My Story, Part Three, Hurt Me Once, Shame on You, Hurt Me Twice, Shame on Me

This is my story – beginning from my earliest memories as best I can recall.  All names and places have been changed except mine. 

CHAPTER SIX

I came to our most recent church as broken as I thought I could possibly be. I even remember thinking, “What more could they possibly do to me that would hurt me? It’s all been done.”

How wrong I was.

It was the first Sunday in January – I don’t even remember the year – and we had been contemplating where to look for a new church. Not so much for us, but for our children. We so wanted them to grow up with a nurturing Christian church home.

We woke up that morning to several inches of snow on the ground, and living several miles out in the country, we decided we should just stay home that day. We turned on the radio, and the pastor of a church about 30 miles away was just beginning a new series on the Healing Power of the Holy Spirit. My husband stood at the kitchen sink washing dishes and I sat at the table listening  . . . and weeping.  He spoke of grace and acceptance and unconditional love.  He spoke straight to my heart and it was healing balm for my spirit.

The next week there was another snow storm. Another day at home listening to the radio. Weeping.

We learned that this was a six-week series, so we decided that we would attend this church just long enough to hear the rest of the series. The first Sunday we were there, our boys went to Sunday School and afterwards came bounding up to us saying, “Can this be our church?!?!” They had immediately fallen in love with the children’s ministry. We responded that we would have to see, but knowing that our children were taken by it had a huge impact on our decision to stay.

We decided to speak with the pastor, whom I will call Elliot,  regarding our past church experience and at the beginning of our conversation, we commented that he had probably already heard about us. He adamantly denied this. As we talked, he found out that I was a musician and told me that I would not be able to become involved in the music at this church because there was a long line of people wanting that opportunity. He then suggested that we might consider going elsewhere. He was very open with us in that many churches had a negative attitude toward his church because people were leaving their churches to attend this one.  He appeared to not want to be seen as a “sheep stealer” in our situation, as well.  But this was definitely not going to be the case.  I told him that I wasn’t interested in being involved in music or in anything.  I only wanted to be anonymous and he responded by telling us that we were certainly welcome – that it is easy to be anonymous at such a large church.

As we shared our previous church experience, Elliot asked, “Do you think you were spiritually abused?”  I responded by saying, “Oh, you’ve read that book too?”  And we talked about the impact of spiritual abuse and how it had made me question my standing with God, my salvation, my value, etc.  He appeared to be very familiar with spiritual abuse and the impact it was having on me.  I was so relieved that we were in a place where my woundedness was so well understood.

Toward the end of our meeting, Pastor Elliot commented that an elder had come to him and told him that someone had expressed concern about us. I have never forgotten this because it was in direct conflict with his earlier statement that he had not heard anything about us. But, we were hearing such wonderful things about Jesus, grace, and healing in his sermons that we were willing to overlook this small contradiction.

That fall, I received a call from a man who introduced himself as the president of a local Bible College. He explained that he had an immediate need to hire someone to work with a team of students who would travel the country singing, leading worship, counseling, and representing the school, and that he had been given my name as someone who could do this job well. I was amazed that after having such a horrific experience at our previous church, I would be considered for such a position, but the college president was very encouraging and so I began working, not for a church, but for a school that trains people for ministry.

During my years at the Bible college, I felt that I was leading a double life – here I was in a place where I directly mentored students in faith and life, yet during these same years, I continued to be beaten down by the church.

For weeks during my initial time at our new church, I would attend the worship services, participate in the congregational singing, and listen to the pastors speak balm to my heart. And weep. It took a long time for me to finally get up the courage to sing in the choir but once there, I was so warmly welcomed by a woman named Faith that I cried. Soon, I was being embraced by several people and was eventually invited to sing a solo or two.

Because I had heard so much of what is “good and right” from the pulpit, I was naïve to the fact that this church was not yet so very different from the churches that I had attended in the past. Perhaps it is because my “church upbringing” in college was such an open, warm, welcoming place that I just couldn’t believe that most churches were more like the community of my childhood – where last name, social status, income, neighborhood, etc., all factor in to your level of acceptability – the personal and professional respect one receives. I do know that I believed the pastors when they preached about us needing to be transparent, to show our true selves so that God’s grace can permeate our lives and we can grow in our relationship with Him and with each other.

Or perhaps, because I wasn’t raised in church, I simply didn’t know how to be “politically correct” in expressing my concerns.  It never occurred to me that I would not garner the same respect I had experienced in college as a leader and a person of value.

