Pastor quits Down super-church after affair with congregation member
This is the love cheat pastor of a super-church who has betrayed his flock by having an affair with a married member of his congregation.
Gareth Mills, who founded and led Thriving Life Church in Newtownards, left the organisation on Friday after his shameful activity was revealed.
The married father-of-one and devout Christian was not at the family home when our reporter called yesterday.
But a church spokesman confirmed the affair to Sunday Life and said the congregation would be told about it at a service this morning.
Mr Mills' wife Melissa, who was also a leading figure at Thriving Life, is understood to have stood down from her role within the church.
The woman with whom the pastor (41) conducted the illicit relationship was married just 18 months ago to a man she met after joining Thriving Life. The couple are aged in their early 20s and a friend of the husband's family said he is "devastated" after being told of the affair on Thursday evening.
A representative of Thriving Life told this newspaper yesterday: "I'm going to be speaking to the church about it tomorrow, a lot of the church don't really know what's happened yet."
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A copy of the statement to be read out at church services today states: "Gareth has been and is continuing to be involved in an affair with a married woman. Currently Gareth is showing no signs of repentance. Gareth has been removed from the leadership of Thriving Life Church with immediate effect.
"In light of these difficult circumstances Melissa has chosen to step down from leadership, as she deals with this painful reality for her family.
"As a lead team, and as a wider church, we have been shaken to our core by this sinful, wrong behaviour and we acknowledge that trust in leadership has been ruined by this."
On the Thriving Life website, Mr Mills' profile described him as "Lead Pastor" and "born and bred in Newtownards".
It added: "Gareth started dreaming of a church like TLC (Thriving Life Church) as a teenager. He's still dreaming now! Gareth is married to Melissa and is a proud dad."
His wife's profile, which stated she was the "Worship Pastor", described how she and Mr Mills founded the church in 2006 with "a few friends".
"Melissa is always looking for new creative ways to share the best news she's ever heard."
Both their profiles were removed from the website on Friday night.
Thriving Life, which models itself on the American super-churches, states as part of its mission that "our values as a church influence everything we do".
It goes on: "We believe that spiritually lost people should matter to us, as they do to God.
"That full dependence on God is the basis for all our endeavours and authentic community is the place where lives are transformed.
"That every person is of value and has a role to play in building up the church, according to their gifting and faith. Our church is a home where everyone gets a warm welcome."
According to its website, the church began in 2005 as five people meeting in a house who were dreaming of founding a church for "people who had given up on church". The first services were held in the Strangford Arms Hotel before moving to a Scout hall and then to premises in an industrial estate on Movilla Road in the town.