Charismatic preacher Paula White is stepping in as senior pastor of the Florida megachurch that she and her now ex-husband founded nearly two decades ago.
On Sunday, White was expected to officially mark the start of a new chapter in the history of Without Walls International Church, which once attracted 23,000 worshippers and was heralded as one of the nation's fastest-growing congregations.
"It will be my first Sunday to officially preach and to minister to you as the mandate and the mantle that I've received for the great assignment for this city, for this ministry, and for our lives collectively as your new senior pastor," White reported in an eBlast to the Tampa-based congregation.
Since her divorce from Bishop Randy White in 2007, White has been ministering in New York, Texas, and abroad, making only periodic visits to Without Walls.
The church, meanwhile, has shrunk drastically and found itself having faced foreclosure, with their bank demanding immediate repayment of a $12 million loan on the property last November.
Though the church and its lender, the Calif.-based Evangelical Christian Credit Union, later agreed to a modified loan agreement this past March, Bishop White, as recently as last month, reported that the church was in great need for a "financial blessing."
"We're at a very critical juncture in our life right now with the church where we must have financial blessing," he said on June 23 in urging his congregation to donate.
"God is faithful, and He spoke to me at the beginning of this year and said that 2009 would be our greatest year. And isn't it like the devil ... to cause confusion, to bring a discouragement just before our biggest breakthrough?" the 51-year-old preacher added.
In an interview with the St. Petersburg Times on Friday, White said he was stepping aside as senior pastor because of health concerns and that he has been in and out of the hospital for much of the last seven months.
"I have some serious health issues right now," the bishop said. "I've had six different doctors say that I had to take the stress, the pressure out of my life."
As a result, Bishop White called up his ex-wife about two months ago to inform her of his health situation and to ask her to consider returning to lead the congregation they once pastored together.
After much prayer and counsel, Paula White decided accept the mandate and mantle of senior pastor of Without Walls International Church and the entire ministry organization, according to Paula White Ministries.
"Pastor Paula is very excited about this wonderful assignment and opportunity from the Lord," her ministry reported. "We know this is the divine plan of God and that great things are in store!"
As for Bishop White, the ailing minister said he is staying town and will still be connected to Without Walls – just in a different position.
"It's not something that we're losing. You're actually gaining," he told his congregation last week. "And we're going to gain momentum as we go forward to build the Kingdom of God."
On Sunday, Without Walls was expected to honor Bishop White "for the leadership and the legacy and richness that he has brought Without Walls to."
"And we look forward to our future as God has big things for all of us," Paula White added.