To some former Harvest Bible Chapel insiders, Rick Donald was not just James MacDonald’s right-hand man; he was also his “hatchet man” or “smiling assassin.” On the surface, the former Harvest assistant senior pastor, was friendly and kind. But when MacDonald wanted someone removed or dirty work done, they say he tapped Rick Donald.
For example, when James MacDonald decided in 2019 to fire John Secrest, the founding pastor of Harvest Bible Chapel Naples, MacDonald delegated the task to Donald.
As Secrest recounted to me, a local elder was dispatched to his house in Florida. And while holding a cell phone with Donald on the line, the elder fired Secrest from the Harvest satellite church he had planted just three years earlier. Donald then assumed leadership of the Naples church as its interim pastor.
“In some ways, you’d feel the deepest betrayal from Rick,” said Secrest, whose main transgression was opposing MacDonald’s plan to preach at the Naples church while on an “indefinite sabbatical” for alleged misconduct. “You expected something like that from James MacDonald. But when it came from Rick, the betrayal went deeper.”
It’s not surprising, then, that Secrest and other former Harvest members and leaders are expressing dismay that Sugar Grove Church in Goshen, Indiana, recently hired Donald as its adult ministries pastor.
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But what’s especially galling to them is a letter of recommendation from “Harvest Bible Chapel Leadership,” which Sugar Grove Church posted online.
“Any church would be extremely benefited by having Rick serve on their pastoral staff,” the letter dated October 19, 2020, reads. “Rick has served faithfully at Harvest Bible Chapel for 30 years,” it continues, and credits Donald with coaching and equipping church planters at the more than 200 churches Harvest planted.
“Rick’s ability to mentor leaders and pastors, lead through crisis, and navigate through tough pastoral situation with families and individuals has grown rapidly throughout the years,” the letter states. “In addition to his ministry skills, Rick is a man of high integrity, godliness, displays the fruit of the Spirit, and is highly trustworthy.”
At the time, Donald—one of MacDonald’s closes confidants—apologized to the church for his “sin and failures,” noting the “fear of man and pride has specifically operated in me at times.”
However, to date, Secrest said Donald hasn’t apologized to him. He added that Harvest’s recommendation of Donald shows that Harvest apparently isn’t sorry about what happened to Secrest and his church either.
“Any shame that HBC should have about what happened in Naples should lay directly at the feet of Rick Donald,” Secrest said. “If they’re giving him a recommendation, then they must not be feeling any shame for what they did to Naples.”
In contrast, former Harvest elder, Dan George, has posted a public apology to Secrest on his blog. George said that Secrest was not “insubordinate” as the Harvest elders, including Donald, claimed. Nor did Secrest’s actions show that he didn’t want to work at Harvest, as the elders also claimed.
“Both were lies,” George wrote, noting that Secrest was simply trying to protect his flock from MacDonald.
In another post, George notes that Donald was a main defender of MacDonald in the elder deliberations leading up to MacDonald’s firing. George said Donald sided with MacDonald in trying to keep six staff letters with scathing indictments of MacDonald from the rest of the Harvest board.
One of those letters—a letter by former Harvest Executive Director of Business Operations Dean Butters—specifically named Rick Donald when referring to a vulgar video MacDonald made of a “well known Christian woman” who got engaged in her 50s. Butters wrote that the video likened the woman’s “first sexual experience to the Holy Spirit coming on her (with very graphic and disturbing audio).”
“This video was a favorite of Pastor Rick’s,” the letter states, “and he regularly asked James to play it, often to the groans and chagrin of the others present.”
I reached out to Donald, specifically asking about the video and other allegations concerning him, but he did not respond.
Donald also was one of at least two former Harvest pastors who reportedly received a Harley Davidson motorcycle as a gift from the church.
The other pastor to receive a Harley, former Niles Campus Pastor Mohan Zachariah, said he reimbursed the church for the motorcycle and put it up for sale. Donald, on the other hand, has never addressed the issue.
Another issue Donald has not addressed is the time he kicked Mike Bryant—a pastor of a Harvest church plant in Grayslake, Illinois—out of the former Harvest Bible Fellowship.
According to Bryant, Donald came to Bryant’s church and informed Bryant personally that he was being booted. Like Secrest, Bryant had dared to challenge James MacDonald, questioning MacDonald’s choice to invite controversial televangelist T.D. Jakes to speak at MacDonald’s Elephant Room II conference.
As Bryant told me when I first started reporting on Harvest nearly three years ago, Harvest demanded “loyalty above righteousness.” And to many sources I spoke with, no one epitomized that ethic more than Rick Donald. A fellow Canadian who knew James MacDonald from his Bible college days, Donald was known to be unquestionably loyal to MacDonald.
Donald also has not addressed the allegations by Anne Frers that Donald pressured her to return to her abusive husband after being hospitalized and diagnosed with PTSD due to the abuse. Frers husband was the pastor of a Harvest church plant in Fairfax, Virginia. And Frers says that because she refused to submit to Donald’s plan, Harvest withdrew all support from her.
Dan Keller, a former member of Harvest Bible Chapel, who was thrown out of a Harvest prayer meeting for asking a probing question in 2019, responded to Harvest’s endorsement of Donald on Facebook.
“Rick Donald is Tom Hayden to JMacs (James MacDonald’s) Michael Corleone . . . Now tell me that the leadership at Harvest doesn’t know that. (K)inda reminds me of the Catholic church moving pedophile priests around to different parishes….WAY TO GO HARVEST LEADERSHIP!!!! One thing I’ve gotta admit you’re consistent.”
Similarly, Manny Bucur, James MacDonald’s former bodyguard, texted me that he can’t understand why Harvest wrote a letter of recommendation for Donald, “after everything that’s transpired.” He also questioned why, if Harvest leaders believe what they wrote, they didn’t keep Donald on staff.
“I also don’t understand why Rick didn’t speak about some of the things that went down at HBC, and if appropriate, apologize for any part that he may have played . . . unless he signed an NDA.
“I’m not aware of a public apology from Rick, and IMO that’s inexcusable, especially once he decided to get back into ministry.”
The Roys Report reached out to Harvest Bible Chapel for comment but no one responded.