 PM CST

Foot washing
Madison AG Pastor Peter Joudry washes the feet of Stephen Perry, who pastored the church from 1985-90 as well as 1995-2007.

When he applied for the job as lead pastor, Peter A. Joudry knew Madison (Indiana) Assembly of God (MAG) had a reputation for mistreating clergy during the past three decades. Nevertheless, Joudry soldiered on through a seven-month vetting process that included a dozen interviews before the congregation elected him in April 2011.

However, by the seventh month of his tenure, old, entrenched patterns began to resurface. By the ninth month, 40 percent of the 260-member congregation had left.

Soon afterward, Joudry invited the four men who had preceded him as pastor during the previous 30 years to a reconciliation weekend at the church.

Even though many of the members who had wounded the pastors no longer attend MAG, Joudry determined to apologize for the offenses committed against the leaders. As an act of contrition, Joudry and his wife, Ruth, washed the feet of pastors and their wives dating back to 1983: Don and Barb Fisher; Stephen and Patty Perry; Ron and Dorene Bontrager; and Chuck and Susie Lynch. Members of the congregation gathered around the guests amid tears and hugs.

Before the foot-washing ceremony, as the four former pastors and their spouses sat on the platform, Joudry led the congregation in prayers of confession and repentance.

"We needed this weekend because of the misdeeds and un-Christlike attitudes that were displayed by our congregation toward these men of God and their families," Joudry says. "They suffered greatly under a yoke of rebellion and control while being here. They left this body wounded and deeply distressed."

At the service, the sins the congregation repented of included gossip, assuming the worst about their pastors, sending the ministers anonymous letters containing un-Christlike comments, publicly maligning their pastors, and causing a strain on their health.

Even though he has been gone since becoming pastor of Lakeview Church in Indianapolis 18 years ago, Bontrager says he still knows three-fourths of the attendees at MAG. He said during his time in Madison he felt like a young, insecure hireling who had to toe the line.

"But all who remain there want to support the pastor; the spirit of control has been broken," Bontrager says. "The service was authentic, encouraging and extremely meaningful."

Joudry credits M. Wayne Benson, founder of Paraclete Ministries, with laying the groundwork for the reconciliation. Benson, who also took part in the ceremonies, served as MAG interim pastor before Joudry's arrival. Benson commended Joudry for his courage and conviction in organizing the event and urged the congregation to pledge their loyalty to Joudry.

The ceremony included a responsive reading by the congregation to resolve future problems in a biblical and Christ-like manner.

"What we do with rumors and accusations will help change the culture of the church," Joudry says.

Author: John W. Kennedy, Pentecostal Evangel

Keywords: AG churches

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