** CHURCH'S INTEGRITY WELL RECEIVED FOLLOWING NIGHTMARISH ORDEAL It hasn't been an easy couple of years for J. Lowell Harrup, senior pastor of Northland Cathedral in Kansas City, Mo. Less than a month before Harrup and the Assemblies of God congregation planned to relocate to new $12 million facilities in August 2001, a member called and told the pastor to flip on his television to a local news report. Harrup saw a church council member (name withheld), a pharmacist, being charged with an unthinkable crime: diluting drugs of cancer patients. Eventually, the church member pleaded guilty to 20 counts of misbranding, tampering with and adulterating cancer drugs for 34 late-stage cancer patients. Now 50, he is serving a 30-year prison sentence after being convicted in the worst drug-dilution case in modern U.S. history. Although the pharmacist ultimately admitted greed motivated his behavior, initially he claimed he watered down drugs in part to finance a $1 million pledge for the church building fund. In reality, he never paid $400,000 of the pledge, and he confessed that he had started altering doses a decade earlier. In the aftermath of the consuming nightmare, Northland Cathedral has emerged battered but strengthened. For months, the church received daily calls from media outlets seeking comment. With resolution of the court case, Harrup has broken the silence that he maintained through the ordeal. In March, the church announced that it would donate $600,000 to victims of the drug-diluting scheme. That figure represents the amount of stock the pharmacist liquidated to donate to the building fund, even though the entire amount probably didn't represent tainted money. To avoid the appearance of gaining from the atrocities, Harrup and the Northland Cathedral council decided to relinquish contributions the member had made. The church decision to act with integrity prompted a laudatory editorial in the Kansas City Star plus commendations from U.S. Attorney Todd Graves, who prosecuted the case, and lawyer Michael Ketchmark who represented victims. "From the beginning, the church found itself in an awful situation, not only because he was a member of the church but because of the wide media coverage," Ketchmark, 37, says. "It was a tremendous witness to their faith that they returned the money, which they thought had been rightfully given. For nonbelievers to see a church act in a Christlike fashion was marvelous." After selling two houses, the church has made a $250,000 contribution to an existing $11 million restitution fund for victims and their families. Northland Cathedral also has committed to donating $350,000 to a victim trust fund during the next three years. That money will have to be raised by additional contributions from church members. The dollars the pharmacist donated to the building fund were spent long ago. Harrup, who has been Northland Cathedral's pastor for 14 years, believes he couldn't preach ethically to the congregation if the church somehow had benefited from oncology patients who didn't receive the prescribed chemotherapy dosages. "One wants to be careful how he builds the kingdom of God," Harrup said. "I cannot deliberately build a church with money that I know was illegally gained." The pharmacist led a secret life hidden from even his family members. He began weakening chemotherapy drugs administered intravenously or through injections and pocketing the gains. Authorities seized the two pharmacies he operated, his home and investments. The man's wife and children remain active members of the church, where attendance averages 1,200 on Sunday mornings. Instead of withdrawing, Harrup says the family has allowed others to minister to them. Harrup says he empathizes with those whose loved ones have suffered. "I understood their hurt," Harrup says. "My wife is a cancer survivor. If someone had given my wife watered-down drugs I would have been angry." Still, Harrup has not forsaken his former church member, whom he visits in prison in hopes of bringing restoration and redemption. "The activity was terribly evil," Harrup says. "My job is not to make him feel good; my job is to make him be good. I'm still his pastor. Pastors do not wash their hands of people." --John W. Kennedy

source: AG Email tags: Church, Integrity