This is a sad story but it has been four years and I am very happy with my life today. My depression is long gone, I see the Lord's hand in what has happened, and the future is full of opportunity. Writing this has been hard though. Only now have I felt strong enough and healthy enough to face down this unresolved mess once and for all but one does relive a lot of pain in the retelling. I am glad, as I'm sure you are, that this is the last chapter before the dawn.
In the entire process none of the elders ever offered a word of explanation. I don't think they really understood what was happening either. I requested some sort of debriefing from them and they said we could do it in the fall. I reminded them in September and it was finally scheduled for November.
The two-year time period from September 2009 (the "this church will be dead in three months" board meeting) through the summer of 2011 is actually hard for me to remember. Except where I wrote things down my depression was so great that I lived in a sort of fog. I faked my way through the best I could. It was actually worse after I left TA when the full reality of what had happened, and the irrevocable nature of it all, really hit me.
I felt at times as if God Himself had rejected me. The elders all had, the CMA (via the District Office) seemed to have written me off completely. It was as if "Ichabod: The Glory Has Departed" was written over my life. Why was God even keeping me here on earth if He was done with me? I was desperate for some affirmation but, apart from Jeanie, none was coming.
In November I asked the board why they had done what they did. No one answered. One new board member said that his understanding was that I had resigned and they just moved up the date. I mentioned that I had repeatedly said that I wanted to stay and he said it was unfortunate nothing had been written down that could clarify the matter. I told him that I HAD written it out in my annual report. No one had anything to say after that.
Did they just not want me at TA or did they think that I was no longer fit for ministry at all? The wife of the same board member just mentioned had told me of another pastor in our district who had stepped down as senior pastor and his church paid him to be a minister at large, however he felt God led. I mentioned my desire to do more in evangelism and asked if they would support me in that to any degree. Or would they object if I started a new church in town (I knew I wasn't ready for that yet but it seemed like an obvious possibility in a year or so if the Lord should so lead)?
At their next meeting (December 2010), Jeanie asked (on her own initiative) if she could meet with them. She did and poured out her heart and pain through her tears (I wasn't present). She told me that she begged them to reconsider how they had been treating me.
They didn't respond to her either. No one had any word or gesture of encouragement for either of us.
One last time I poured out my pain in an email and then rescinded my request for support.
The only response I got was from one board member who emailed me and met with me and told me that they felt that I was "arrogant" and was "demanding support without any accountability" (huh?) and was trying to "extort" money from them by "threatening" to start a new church if they didn't have any other options. That wasn't the affirmation and encouragement I was looking for.
That was our last contact with the board.
The next (last) chapter will be brighter and happier. It really was darkest before the dawn. But this sad tale is worth telling and reading if it prevents other churches, other boards, other pastors, from going through similar circumstances. Our nation is full of 60-something year old pastors, men gifted and trained and experienced and with long walks with the Lord, who are largely on the sidelines today because they've been through similar experiences. And I know men much younger who were pastors once and never want to do it again after the way their ministries ended. My own pastor today seems to take a lot more flack than I ever did. In several churches that I've been in as a lay person, someone has come up to me, in some cases board members, and tried to recruit me for the campaign to get rid of the senior pastor. Usually these stories are never told and the lessons are never learned and before the sun sets and rises again tomorrow, it will be repeated somewhere else.
There are bad pastors out there. We hear about them when they fail and fall. But the ranks of former pastors are heavily populated with victims also, many of whom have been through much much worse than what I have told in this story. Pastors are people too. When we get treated like this, we hurt and we hurt deeply. And the support that other hurting people find at in their church family in these times of suffering often isn't there for pastors when we have been sent away and (in most cases) are expected to keep all the details to ourselves.
All of us, when we suffer greatly, hope that somehow our suffering will be in someway redemptive for others. I hope and pray that the pain of telling and reading this narrative will somehow be used of God to prevent at least a few of these all-too-common church tragedies from unfolding.
Finally! Chapter The Last