I was unaware that, as the church was looking for a new, full-time, worship leader, Phillip, there was controversy brewing. Having been so warmly embraced in the choir, when Phillip was hired, I was happy to come along side and become more involved. For eight months, I shared the platform with him at all but about five services. During that time, he bestowed more and more responsibility on me, and even brought up the idea that he would try to get the church to hire me part-time to assist him.

Over time, I began to get many questions from other people who were involved in the music/worship ministry.  They often didn’t know the details of what was supposed to happen during a service and the specifics of what they were to do.  I tried to be helpful by asking Phillip in advance and encouraging him to help them be more comfortable by being better prepared with appropriate information as well as working with them in the rehearsal preparation.  Instead, Phillip insisted that they didn’t need to know what was going to happen – they only needed to follow his lead.

He intimated to me that he really didn’t care for the church choir and only sang in it because he had been told that he would have a better chance at being hired if he did so.  His vision for the music ministry of the church was to be on the platform – just him and a piano – leading worship.  No one else was necessary.

Phillip also continued to give me more and more responsibility, oftentimes, having me do several hours of work on music arrangements, only to then inform me at the last-minute that we wouldn’t be using that music after all.  Once, I was up until 3 AM on the morning of Christmas Eve arranging “Silent Night” for oboe and violin.  Upon arriving at the church that afternoon for rehearsal, I was informed by Phillip that the piece had been cut from the service.

Often, upon arriving at rehearsals, I would be handed a sheet of paper with song words typed on it, but no indication of what the chord progressions or music looked like.  “It’s in the key of ‘C,'” Phillip would say. “Figure it out.”

At one point, Phillip asked me to be in charge of a Sunday service while he went to visit family in New York.  At our last meeting before he departed on his trip, he said to me, “Ellen, this is a win-win for me.  If you look good, I look good, and if you look bad, I look even better.”  A startling statement, at best.

As I saw the people who were involved in the worship ministry struggling, I tried very hard to influence Phillip’s view of the people under his care in the worship ministry.  I spoke to Phillip about their comfort level and my belief that it is vital to take care of people’s needs, etc.   My words, though seemingly welcomed, in practice had fallen on deaf ears.  People became increasingly upset at Phillip’s lack of care for them and their needs as worship ministry participants, yet the more they expressed their concerns, the less Phillip responded.

As time went on, and my responsibilities continued to increase under Phillip’s leadership, I was put in charge of a worship team of women.  The point came when he asked if I would take charge of an entire Sunday – two services.  By this time, I knew that he didn’t feel that making the worship team members comfortable by giving them as much information as possible was necessary.  But, I saw it as vital, so I told him that I would do it if I was kept apprised of any and all changes made to the service prior to that Sunday and if I could be assured that no changes would be made after our final rehearsal on the Wednesday preceding that Sunday.  I explained to Phillip that if I were a full-time employee and changes were made later than Wednesday, I would then have the time to make adjustments, but as a volunteer with a part-time job and outside commitments, I didn’t have that luxury.  Phillip was more than happy to agree to my terms and I was naive enough to step in and do his job even when he wasn’t going to be away or unable to do these duties himself.

The final rehearsal was held on a Wednesday and I asked Phillip in front of everyone if we were looking at the final order of worship.  I assumed that he would have spoken with all of the appropriate people (including the Pastor Elliot) about our agreement and that he would only tell me the truth, so when Phillip affirmed that this was the order, I believed him.

When I walked into church on Sunday morning and looked at the bulletin, I saw that the entire order of the service had been changed and knew that I only had 30 minutes to prepare the worship team.  When I expressed my concern to Phillip, he said that he was unaware of the changes until that very morning, as well.  He offered no apologies, simply insisting that he, too, was taken by surprise.  I, of course, was unhappy that he had not made sure that our agreement was kept.  Phillip then apparently went straight to Pastor Elliot.  Elliot then went straight to the keyboard player.  I don’t know why Elliot didn’t speak with me.  Neither that day nor for several days following did he speak with me.  It was only when I asked for a meeting that Elliot spoke to me about what had happened.

It was the keyboard player, whom I will call Beth, who told Elliot that the music director had put me in charge of the service and hadn’t told me about the changes.  According to the keyboard player, Elliot was completely unaware that I had put the service together and taken care of everything with regard to the music.  The real bombshell came when Elliot told the keyboard player that the bulletin had been printed since Tuesday – the day before our final rehearsal.  This revelation was extremely disappointing to me.  While I knew that Phillip had demonstrated a lack of care for those under his leadership in the worship ministry, I was stunned to discover that he would go so far as to set me up to fail in order to prove to himself and to others that he was the premier worship leader.  After all, “Ellen, if you look good I look good and if you look bad I look even better.”

