Thursday, November 25, 2010

Five Years Ago...

I've been contemplating this post for awhile. I'm sure the majority of my blog readers are members of my church family, and I’ve alluded to this story about my former pastor a few times to some of them, but have yet to tell it. I figure the five year anniversary is as good a time as any. In the past year, I have finally gotten to the point where I can talk about it without crying, but I'd rather not chance it... and so therefore, I've decided to blog about it. This would be a good time to mention that if you are a child or young adult reading my blog, please get the ok from your parents before you read this story.

Five years ago this month, my pastor fell.

He fell hard.

And the fall reverberates in the lives of many still to this day; and in some, it will affect them every day for the rest of their lives.

It was five years ago this month that my pastor and his wife (my good friend 'Karen') suddenly left town without warning to go back to the state where they are from. My bible study group (which his wife was leading) speculated that something must have happened with some of their family members back in that state.

The Sunday after they returned, he sat in the congregation. I just assumed that was because they had been out of town and that he hadn't had time to prepare a sermon. Another man in the church (who later became the pastor) preached that day, and afterward asked all of us who were members or regular attendees to stay after, and all visitors were dismissed. I remember thinking how awkward that seemed, and how rude it must sound to any visitors we might have had. And I remember feeling scared. I knew something was wrong but I didn't know what, and I didn't have any guesses as to what it might be.

I am changing the names here, but when I heard the words, " 'Dave' is resigning as pastor due to falling into a sin, and the 'Johnsons' have left the church and will not be returning,” I literally felt as though I was going to die. I can't even describe the feeling. A lot of it is still a blur.

I remember immediately starting to cry.

I remember people handing me kleenex after kleenex.

I remember thinking how strange the church would seem without the 'Johnsons', who were such a big part of the church.

I remember having the strangest, most naive thought. "Maybe Dave punched ‘Bob’. Maybe something like that happened and they don't feel that they can go to church together anymore." Hoping beyond hope that maybe there wasn't any scandal involved. Hoping that this was something that could be cleared up and would just go away. And then a panicky feeling that Dave had had an affair with Bob's wife, or even with Bob himself. (The latter is not a conclusion that I would normally jump to, but my mind was racing, and both possibilities seemed equally impossible for me to believe.)

I remember my brother-in-law and me being the only ones to go over to our pastor and his wife and hug them after the announcement was made and how relieved they were for someone to come over to them.

The next thing I remember is me, my brother-in-law, and my then-teenaged-son sitting at home in our kitchen in shock. I remember the moment that it all became clear to us, and how our reactions were almost comical, but NOT at all comical. I remember saying that I didn't think that it could have been a physical relationship, because Bob's wife 'Paula' had just had a baby a few weeks prior, and surely she was not in a physical relationship so soon after giving birth.

And just like that, as if being struck by lightning, we understood. We reacted like dominoes. I remember saying "Oh." as the whole situation finally hit me. And then an "Oh!" from my brother-in-law. And then an "OH MAN!!!" from my son. It had finally all fallen into place, and we knew the ugly truth, which was later confirmed to us: Our pastor was the father of Paula's one-month-old baby.

Paula was not just any church member. She was Karen's best friend. Their children were all extremely close. Paula's husband, who had no reason to doubt that the baby was his, suddenly was faced with the realization that the baby did not belong to him. Imagine loving "your" baby and then suddenly discovering that he's not your baby... and that the biological dad is planning on taking on the "daddy" role.

You can imagine the devastation. I can't even describe the feelings. I cried for MONTHS. I specifically remember the night after finding out, I woke up in the middle of the night and having that sensation of not remembering for a moment and then the memory of it coming crashing down on me and me saying "Oh, Dave" and just WEEPING.

Life became an absolute mess. Karen was suddenly without a best friend, and I was honored to pick that role up. We spent months discussing everything... all the ups and downs... and there were MANY ups and downs. Our church as a whole was not forgiving of Dave. The majority of the church believed that he was not repentant, since he was caught in this sin by his wife, rather than coming forward with it himself. This led to numerous discussions and hurt feelings between various members. It also led to our family temporarily leaving the church in order to escape the ongoing drama. We began to go to a large church in which you could easily remain pretty anonymous... which is exactly what we needed at that time. We needed to be in church, and we weren't convinced that we were permanently leaving our church. And since there was no possible way that I could answer the polite questions that you get as a visitor to a small church without bursting into tears... I figured anonymity was the way to go.

Our pastor came with us. The weird feeling I experienced seeing him in the congregation on the day that his resignation was announced was nothing in comparison to the strangeness of sitting side by side with him in a whole different church.

