"Hallelujah," Alderdice calls out.
"Praise the Lord," Sturgeon booms. "Praise the Lord!"
It's a message for the troubled, and Lord, there have been troubled folks here: a woman who shot and killed her abusive husband in self-defense; a family with a son in prison. Sturgeon ministers warmly to them all. Congregation members past and present exclaim, "Brother Sturgeon saved my life," their voices cracking with emotion, their eyes brimming with tears--even if they won't divulge their past transgressions.
The message in the Scripture, after all, is that Jesus died for their sins, and if they have Jesus in their hearts, then all is forgiven.
"When they portrayed Father Flanagan with Spencer Tracy, that was Hollywood stuff," says Sturgeon's karate instructor, Barry Bernstein. "But I would say in real life, if there was a Father Flanagan-type person, it would be Phil."
Bernstein was so taken with Sturgeon that he asked the evangelist preacher to officiate at his wedding, even though Bernstein is Jewish. "He is such a genuinely Christlike person," Bernstein gushes. "I can't think of another parallel."
Of course, Bernstein never met Bill Alderdice.
How fitting that the prodigal son, Jim Alderdice, should have landed in this heart of Christian forgiveness. Sometime between his arrest and his release from prison, Jim reconnected with an old friend from high school, Sharri Romero, who owns a gift shop in Glendale. When Jim got out of jail, he married her--Phil Sturgeon officiated, of course, because he was the pastor of her church here--and Alderdice settled into his new life, eventually being named youth minister of the First Assembly of God of Glendale. Jim's mother, who also lives in Glendale, says he is taking correspondence courses to get his ministerial credentials.
The Arizona District Council of Assemblies of God, however, had never heard of him. "Mr. Alderdice has never had any credentials with the Assemblies of God that I'm aware of," says the Reverend Robert Sites, superintendent of the Arizona District Council.
In fact, outside of his church, Jim Alderdice has remained invisible, and wants to remain so. After weeks of prayer, he refused repeated inquiries from New Times.
"The thing is, I'm beginning a new life out here," he said, "and really don't see any benefit in dredging up the past."
"Jim is a tremendous man," said Sturgeon, right before he, too, clammed up for good. "He preaches the word, nothing but the word."
Past and present church members, with some exceptions, old girlfriends and their fathers all profess their great fondness for Jim Alderdice, but not a one will say anything more detailed, for better or for worse, about him.
Though no one in the church seems to have witnessed it personally, they all heard secondhand that Alderdice gave his testimony one Sunday, that is, told of his tainted past, and they have accepted his confession.
"We want to believe the Lord forgive him," says church-board member Frank Richardson. "And we should forgive him, and not keep bringing up his back history--he's not even going to remember it, according to the Scriptures--and just bring up what the Lord's doing to him now."
"A sin is a sin," echoes board member Jim Bennett. "It doesn't matter if you murdered somebody or you stole a pencil; a sin is a sin in the eyes of God. God says the same forgiveness is there for everyone. That means a person who committed a murder can also be forgiven."
Certainly, a swindler can. Only one former church stalwart, who asked to remain anonymous, spoke above the veil of secrecy: "The fact of the matter is, if you want to know the truth, and you're not going to use my name, I have not cared for James Alderdice since he hit the place," she said. "I don't feel that is the type of person I want leading my kids. I have loved Pastor Sturgeon as a pastor. But I have personally not felt that Pastor Sturgeon has used good judgment in youth pastors."
Her gut feeling may be on target.
@body:A Glendale police report dated July 16, 1992, details a revelation made by a 7-year-old girl who is friends with Alderdice's stepdaughter.
While at brunch with her family at a local restaurant, according to the police report, the little girl suddenly announced, "Jim's been touching me where he's not supposed to."
The parents were shocked and asked for details, and the child bravely reported that over the course of several days, while Alderdice's wife was at work, Jim Alderdice would fondle her genitals through her clothing. When asked to be specific, as written in the police report, the child "responded by saying, 'Well, Jim sat me down on the bed (demonstrated by spreading her legs and showed that she was sitting between his legs facing away from him) to brush the back of my hair. [Name deleted] said that she told Jim, 'That's OK because I can do it myself.' Added 'He started rubbing between my legs.' When [name deleted] asked [name deleted] if she told him to stop [name deleted] replied 'Yes' and added that she was pushing his hands away so he took hold of her hands to stop her from pushing his away. . . . When asked when this started [name deleted] replied 'It started happening after church (Sunday), it happened everyday, and it happened a lot.'"