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Examiner
  • New hope for New Hope Baptist

  • As far as the members of New Hope Baptist Church in Independence are concerned, Pastor Darren M. Tharp is a miracle.

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  • As far as the members of New Hope Baptist Church in Independence are concerned, Pastor Darren M. Tharp is a miracle.
    The 47-year-old church at 18000 E. Lexington Road in eastern Independence could have closed its doors with the events that have transpired in the past year. Tharp, a 30-year veteran pastor, said he has seen churches close their doors for situations less extreme than what happened at New Hope.
    But that’s all in the past, Tharp said. He is here now to spread the congregation’s new motto: “A New Start for New Hope.”  
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    “When you move to an area in a situation like us in the ministry,” Tharp said, “you don’t know how you’re going to be received in the town.”
    Never mind the added complication in Tharp’s case.
    New Hope Baptist Church’s former pastor, David K. Love, pleaded not guilty in January to a charge of first-degree murder and armed criminal action. He is accused of the March 2010 shooting death of Independence insurance agent Randy Stone, a former member of New Hope who left the church just two weeks before his death. Stone’s family members have told the media that Love allegedly had an affair with Stone’s wife for 10 years.
    Following Love’s resignation as pastor in April 2010, New Hope released a statement on its website, saying the church and its leadership were committed to moving forward to serve the community.
    “Please pray for us as we plan out the future direction of New Hope,” the statement read.
    According to two deacons at New Hope, those prayers were answered every step of the way.
    “It’s really confirmed in my heart how the Lord provides,” said Steve Elliott, a deacon and a member of New Hope for seven years.
    An attorney from the Christian Law Association immediately contacted New Hope Baptist Church after Stone’s death and Love’s subsequent arrest. The association provides free legal assistance to Bible-believing churches and Christians who are experiencing difficulty in practicing their faith because of governmental regulation, intrusion or other situations, its website says.
    Lester Hutson, a national field representative for the association, helped New Hope Baptist Church form a pulpit committee. Hutson also helped the church find an interim pastor.
    “Through it all, it seemed like exactly what we needed was right there on our doorstep,” Elliott said. “It confirmed that the Lord wasn’t done with us.”
    The pieces of the puzzle toward a new pastor slowly began falling into place. Tharp, 51, had served as a pastor to a church in Michigan for 16 years. Originally from Illinois, Tharp first met a busload of members of New Hope in Chillicothe, Mo., when he preached at a revival.
    Page 2 of 3 - A friend of Tharp’s heard that New Hope was looking for a pastor and turned his name into the pulpit committee. In November 2010, the committee members called Tharp, who was living outside of Chicago and was in between permanent jobs as a pastor.
    “I didn’t think in a million years that we’d ever be able to get him,” Elliott said of seeing Tharp at the revival in Chillicothe. “I believe he is the best pastor in America because he preaches the word of God straight. He loves our people, and it was evident the first time we met him that he loves people and he loves the Lord. I never would have thought in a million years that we would have got such a good preacher.”  
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    Following background and reference checks, New Hope’s pulpit committee voted unanimously for Tharp as its new pastor. The church constitution requires that 75 percent of congregation members vote for its new leader, but Tharp received 100 percent of the vote, Elliott said. (About 170 people regularly attend the church’s Sunday services.)  
    “People were calling us,” Elliott said. “We received up to 100 unsolicited references, telling us that Tharp was a good, godly man. It was really mind-boggling in comparison to other people we had looked at. It was very unusual, and you have to say it was a God thing, that God was all over it.”
    On Jan. 9, Tharp preached his first Sunday service at New Hope. Since February, he and his wife of 30 years, Starr, have made the nine-hour one-way drive from their home outside Chicago so Tharp could serve as pastor at New Hope.
    The Tharps officially moved to Independence a week ago. All he knew of the city before moving to Independence was that Harry Truman claimed it as his hometown.
    “Without question, without question,” Tharp said of his time in Independence as God’s calling him to do so. “All the things that God has let us go through in our lives have singularly prepared us for these days.”
    Tharp said he had a limited knowledge of the allegations against Love before moving to Independence. He heard of the case occasionally through the media since the case made national news. When he first heard the news a year ago, Tharp said, he prayed for New Hope.
    “I prayed for these people, and I didn’t even know them or the situation,” he said. “I said, ‘God help these poor people.’ And, He did. These folks have really powered through a horrendous situation, and God has helped them keep this church together.”
    In his three decades of experience as a pastor, Tharp has seen churches disband, “for things much less than this – money issues, infighting and things like that. Churches are there one day and the next day, they’re not. The fact that there’s a church here still on the corner and helping this dear city is really quite a miracle.”
    Page 3 of 3 - Those events are all in the past now, Tharp said, and that’s where he’d prefer they stay.
    “They’re doing their best here as a church family. These people didn’t do anything wrong. They just didn’t,” Tharp said. “They were so excited and happy to have us come, and we’re excited and happy to come.”
    Aaron Laux, a New Hope deacon who served on the pulpit committee with Elliott, said some fallout did take place following Love’s resignation and the charges brought against him, “but it wasn’t nearly as bad as one might expect.” He estimated that about 30 percent of the regular membership left.
    “There is a really sweet spirit among the people. This thing really just blew up in our faces,” said Laux, a congregation member for six years. “It was a very scary time, but it was a time of purpose and unity in that we were going to do what God wanted.”
    Rebuilding a church, in a sense, includes providing ministry for congregation members, but Tharp also said he plans to reach out into the greater Independence community and make connections with the mayor and City Council members. He reiterated that New Hope Baptist Church still has its bus ministry, in which children are picked up every Sunday, and a Sunday school program.
    Tharp described New Hope as an independent, King James Bible-believing and preaching Baptist church, saying congregation members often refer to the congregation as “church the way it used to be.”
    “Our services are traditional and lively, and we still sing from a hymnal,” Tharp said. “The Bible and preaching are pre-eminent in our services. I am a younger man but old-fashioned in my beliefs and practices.”
    The congregation is looking ahead to the future as it is finalizing the purchase of 30 acres east of the Little Blue River for a future church site. On Sunday, the church will sponsor a hog roast and a special musical celebration for its anniversary and Tharp’s induction.
    Elliott called Tharp “the best pastor in the world” and said the congregation is nothing but excited for its future.
    “It’s really remarkable all that the Lord has done for us in the past year,” Elliott said. “He knows about it ahead of time and provides good news after it. It’s a happily-ever-after story, for sure.”
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