I was so disappointed that Phillip would not only lie to me, but put me in a position in which he knew that I would be seen in a bad light.  I was also disappointed that the senior pastor, Elliot, had spoken to other people about it, but never approached me.  I didn’t understand why he didn’t make any effort to speak to me.

The ladies on the worship team that Sunday all became upset with me because I made the decision to no longer work with Phillip. The women soon sent me hate mail indicating that I was the bad person for stepping aside.  It was apparent from their letter that once again, I was the bad person for not helping make other people look good.

After what happened on that Sunday, the point had come in which I believed that I needed to take that second step of Matthew 18 – to take someone else with me to speak to the music director.  This was a very large church, and it was in a community where I did not live. Because I had been reticent to get to know many people, and I wasn’t familiar with the hierarchy of the church leadership, and because the Pastor Elliot had not made any attempt to speak to me regarding the incident on that Sunday that I was leading worship,  I was unsure who to speak with about taking someone with me to talk to Phillip.  I did know that the keyboard player that had been on worship team that fateful Sunday had been on the search committee before they hired the music director, so I decided to speak with her for suggestions about whom I should talk to regarding my concerns.  She told me she was unsure but asked me to share my concerns with her so that she could better guide me.  This seemed a reasonable request since she had been in leadership as part of the search committee that had interviewed Phillip.

As I said earlier, I didn’t know that controversy had been brewing since before they had hired this music director, so I told Beth of my concerns and that I had already addressed those issues one-on-one with Phillip, to no avail.  She intimated to me that the search committee had been adamant that he not be hired due to similar concerns that had revealed themselves in his previous job and through the interview process, but, since there were leaders in the church who thought that he had “star quality,” they had disbanded the search committee, formed a “personnel committee” and gone forward with hiring him.  So, she could not give me any advice regarding who to approach since the search committee had even been ignored in their concerns.  I didn’t know where else to turn at that point, but thought perhaps I should next approach Elliot.

A few days later, Beth approached me at the church saying, “Oh, Ellen, I am so sorry!”  She went on to tell me that she had shared my concerns with her mother, not realizing that her mother would send a letter to Elliot telling him about our conversation.  Her mother’s letter apparently told Elliot that Phillip was going to end up hurting me if they didn’t do something about him.

“It’s okay,” I replied to Beth.  “Maybe now I will have an opportunity to talk to someone about my concerns.”

“You don’t understand!” she said.  “You will never be accepted in this church now.”

“Surely this couldn’t be true,” I said.  “I have heard Elliot preach about grace and forgiveness and being transparent and how we are to follow God’s word in what we do and how we treat one another.”

“No,” she said. “You don’t understand.  This is how it is here when someone doesn’t support the ‘beautiful people’ – those who are part of Elliot’s inner circle.”  Apparently, Phillip was one of those ‘beautiful people.’

Still, I didn’t believe her.  I had heard him preach.  I knew she had to be wrong.

I did have an opportunity, because of that letter, to briefly express to Elliot that I had some concerns and that I would no longer be serving under Phillip’s leadership.  I also told him that I had taken that first step of Matthew 18 in expressing my concerns to Phillip and that I would like to move on to the second step of taking someone with me to speak with him.   Elliot  put me in touch with the president of the governing body of the church at that time.  In no way did he indicate that he was upset with me or that I was being blacklisted by the situation with the letter he had received.  He simply pointed me toward the president, a woman named Denise.  I was relieved.  It seemed I was well on my way to taking that next step of Matthew 18 and perhaps someone would come alongside Phillip and mentor him in learning to love and lead well those in his charge in the music ministry of the church.

Denise seemed sympathetic, and decided to set up a meeting with the music director and me along with the personnel committee.  I had some misgivings about meeting with so many since Matthew 18 indicates that if we have an issue with someone and have spoken to them one-on-one, we should then take only one or two other people with us.  But since the lay-leader of the church seemed to think this was a better path to  follow rather than the biblical mandate, I trusted her.  She led me to believe that she agreed with me regarding my concerns and that by speaking with Phillip with the personnel committee present, a plan could be put in place to assist him with valuing people through his position.

I had come to this church from my previous church where I had experienced extreme judgment, condemnation, confusion, and a concerted effort by the pastor and leadership to convince me that I was less than – that God was unhappy with me and could not accept me.  They had even called into question whether or not I was a Christian – very nearly convincing me that I didn’t measure up to God’s requirements.  I knew in my head that this was untrue, but these leaders whom I believed God had placed in authority over me, had placed enough doubt in my heart about my position with God that I was in a very fragile state as I went into the meeting with the personnel committee.   I don’t think I was even aware of just how fragile I was.

