BREWER, Maine — They call themselves the prodigals — believers who made a genuine commitment to Christ but messed up and turned from God.
Their own shame and rejection by their former church communities left them feeling broken and alone. However, like the prodigal son Jesus described in Luke 15: 11-32, they can return home, be welcomed and celebrated.
A new congregation called the Sanctuary Church, designed to serve the “prodigals,” will hold its first service at 6:30 p.m. Easter Sunday at Jeff’s Catering, 15 Littlefield Way.
Darren Farmer, the spiritual leader of the new church, and his wife, Amanda Farmer, know firsthand the brokenness many feel when alienated from Christianity and a church family experience, according to the church Web site.
Farmer served from June 2005 to early 2007 as pastor of Abundant Life Church on outer Broadway in Bangor.
“After many years of successful ministry,” Farmer wrote for the Web site of the new church, “Darren found himself going through a separation and eventual divorce. During this time, he developed a relationship with Amanda, who was going through a similar journey. As they struggled through this painful time, they both made mistakes creating judgmental attitudes from Christians and rejection from the church, yet God in His grace continued to chase after them.
“As they walked through a time of brokenness and repentance, they discovered God’s love like never before,” he continued, “bringing healing and full restoration. It’s this revelation of grace that moves them to reach out to other people who have made mistakes and left the church. As they have received God’s grace, they want to extend God’s grace to you.”
The minister is writing a memoir, “Broken,” that is scheduled to be released later this year. He said it would explain his spiritual and personal journey and his decision to found a new church.
A native of Birmingham, England, Farmer was reared by “God-fearing parents who didn’t attend church.” He was 15 when he had a conversion experience and decided to be a minister, according to a story previously published in the Bangor Daily News when Farmer began his tenure at Abundant Life. After completing his education, Farmer went to Bristol, England, where in three years his congregation grew from three to 300.
He met members of Abundant Life in the late 1990s when he visited Southwest Harbor on vacation. Farmer stayed in touch over the years, preached a guest sermon a few times and offered support to the church after Abundant Life’s founder, Ron Durham, was forced out in 2003 for reportedly refusing to seek treatment for alcoholism.
Farmer, now 37, and his then-wife moved to Maine in June 2005 from England to pastor Abundant Life. The congregation was in crisis after an audit of the church books indicated Durham had embezzled money.
Durham pleaded no contest to theft and was sentenced on July 2, 2007, in Penobscot County Superior Court to five years in prison with all but six months suspended and ordered to pay $40,000 in restitution after his release. He also was sentenced to two years of probation. Durham, now 63, had returned to his native Georgia when he went to jail, but recently has been preaching in Greater Bangor.
Farmer left Abundant Life in April 2007 when his marriage fell apart. Joshua Damon, 31, who grew up in East Millinocket, and his wife, Krystal Damon, 26, were appointed to replace Farmer and his wife. They continue to lead the congregation.
Many evangelical churches hire a husband and wife as a ministry team, as Abundant Life does. If the marriage fails, the ministry team is required to resign as Farmer and his former wife were.
Over the past two years, Farmer said recently, he lost his income and sold his house and his car to survive. Through all the loss, “God was always faithful,” he said.
Farmer credited the Rev. Paul Warf, pastor of Word of Life Christian Center on outer Hammond Street in Bangor, with helping him “through a time of restoration.” It is also where Farmer met several of the people who are helping him organize the Sanctuary Church that he said will meet on Sunday evenings so it does not compete with Sunday morning services at established churches. It will offer an alternative worship time for people who spend Sunday mornings doing other things.
As Farmer pastors his new church, his wife of four months, Amanda Farmer, 31, will be by his side. The couple lives in Bangor with three children, ages 16, 12 and 8, from Amanda Farmer’s previous marriage. She and Farmer had met when he was pastor at Abundant Life.
“My ministry,” she said recently, “will be to lead by example by showing unconditional love to those who come to the church. I want to help single mothers and single women find strength by showing them that the heart of Christ can be found through their own actions.”
The Farmers have spent the past few months carefully planning the opening service of the new church with a group of about 20 supporters whom Darren Farmer has met since moving to Maine. They believe that his youth, energy, style and personal experience can help people searching for a nonjudgmental spiritual home connect with Christ.
“He’s a good teacher, a good preacher and real wise for his age,” Harold Peaslee, 61, of Jefferson said recently at a Sunday morning gathering at Farmer’s home. “Everybody needs a place to meet the Lord. I feel he has a lot to offer to this generation.”
Peaslee now works in a gravel pit. Until three years ago, he was pastor at Chelsea Praise and Worship Center in the Augusta area.
“There’s a freedom and liberty in being a Christian,” Joe Pelletier, 33, of Milford said at the same get-together. “I would encourage people to come to the new church. It’s a place where people can be encouraged and refreshed. It’s not a place to be reminded of everything they did wrong. It’s inevitable that we do things wrong.”
For information on the Sanctuary Church, call 570-7370 or visit www.thesanctuarychurch.us.