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Pastor admits affair, resigns

With wife and daughters, the leader of Bay Life Church tells the parish he wants to rebuild his marriage.

Published December 9, 2003

With his wife and two daughters by his side, Daniel Stahl announced from the pulpit Sunday that he was resigning as senior pastor of Bay Life Church of Brandon to focus on repairing his marriage, which he admitted was strained partly because of an affair he had.

The resignation capped a six-week sabbatical Stahl had taken from one of the area's larger churches, boasting 2,400 in the pews each Sunday. Stahl had hoped to work out marital problems with his wife of 28 years, Billie. He was on leave when church elders recently recommended he resign.

"They didn't feel like Billie's and my marriage was healing sufficiently," perhaps due to the pressures of preparing to return to the pulpit, Stahl said. They thought it best that he focus totally on his marriage for now. Stahl agreed.

He will continue to receive financial assistance for a period, but declined to say for how long.

On Sunday, the Stahls and two of their four children stood with him to make the announcement. Their two older children did not attend.

Church members shed tears after the announcement. Some have called Stahl, asking him to stay.

"Danny is well-loved," church elder Randy Buchholtz said. "I think we would be hard-pressed to find someone who does not like him."

But many who called Buchholtz agreed it was time Stahl stepped down from the high post of a pastor. It is "very unlikely" that Stahl would be asked to return at some later date, Buchholtz said.

In an interview with the Times on Monday, Stahl talked about his resignation.

"Here's the bottom line," he said. "My wife and I have had marriage problems for a long time. One of the issues was a past adulterous affair on my part."

He would not specify with whom or when the affair occurred. It happened "more than a couple years ago" and did not involve anyone at Bay Life or anyone in the city, he said.

Since the announcement, members have handled him with grace, he said. "The spirit of everything is they love me and I love them."

Stahl, 49, has been a minister for nearly three decades, working at churches in Kentucky, California and Texas before arriving in Brandon 23 years ago. He once worked at Bell Shoals Baptist Church in Brandon - but long before another pastor, the Rev. Ken Alford, resigned last year under similar circumstances.

Alford cited marital problems and a "one-time moral indiscretion." Earlier this year, Alford was hired to be the interim pastor at Calvary Baptist in Clearwater.

As for Stahl, he said he felt shameful. "There's regret, just the feeling of letting down people who trust you."

He started Bay Life with 40 members in 1994. Today, the church sits on Kingsway Road in Brandon and lists more than two dozen staff, support staff and elders. It is affiliated with the Southern Baptist Convention, but Stahl describes the church as "trans-denominational," rather than traditional Baptist. Many of its members don't have religious upbringings, he said. They worship freely, disregarding religious prohibitions. Stahl, for instance, has played secular songs by the Eagles and Pink Floyd during services.

Stahl said he will attend Bay Life each Sunday to hear God's word and to be among his "church family." But other staff ministers will do the preaching for now. Church leaders were meeting Monday night to chart their course in hiring another senior pastor. Bay Life has connections with several large ministries around the country. Buchholtz said leaders hope to tap into those resources in the coming months.

A word of advice Stahl had for others in ministry: Don't hide your imperfections, he said. Don't allow members to put you on a pedestal.

"Every pastor should be encouraging their parishioners to keep their eyes on Jesus, not on them," he said. "The same pressures that war against the average family war against the pastor's family."

[Last modified December 9, 2003, 01:33:59]

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