In fact, I now see that the way the meeting was handled put me in a state of post traumatic stress because it so mirrored the meetings that I had attended at my previous church.  I was going in to a meeting with people who – besides Phillip and my one conversation with Denise, did not know me in the slightest.  They had seen me around the church, in the choir, and on the platform with Phillip participating in leading worship, but no one had ever had a conversation with me beyond, “Hello,” and “Hi, how are you today?”  So there was no one in this meeting who could vouch for my character or who had any interest in protecting my dignity.

When we met, it was apparent that the personnel committee had spoken with Phillip prior to bringing me in and that he had done all that he could to place me in a bad light.  From the very beginning, I was attacked by several of the people in the room.  One woman was especially harsh, belittling me for being difficult to work with and that I was the one who was obviously the problem.  She very adamantly stated that while I was an “A” and that Phillip was a “B,” they had decided to hire a “B” and so they would support Phillip no matter what.  I was stunned that they would say such a thing when he was sitting right there hearing their comments.  I would have felt very demeaned if people had blatantly told me I was a “B” and someone else would obviously be much better at my job than I would ever be.

I was also stunned that they had taken the position that no matter what Phillip did, it was okay with them.  They had no problem with the way he treated the people under his leadership as though their questions, comfort level, and lack of preparedness were unimportant.  They also told me that I was no longer welcome to participate in worship ministry with him.  This was not a problem for me – I had already told Elliot that I had made that decision when Phillip had so obviously set me up to fail.

The way that meeting was handled – the harshness, not following Matthew 18, etc. had left me deeply wounded.  I felt it had been handled very poorly and that I had been misled on the purpose of the meeting.  I expressed my position to Denise and, while she seemed to understand why I felt that way, it simply was what it was and that was the end of it.  But it wasn’t the end of it for me.  I was incredibly hurt – and I believed that Elliot would understand since he knew about my previous experience of being spiritually abused at our previous church.  I emailed Elliot and let him know how horrible the experience of that meeting had been.  I didn’t get a response, so I emailed several times – sometimes in frustration.  I couldn’t wrap my head around what was happening at the time, but I did realize that there were hidden rules in the church and that I was being black-balled for not following them.

Over the next several months, a number of people who had been involved in the worship ministry made the decision to no longer participate.  Several of them spoke to me, but they apparently were much less open about expressing their true concerns to the leadership.  Apparently, they knew the politically correct way to handle the situation – say nothing, or make up an excuse and walk away.

Unfortunately, I believed my Bible and tried to do what it said – what was right.  I would often email Elliot and tell him of the latest fatality in the worship ministry and the concerns that had been shared with me when people made the decision to quit.  I made every effort to frame each of my emails as further proof that my original concerns were valid and that Phillip needed to have help in learning to minister to those under his leadership.  Of course, this was breaking that sacred unwritten rule about not pointing out the problem or you will be labeled the problem but I believed I should follow what God had to say about sharing concerns.  I know now, follow God and people condemn you to hell.

CHAPTER SEVEN

Speaking out against wrongs being perpetrated in the church . . . that was my most egregious sin.  And because of it, I had lies told about me, people eavesdropped on my conversations, and I received hate mail from a group of people telling me that I was a terrible person.

My only response was to continue talking occasionally to the consistory president, Denise, and to send Elliot  my questions and thoughts in emails – often asking if we could meet to talk, but rarely getting a response. At one point (perhaps more than one), Elliot shared my emails with the consistory and they wrote a letter telling me that I was no longer allowed to email him. I immediately called Elliot and expressed my belief that I should be able to tell my pastor my concerns and misgivings.  By the end of our conversation, he told me that I was welcome to email him any time.

One Sunday, I was standing in the kitchen of the church talking to a couple of women – Lois and Abby.  The next Sunday, Elliot asked to speak with me in his office. When I got there, he and a consistory member named Abe told me that someone had overheard my conversation in the kitchen the week before and that I had been speaking negatively about Phillip. I told them I honestly could not remember saying anything at all about him – in fact, the conversation held so little weight, I couldn’t remember what was said at all.  I then had the presence of mind to ask where my accuser was. I asked why they weren’t following Matthew 18 in which the person who had something against me was to speak to me directly about it.

