Christian Leader Supports Calvary
Journal Staff Writer
Evangelical Christian leader Franklin Graham came to the aid of Calvary
Chapel during services Sunday morning— a week after the abrupt
departure of Senior Pastor Pete Nelson threw one of Albuquerque's
largest churches into turmoil.
From the pulpit, Graham, a former member of Calvary's board, said the
church's leaders had been concerned for some time with Nelson's ability
to lead Calvary.
"When the decision was made to bring Pete to this church, all of us
were impressed with his ability to preach the word of God," Graham
said. "But preaching in this pulpit and running a megachurch are two
"We were concerned with his youth ... and his ability to deal with
staff and crises."
Nelson, 37, took over at Calvary more than two years ago— after church
founder and longtime pastor Skip Heitzig left Albuquerque to lead Ocean
Hills Community Church in California.
Nelson announced his resignation to a stunned congregation during
services last Sunday.
During his brief time speaking to a crowd of more than 2,500 that
spilled into Calvary's hallways at the 9:30 a.m. service, Graham
dropped a not-so-subtle hint as to whom he'd like to see take over the
"We're kind of at a crossroads right now— what is God's plan?" said
Graham, son of evangelist Billy Graham. "I don't know. But we need to
pray that God will touch the heart of the right man or the right woman
to lead this church.
"You can pray that maybe God's will will just blow those two (Heitzig
and his wife, Lenya) right back to Albuquerque."
After a week in which an internal power struggle has roiled Calvary,
Graham told parishioners, "I came today to stand with you. I came to
stand with Skip Heitzig ... a man of integrity, a man of God."
In an interview between services Sunday morning, board member Paul
Saber said that there is no short list of candidates for the job and
that he had no timetable for when a new pastor would be named.
"I would assume the board will meet over the course of the next few
weeks," Saber said.
Pastor Chip Lusko, a church spokesman, has acknowledged that Heitzig,
50, could be named senior pastor.
In a draft copy of the resignation letter Nelson delivered to church
leaders Feb. 18, he wrote that Heitzig never allowed him to run the
church— or appoint his own board members— in the way Heitzig had
promised after picking Nelson for the job.
Nelson also wrote that Heitzig has been using revenues and assets from
the 14,000-member Calvary Church in Albuquerque to fund his national
In front of the congregation Sunday, Saber addressed some of the issues
raised in Nelson's letter.
"First and foremost, there has been no financial impropriety at this
church whatsoever," Saber said. "For more than 10 years, Calvary of
Albuquerque has submitted to outside audits. ... This church is above
reproach in its financial dealings."
He also said Nelson was never "restricted" in his role as senior pastor.
Taking the pulpit from Graham, Heitzig did not address Nelson's letter
directly. He did, however, apologize to the recently departed pastor
"for the pain and hurt this has caused you."
He also said the church is at a "crisis point."
"On Wednesday night, I watched a couple thousand people on their knees
in tears— more than that, in prayer," Heitzig said. "There's a time to
cry and a time to pray, but there's also a time to rise up and work."
The theme of his sermon, as it has been all week, was "Five Firm Steps
for Hearts in Crisis."
He listed the steps as vigilance, confidence, reverence, obedience and
Both Saber and Heitzig said they wished the controversy of the past
week had remained "within the fellowship" and been "handled internally."
Most parishioners approached for interviews Sunday declined to comment
on Nelson's letter or the internal struggle within the church.
One man said that he wished Nelson had stayed on as pastor— and that he
didn't consider any of the events of the past week controversial.
"It's just normal," he said. "These kinds of things have always
happened within the church— every church."
Others said they planned to pray and "wait to see what God wants to