LAKE FOREST, Calif. — Members of Rick Warren’s Southern California church began Sunday services with a prayer for the popular evangelical pastor, as he and his family coped with the apparent suicide of his 27-year-old son.
Tom Holladay, teaching pastor at Saddleback Church in Orange County, opened the 9 a.m. worship service by saying the congregation would face the tragedy together, “as a church family.”
Holladay led a prayer for Warren and his wife, Kay, and their two other children.
The lead pastor was not in attendance Sunday, a day after the church announced that Matthew Warren took his own life at his Mission Viejo home.
Matthew Warren struggled with mental illness, deep depression and suicidal thoughts throughout his life, Saddleback Valley Community Church said in a statement, after his body was found Friday night.
“Despite the best health care available, this was an illness that was never fully controlled and the emotional pain resulted in his decision to take his life,” the church said.
Allison O’Neal, a supervising deputy coroner for Orange County, declined to release the cause and manner of death pending an autopsy.
Rick Warren, the author of the multimillion-selling book “The Purpose Driven Life,” said in an email to church staff that he and his wife had enjoyed a fun Friday evening with their son. But their son then returned home to take his life in “a momentary wave of despair.”
Over the years, Matthew Warren had been treated by America’s best doctors, had received counseling and medication and been the recipient of numerous prayers from others, his father said.
“I’ll never forget how, many years ago, after another approach had failed to give relief, Matthew said ‘Dad, I know I’m going to heaven. Why can’t I just die and end this pain?'” Warren recalled.
Despite that, he said, his son lived for another decade, during which he often reached out to help others.
“You who watched Matthew grow up knew he was an incredibly kind, gentle, and compassionate man,” Warren wrote. “He had a brilliant intellect and a gift for sensing who was most in pain or most uncomfortable in a room. He’d then make a bee-line to that person to engage and encourage them.”
The elder Warren founded Saddleback Church in 1980, according to his biography on the church website, and over the years watched it grow to 20,000 members. He and his wife, Kay, began by holding Bible studies for people who weren’t regular churchgoers.
Matthew Warren was the youngest of their three children.
As Saddleback grew over the years, it spread out from its Lake Forest headquarters, 65 miles southeast of Los Angeles, adding several other campuses and ministries around Southern California.
The church says it now offers more than 200 community ministries and support groups for parents, families, children, couples, prisoners, addicts, and people living with HIV, depression and other illnesses.
In 2008, the church sponsored a presidential forum with Barack Obama and John McCain. Obama and Republican nominee Mitt Romney were invited to a similar forum last fall, but Warren canceled it several days beforehand, saying the campaign had become too uncivil.
Warren was named the top newsmaker of the year for 2009 by the Religion Newswriters Association. He gained attention that year with his invocation at Obama’s inauguration, as well as with comments he made in the aftermath of California’s Proposition 8, which overturned gay marriage.