Elliot simply said that the person who had overheard me would not be willing to speak with me face to face. He then asked that I return again that evening to talk some more.  My recollection was that he was giving me time to stew in my own juices, so to speak, and that I would come back that evening ready to confess and repent.

I left the meeting in tears and ran into Lois, one of the women I had been speaking to in the kitchen the week before. I asked her what we had been talking about because I could not remember. Lois reminded me that we had been talking about menopause! I told her about my conversation with Elliot and the accusations. Lois called me that afternoon to tell me that she had seen Elliot after I had left and had told him the subject of our conversation.

That evening when I went to meet with Elliot and Abe again, Elliot told me that he must apologize because he now knew that I hadn’t said or done anything wrong.  But, he added that despite the accusation being unfounded, I was the one who needed to prove to everyone that I was a person of character and integrity (guilty until proven innocent, I guess). Elliot also said that now he would have to wonder why that person had made those false accusations and tried to harm my reputation.

It wasn’t until later that I realized I should have asked Elliot why I was the only person who was called in to meet with him.  Three of us had been involved in the discussion in the kitchen – me, Lois, and Abby, but I was the only one who had been accused.  Still, just being called in to Elliot’s office and treated like I had done something dreadfully wrong added to my fear and gave me cause to worry about being judged so unfairly – again.  I began to have trouble reconciling the messages that I was hearing in Elliot’s Sunday morning sermons and the way that I was being accused of wrongdoing.

Unfortunately, discovering that I had been falsely accused did not cause Elliot to call into question the accusations that would continue to be hurled at me.

As time passed, I took the Spiritual Gifts course that was being offered at our church, and at the end of it – in the final class session – they were supposed to speak with us about our gifts and how we could use them in the church.  The class was led by a staff woman I will call Connie.  Connie and I had never had a conversation beyond polite greetings in the hallway until the day she called me and told me that I should not attend this final class since it was obvious that I had musical gifts and that I would not be allowed to use them in the church for a very long period of time.   I was stunned by this and very hurt.  I asked her if Elliot knew that she was telling me not to attend the final class and she affirmed that he was aware.  Again, as with the personnel committee, here was a person who did not have any kind of personal relationship with me and yet she was calling to tell me I was unworthy to attend the final class and unworthy to serve in the church with my spiritual gifts.

When I asked her “Why?” she just sounded perplexed – as though I should already know. This was stunning to me.  Yes, I had pulled myself out of working with Phillip, but this is a very large church and there are many other musical opportunities – and service opportunities – outside of Phillip’s position.  Not only that, music was not one of my top three spiritual gifts – which was what our service would have been geared toward.  Music was number 5 on my list!  I am a “good musician, but I am not innately gifted.  That would be my sister.  And my mother.  I just worked very, very hard.

Being banned from attending that class was a further blow to my wounded spirit.  Especially since there was no clear indication of why it was happening.  No one had sat down with me and directly informed me that I had done something so heinous that I was being blacklisted in the church.  I had removed myself from music ministry under Phillip’s leadership, but I had many stronger gifts than music that I was willing to use to serve the church.  But that didn’t matter to the leadership.  I had been blacklisted for reasons unbeknownst to be and no one was talking to me or telling me why.

Since I had asked Connie if Elliot knew that she was having this conversation with me and she had indicated that he was very aware of the situation.  I attempted to initiate a conversation with Elliot via email, but, again, he was non-responsive.  This added to my feeling that I was not valuable enough to garner the consideration of my pastor.  Just as in my previous church, I was spiraling downward with increasing momentum every time I attempted to communicate with Elliot with no response.

As I mentioned earlier, there were many opportunities to be involved in music in the church.  The following fall, I was asked to lead worship and speak to a class that had a worship component to it. Apparently, this person wasn’t aware that I was not to use my “musical gifts” in the church and I had never been told specifically what I could and couldn’t do, so I agreed.  During the course of leading this portion of the class, I was invited by a member of the women’s ministry team named Kacey to join her in putting together a worship team for the women’s ministry. I agreed to “help out” by singing and playing guitar, but I was very reticent to step forward into a leadership role without a specific invitation.

I was so confused about my status in the church – having been told that I couldn’t serve in music by Connie, yet being asked to serve in ministries that were under her leadership.  I had tried so many times to get clarification from Elliot to no avail.  I stepped into the women’s ministry feeling like I was trespassing and could at any moment be thrown out and reminded that I was unworthy and unwanted in any area of music ministry in the church.