In the months that followed the fallout, plenty happened. We kept going to church together at the mega-anonymous-church, and after it became clear that the majority of our church strongly believed that Karen should kick Dave out and didn't mind letting her know that, Karen and the kids joined us at the big church. Both marriages were allegedly being worked on (can you hear the suspenseful music playing?), both men were working together in playing the role of Daddy, and the women were being civilized to each other for the sake of the baby.

Until the news came out that the affair had continued. The marriage of Bill and Paula didn't survive that round. That round ended in not only a broken home, but a broken man, who had loved that baby as his own, but suddenly had no rights to him.

Fast forward five years. If you've ever been tempted to doubt the fact that sin has far-reaching effects... BELIEVE IT. What Dave and Paula thought was their secret sin ended up impacting numerous people in numerous ways. The following is just a sample of the impact.

Dave betrayed his wife, betrayed his children, betrayed a member of his flock, and betrayed his ENTIRE flock. He lost his job, lost his ministry, had to start over in a new career, lost his church, ruined his wife's closest friendship, and lost his marriage for a time. He humiliated his wife and their children. He will never know what it's like to live with his son full time. He will never know what it’s like to not have to explain how it is that his wife happens to be the mother of his first three children, but not his fourth. Not to mention the embarrassment his wife and children feel every time they have to explain it.

Paula betrayed her husband, betrayed her children, betrayed her best friend, and betrayed her church family. She lost her church. She lost her husband. She lost her best friend, who is now her child’s stepmother. She lost the privilege of being a stay-at-home wife and mother. And I’m sure she and her children are equally embarrassed every time they have to explain the fatherhood of her youngest child. She is now unbiblically re-married (unless there is something that I’m not aware of in all of this).

And since I can’t speak for everyone that was affected, I’ll just speak for myself. I lost my pastor. I spent at least a year crying over the loss, even though I retained him as a friend and saw him often. I haven’t told anyone the story lately, so I can’t promise that I’m over the tears, but as of a year and a half ago (which was the last time I told someone the story), I still couldn’t make it through the story without crying. We had to explain the specifics of how babies are made to the kids sooner than we’d planned, since there’s no way to explain to children that their pastor is the father of someone else’s baby without explaining how that could be.

It was a lot to go through, but God has been gracious to me, and I am happy to say that I have not lost the ability to trust pastors. (Which is amazing to me, considering the fact that the pastor of the large church that we and our former pastor’s family started attending ended up resigning for having an affair with a married staff member. But that’s another story for another day.)

The moral of this story?

Sin has far-reaching effects... and your sin WILL find you out.

The silver lining of this story?

And we know that all things work together for good to them that love God, to them who are the called according to His purpose. (Romans 8:28)

When we left our former church due to the unforgiveness that was being shown to our former pastor, I sought counseling from a local pastor. He was VERY helpful to me in sorting out what proper church discipline should and should not look like, and spent as much time on me as a pastor would spend on one of his own church members. After our former church made amends with our former pastor, we returned to that church for a year or two. Later, as we learned more about what the Bible says about women’s roles in the church, we knew we needed to leave the church again, and we did so under good terms.

Today we are in the church that we know without a doubt that God wants us in. Remember the pastor who counseled me? He is no longer pastoring... and we are now members of his former church. He was replaced by our current pastor, who I trust and respect very much.

My former pastor’s sin no longer haunts me, but it still hurts me, and I’m sure it always will. However, I can see God’s hand in it all the while. He used this tragedy to lead me to a pastor and a church that I love dearly... and I can honestly say that the years of pain that my former pastor caused me were worth it. And for that, I am truly thankful.

Happy Thanksgiving!


Bridget said...

What a tragic story... so many lives destroyed by the actions of 2. Good reminder that even our pastors can fall into temptation (just like us). I am so thankful for our pastor and the men in our church who guard against any appearance of impropriety. I can only imagine how difficult this whole situation was for all involved.
I have to say that I am glad you came to our church :-).

Sherry said...

This is so sad! I am truly sorry you and so many others have suffered so much! Satan loves to see any Christian fall, but his bullseye are those in leadership! When they fall, so many fall with them!
Praise the Lord that He is healing your heart!
We are so thankful for you and your family!

Vikki said...

Bridget, I'm glad too!!! And I completely agree with you about the men in our church. What may seem unnecessary to some (avoiding hugging the opposite sex, etc), is actually SO wise.

Sherry, your comment reminded me of something that I forgot to mention in my post. You're so right about leaders falling and others falling with them. We immediately lost a few church members when our pastor resigned, and over the course of the next couple of years lost the majority of families. The church almost didn't survive it.

I'm thankful to know both of you ladies!! Happy Thanksgiving! :)

Anonymous said...

This is about the dozenth time I tried to comment and keep stopping myself. I don't know what to say but I just wanted you to know that I am proud of you for sharing.