My colleague and friend remarked recently that I’d done some serious changing over the past few years. I’ve taken responsibility for things I needed to deal with in my own life, weeded out people who were “so-called” friends, gone through relationship reboots, and have found ways to cope and eventually thrive in therapy and in my faith walk.
My faith walk…I find myself on a new path having left the church I’d been attending and giving my heart to for 46 years.
Without getting too deep, it all came to a nasty head in April. In early 2014, I’d begun asking legitimate and duty-bound questions as a newly appointed trustee at the church. I had discovered the need for greater transparency of church assets, and that more than just a very small handful of people needed to be privy of our “bottom line” so we could grow in our faith. People who have done the same things the same ways decade after decade weren’t happy with me asking so many questions. Even though I was one of the long-time, multi-generational families who’d served as a youth teacher, choir organizer, participated in Bible studies, and in the past two years as a facilitator of the well-attended coffee-house, I was asking too many financial questions in areas handled by the same very small group of people.
This particular Sunday in April, I noticed two women passing financial documents over the pew right after the worship service had cleared out. I stayed behind to talk to our piano player when I saw this action, and I spoke up. I asked what those documents were and why couldn’t they be shared with whole church body at the monthly meetings?
All of a sudden, I was verbally attacked and sworn at by a Napoleonic, unsteady husband of one of the women. He had been just outside the sanctuary doors and had heard my query. “I am so f-in sick of you asking questions, you are an a-hole,” he screamed at me. Then he slammed the sanctuary door, ran down the stairs to the fellowship hall with the 35 or so members there, and further maligned me. He dropped the f-bomb repeatedly in front everyone now also cursing the church before being ushered out by two men.
Funny, that particular Sunday Sean was at work instead of at church. Would this guy have dared to attack me if my husband was present? One good man there did stand between me and this uncontrollable guy as I stood dumbfounded and shaking in the fellowship hall. He insisted on driving me home as the out of control guy was still in the parking lot. I accepted the ride. On the way home, though shaken to my core, I was at least a little hopeful that now something positive would have to done to help our church finally get on the right fiscal track.
Yet after going through “in-house” channels, none of the leaders or parishioners got my back, called the man out, or instituted much needed transparency and accounting changes. Why? What were they afraid off? Opening themselves to getting healthy, being blessed?
I brought my plight and plea for help for what I viewed as my critically off-track church to the presiding district superintendent of our church’s annual conference. He “oversees” 71 churches in the New York Conference. I specifically asked for a face-to-face with him to help us discern what to do now, stay or go, would he come and help straighten lack of transparency issues out? Inside of 20 minutes,I received a swift, one-lined email reply telling us “to go and find another church because you are obviously am not happy in Higganum.”
An understatement. But this was the church of my life! I began Sunday School when I was three years old. I was confirmed there! I got married there! I had my children baptized, raised in Sunday School, and confirmed there, too. There were good spiritual experiences, but also growing pains, I’d tell myself. Yes, we’d finally stop singing “Happy Birthday” to one another during worship, though people still praised their favorite sports teams for winning the night before. Praising God was not the norm. Indeed, I was told by our lay leader after this horrible assault that people said I “talked about God too much.”
I had worked recently on an informal committee in effort to somehow improve our posture in the community by coming up with a new logo and tagline. I urged that we needed to build our body spiritually, as a single Body of Christ, and not just get a new slogan. We had mastered the chicken barbecues, the beautiful upkeep of the property, but were we heeding the words on the stain-glassed window over the altar? “Thy Word is Truth.” Who’s word? What word? Indeed, the very way the pews face in the lovely, Victorian sanctuary literally and figuratively turn backs to The Good Shepherd on the stained glass behind us.
In my opinion, the church appears to be little more than a self-serving club of families keeping their special traditions and secrets that only those with a certain bloodline or handshake could be privy than one unified body of Christ following the basic tenants of Christianity. Loving God above all else, and loving your neighbor as yourself. Of course, there is Jesus, but it seemed to me that His name wasn’t lifted much except at Christmas and Easter.
Sean and I realized that we couldn’t attend anymore with what had transpired, and what hadn’t been dealt with: transparency of finances and lack of reconciliation after the attack. We can no longer wait for a change of the status quo, the strong-arming, the hobbling along. We made a painful decision to leave.
I was truly devastated. For the next few months, I cycled through all the stages of a death: shock, anger, bargaining, denial, and finally acceptance.
Wise ones have helped me to see that you can’t stay with an unhealthy environment or people if you are trying to be healthy. It’s been a few months. I’ve worked through “the divorce” as my former church’s pastor so aptly phrased it. Looking back, I clearly see that it was God showing me through what people said or didn’t say that I needed to make the break, however painful. It didn’t matter how Biblically-correct I thought my arguments might have been. God and good counsel have helped me to overcome the enormous betrayal I felt by the hierarchy of the church, and people I’ve known for decades—some I am even related to. My mom was the only one who urged me to come back and fight. I prayerfully considered but haven’t felt that was God’s plan for me. As much as I had hoped and tried to “keep the faith” there all these years, I finally saw that this is NOT a healthy place for me or my husband.
It turns out we’re not alone in our exodus. Another long-time husband and wife who were very active in the church for over 25 years, who had been away during the tumult, questioned the leadership about what they were going to do about the many ills. Unsatisfied with milk-toast responses, they too, have left the church.
Sean and I have been visiting churches since April. The first one I visited after the heinous verbal assault was a cowboy church held in a real rodeo in Central Florida! God was speaking to me through this funky experience and my wonderful women friends, Jops and Bobbi. Basically “Jesus died for everyone, not just the Catholics, the Congregationalists, the Methodists.”
Can I get a witness?
For the rest of the spring and summer Sean and I visited a number of different flavor churches. One was even a “B.Y.O.G” (Bring Your Own God) service at the Arlo Gutherie Center in Mass.
At each service I would cry healing tears knowing that God was saying, “You hear what I am saying. You are going to be OK. Trust me.”
Sean and I are currently attending Wethersfield UMC-yes, another UMC—and I was skeptical, but we feel led there at this time. It was actually Sean’s idea to try this place for a few months.
I know that God has pointed us to this new path with a mature and “real-deal” minister and welcoming congregation. This church seems to be a healthy, sane oasis for others who’ve also left their local UMCs. So far I’ve discovered there are at least four other families, long-time Methodists who after experiencing turmoil, or perhaps, “coming to” in their original UMC churches and had taken leave, relocated to this spirit-filled Wethersfield UMC.
It is new and odd for me to be going to different church, a different suburban address than what I am used to. I don’t know the ropes, or the programs, or how I will fit in. I used to be so involved at my local UMC but one can’t stay at a place for tradition’s sake—even if my grandmother and my mother were/are active members. Even though I grew up there, married there, raised my kids there. We just can’t support the place at this time when people in charge know and allow things to go on incorrectly, way off base.
I feel sorry for those there who don’t know what they are missing.
Yes, it was time for me to go and let go.
I know that God has something greater in store for me and my husband. Though I don’t know exactly where or what that is, I have to continue to be prayerful and keep going. This song from Steven Curtis Chapman has given me hope that there’s going to be a glorious unfolding…