As the team began to develop, I tried my best to take a backseat.  Even though I was a professionally trained musician, I didn’t want to overstep my bounds.  I saw Kacey as the leader of the team and I looked to her to tell me what she wanted me to do and I was committed to doing my best to help the team be effective in leading worship.  It wasn’t long before Kacey expressed her dismay with me because I was not stepping forward to take a more pronounced leadership role. I explained to her that I did not want to do so without an express invitation.  Perhaps this was confusing to her, I don’t really know.  I just know that from my place of woundedness, I had learned to be very cautious in stepping out as a leader without a clear directive to do so. Kacey did then specifically asked that I share the leadership responsibilities with her. I was to lead the music, and Kacey would lead the prayer/devotional portion of the team.

As a leader and as a teacher, my philosophy is that everyone should be given an opportunity to shine – to develop their musical gifts. So I was very careful to make sure that every woman on the team had opportunity to lead on a regular basis. Unfortunately, one woman – her name was Angie – on the team saw herself as the “lead” singer of the group and as I invited everyone to lead at various times, Angie became very upset with me. She expressed her dismay to Kacey, and, over time, her complaints mounted.  The only concern that was specifically told to me was that I had been mean to her because I “had looked at her the wrong way.”  As the months passed, Angie’s angst toward me continued to grow and she continued to express it to Kacey.

Again, I was not once directly approached by the person who was upset with me – Angie.  And the only complaint that was made clear was that I had looked at her the wrong way.  Yet, it was apparent that there was an attitude that I was a terrible problem.

One day, I received several calls from five of the women on the team (we were eight total). Each of them had been called by Kacey and she had been attempting to convince them that I was a problem and should be severed from the group.  She didn’t specifically state why I was a problem – just that it was apparent that I was causing problems.  The women called me to let me know what was happening and how upset they were that she would do such a thing. They also wanted to know if Kasey had spoken with me about her concerns.  I had no idea that, aside from Angie being upset whenever someone else was assigned to lead, that there was any problem at all.

When we met the next day, during our devotional time, Kacey was making a case for extending forgiveness and grace in any and every situation.  I stopped her after several minutes of hearing her take a position that was in direct conflict with what she had done the previous day in calling the other women on the team.   I told her that I was having a very hard time listening to her because I knew that she had made calls to the other women in the group with the sole purpose of maligning me and convincing them I should be asked to leave.

I expressed my concern that these phone calls had been made without anyone speaking to me directly or individually first – as prescribed in Matthew 18. What ensued was a lengthy discussion in which Kacey, and one other team member named Jill, took the position that I was a problem. To my surprise, everyone else on the team spoke in support of me – saying how much they appreciated that I didn’t play favorites, gave everyone an opportunity, was a wonderful leader who anticipated and took care of their needs so that they were comfortable and excited about participating.

One woman, Jean, very wisely said, “I am listening to what you are saying about Ellen and I don’t see her that way at all.  In fact, the things that you are criticizing her for are the very things that the rest of us appreciate and love about her . . . truth is truth and we can’t both be right.”

Jean went on to say that she believed that Kasey had preconceived notions about me – probably from the music director, Phillip, – and that because of that, she chose to view my leadership in a negative light. She told Kasey and Jill that they were seeing what they wanted to see rather than what was actually the truth. Upon hearing this, Kacey apologized to me for seeing me negatively, but it wasn’t long before she and her comrade, Jill, were unhappy with me again.

Interestingly enough, it wasn’t long before Angie removed herself from the group because she had been diagnosed with a severe form of depression and this was too debilitating for her to continue.

Because my job at the Bible college was expanding and had become nearly full-time, I decided that I would step out of the women’s worship ministry. When I told the others on the team that I was leaving, all of them left as well – except for Kacey and Jill, who wanted to be the co-leader if I were to leave.  Everyone else  told me that without me to lead, they didn’t want to be a part of it.

I enrolled in a leadership course at the church soon after that and at the end of the course, we were given the opportunity to indicate if we would be willing to serve in a leadership capacity. I indicated that I would.  The staff person in charge of leadership, Sybil, called me and invited me to meet with her in her office. Our meeting was very brief – just long enough for Sybil to tell me that I was not going to be allowed to be in leadership.  When I asked her “Why?” her response vaguely hinted that “leadership” had decided.  I asked her who she meant by “leadership” and she gave me the name of a board member, Peyton. and the pastor, Elliot.

Again, I found myself in a downward spiral as my standing in the church was, once again, being diminished.  More and more I was questioning where God was, why He was allowing this to happen, and if He even wanted me at all – after all, it appeared that the church didn’t.

