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Contrite pastors speak at Fargo Sunday service

Kris Gordon and Jeff Sandgren

Worshippers at Olivet Lutheran Church in Fargo faithfully observed the second Sunday after Epiphany.

It also was the first Sunday after two of the congregation's pastors were arrested last week on misdemeanor charges of drunken driving.

Members stood and applauded as the two pastors, Jeff Sandgren and Kris Gorden, walked to a lectern at the head of the church at the 11 a.m. service of "confession and forgiveness."

Church officials, who decided that the pastors would not lose their jobs over the incident, had said the ministers might make brief remarks at Sunday's services.

Neither man had made any public comments since the arrests, around 1 a.m. Thursday. Police said Gorden's car slid into a snowbank and got stuck. Sandgren drove up to help. Both were arrested for driving under the influence.

The two pastors, standing contritely before the congregation, embraced for a moment. It was Sandgren who spoke first after the applause subsided.

"Welcome," he said. "Glad you're here with us today."

The pastor made several announcements, asking members to pray for a longtime member who had died, and announcing two births.

"It is obvious that you are all aware of what happened this week," Sandgren said. Congregation members sat quietly in the pews.

"We made a bad decision, each of us did, and we regret that," he added. "We're sorry, and I apologize - Kris does, too, for this error in our judgment."

Then it was Gorden's turn at the microphone.

"We do realize in this calling we're also role models," he said. "We're going to seek to do all we can to regain the trust that we've lost."

The ministers gave thanks for the support they've received from the bishop, the church office and their families - and acknowledged that support "does not condone or excuse our actions," as Gorden put it.

He added that both knew there are still people who are "deeply hurt, grieving, angry" over their lapse and encouraged members to "listen to each other."

"We just have a deep word of thanks that we get to be here with you," Gorden said.

Both men understood, Sandgren added, that "there are consequences for your behavior, intended or not, that you have to face."

Both had served as youth ministers, he said, and had fallen short as role models as a result of their highly publicized arrests.

In concluding their brief remarks, Sandgren called for a continuing dialogue.

With the act of contrition over, the congregation stood, and members warmly exchanged greetings.

Then another pastor led a prayer in confession and forgiveness, saying, "Let us confess our sin in the presence of God and one another."