CHAPTER EIGHT

One day I received a call from the new pastor at another church in the same town. They were looking for a person to direct the choir and lead some worship teams. I ended up resigning from my position at the Bible college to work for this church. I made it clear that I would come and lead their music ministry, but I was not interested in leaving my church.  They accepted my position and I was there for almost two years.  During that time I discovered that they were a very divisive congregation who spent a great deal of time expressing what they were against – whether it had to do with music or youth ministry or the way the platform was arranged – rather than what they were for. After being there only 18 months, the new youth leader, the secretary, the organist/accompanist, and I all resigned within a five month period.

While there, I was encouraged by many people and resented by many others. I received kudos and I received hate mail. When I made the decision to leave, I mentioned it to Elliot, pastor of my church. It wasn’t very long after that, that an associate pastor named Darin caught me as I was leaving my church one Sunday morning and asked to speak with me – right outside the doors as everyone was leaving the service that had concluded at noon.  Once again, Darin was a person who had never had a conversation with me before this moment.  He did not know me in the slightest, yet he was about to reign down condemnation and judgment upon me.

In our very public conversation as hundreds of people walked out of the church and past us at the close of the service, Darin told me that I was not going to be allowed to participate in any ministry activities, to attend any classes, to do anything at all at my own church except attend worship services. When I asked him why, he said that he was not at liberty to tell me but that the decision had been made by a group of leaders at the church, including Elliot and another man, Jonathan, who was later to become a pastor. (Interestingly enough, I didn’t know it until just last week – December of 2013 – that Jonathan and Darin were best friends.)  I continued to press Darin to tell me what I had done – arguing Matthew 18 – until he finally said that he would speak with Jonathan and ask him if the reason could be revealed to me.  He didn’t think it would be possible because telling me could lead to legal ramifications.  But, he promised to see if he could get permission from Jonathan to tell me.  I never heard from him again.

Legal ramifications!  How that scared me!  What in the world had I done that they could bring charges against me?!?!?  Oh, and did I mention that I was to tell NO ONE that Darin and I had had that conversation?  Not even my husband!  Eventually, I decided that I really didn’t have anything to lose by telling my husband and when I did, he took the position that if I had done anything wrong, Darin would gladly have told me.  Instead, my husband believed – and believes to this day – that it was the church that had done something wrong and that I could bring charges against them.

I attempted to communicate with Elliot, sending him several emails and asking for a meeting to get to the bottom of what was going on, but for the following five years, he put off and ignored my requests. (Eventually, we did have a meeting and he said he did not recall ever getting requests to have a meeting.)

I left my job at the other church and began substitute teaching. The next fall, I received a call from the Fine Arts Supervisor in a neighboring school district asking that I take a half-time position to fill in for a man who was taking medical leave. That man died the following spring and I was invited to take a full-time teaching position. Working in a socio-economically deprived school district has given me the opportunity to work in a very unique mission field. The poverty level, the pregnancy rate among the teenage girls, the rampant sexual activity and subsequent STD’s, the broken homes . . . the people there are so very needful of Jesus. I have had a wonderful time and I have had a terrible time.

One day, I was walking through my church wearing a shirt from the school where I was teaching.  The pastor’s brother, Ethan, saw it and asked me about it.  When I told him I was teaching there, he told me that they were preparing to plant a church in that community.  After talking several more minutes, he told me that I should speak with the person who was to pastor that church – the brother of the man (Darin) who had told me I could do nothing in the church.  This man’s name was Matthew. Ethan took me immediately to speak with Matthew and, after telling him that I would have some good insight into the community, he left us alone to talk.  Matthew looked down at me and quite tersely informed me that I had nothing to tell him that he needed to hear.  It was obvious that he had a hard heart toward me, and I walked away even a bit more broken than before.

I later emailed Ethan and Elliot and told them about that encounter.  No response at all from Elliot.  Ethan emailed me back saying that he didn’t understand why I was upset when he and I had exchanged a good conversation.  This seemed such an odd response.  He didn’t address the way that I had been treated by Matthew at all, but made it sound like he didn’t understand why had a problem.

I spent so many, many years being torn down by Christians and the church that I was completely overwhelmed. Working in a town away from my church, I was able to a certain extent to separate my world into two compartments, but the ostracism by the church certainly had an impact on the rest of my world.

For several years, about once a year, I would ask Elliot to meet with me. He would either ignore my request, tell me it would be several weeks or months before he would be available, or cancel the appointment once it was made. Twice, he responded by saying that a meeting would have to wait until after basketball season had ended which was several months away.  Finally, in the fall of 2008, he agreed to speak with me but only with a witness present. The witness was his secretary at the time – Carrie.  When I arrived at the meeting, I was simply mute. It was as though God had closed my mouth and I couldn’t say anything. All I could do was listen.

It was in this meeting that Elliot told me that I was “mean.” He didn’t give me any specifics and I didn’t have the courage to ask. He didn’t say, “Ellen, you did this,” or “Ellen, you said that.”  Just that I was mean.  No evidence.  No attempt to clarify.  Nothing.  And I was mute.  I thought it was a lack of courage at the time.  Now I believe the Holy Spirit was simply closing my mouth because . . . well, you’ll see.

Another revelation in that meeting was that Elliot told the secretary that I had been excommunicated from my previous church.  I was so stunned I was speechless.  I later sent Carrie an email and told her that if I was excommunicated, it was news to me.  I told her about our experience at that church and that if they were saying that they had excommunicated me, it was more of a “You can’t quit! You’re fired!”  scenario.  Of course, Elliot never asked my husband or me about that accusation which isn’t surprising given that he wouldn’t speak to me at all for those many years.

The following summer, I received an invitation to be part of the new leadership classes at the church. Someone had submitted my name and thought I would be a good candidate. Because I had been told that I couldn’t participate in anything, I sent the leader, Ethan, Elliot’s brother, an email and asked if I could enroll in the class. He replied that I could not.

Amazingly enough, often when I would send Elliot an email regarding these types of incidents – and I always did, asking what was going on and why was I being treated this way in light of scripture and his own preaching? – I would not get an answer from him, but I would get a call to have coffee with Denise.  After a while, I came to the conclusion that Elliot was sending her to talk to me to find out what it was that I wanted to discuss with him.  She was his informant, so to speak. These coffee dates invitations were much too consistent with my meeting requests to be coincidental.

In our final coffee date, we met at the church, and I told her again that I didn’t understand what I had done to merit the ostracism that I had been faced with for the past several years by this time.  “Ellen,” Denise said, “I know why, but I cannot tell you.  I wish it were different and that things would change for you, but I know that they never will.”

As we were talking, the staff was gathering in a room nearby and she told me that she would be receiving a call asking what we were talking about since he had seen us together.  “Really?!” I replied.  “Oh, yes,” she said.  He always asks what we have talked about.”  Again, I was too cowed to ask for clarification so I didn’t ask for further information.

Soon after that, she and her husband moved away.

CHAPTER NINE

 

During all of these years, I would come to church, sit four or five rows from the pulpit, right on the center aisle, and listen to Elliot and others preach grace, forgiveness, reconciliation, and restoration. Elliot preached and preached. I wept and wept openly. I could not sing. I could not so much as close my eyes in prayer. I could not stand for the blessing at the end of the service. I knew that no matter how much Elliot preached those words to everyone else in the congregation, they were not for me. And I would email him and tell him as much. Without response.

Finally, the day came when I along with my husband this time, again requested a meeting with Elliot . I was determined this time to get answers and so I planned to be very blunt in my request. My husband attended the meeting with me and I put my question to Elliot just that way, “What have I done that is so heinous that I am not allowed to participate in anything in the church?”

Elliot responded by asking, “What do you want to do?” Because of my fear-based muddle-headedness, I didn’t realize that he had avoided my question until our meeting was over. As my husband and I drove home, I suddenly blurted out, “He dodged my question!  Do you realize that?  He never answered me when I asked what I had done that was so heinous that I couldn’t serve in the church!”   Later, I emailed Elliot and pointed this out, asking for an answer, but, as you have probably already surmised, he did not respond.

My response to Elliot’s question, “What do you want to do?”  was that at that point I didn’t want to do anything, but I would like to know that if there was something that I did want to do, I would be able to do it.

He responded by saying that I could do whatever I wanted and that if anyone questioned it, I should tell them to go talk to him.  There was absolutely no indication as to why my situation was changing.

During this conversation, Elliot made the comment that he often will greet me or speak to me and I ignore him. I suddenly had an epiphany! I said to him, “Elliot, when you spoke to me, was I looking at you? Did you have my attention? Because if I wasn’t looking at you or you didn’t have my attention . . . “ At this point I turned to my husband and said, “You tell him.”

“She’s deaf,” Morris said.

We went on to explain to Elliot that I have a hearing loss at the pitches where people speak – that I was diagnosed 18 years earlier – and that especially if there is a great deal of background noise, I cannot hear what people are saying. Elliot appeared stunned and said, “That changes everything.” He didn’t expound on this comment but it made me wonder if the whole reason that he had taken a negative position toward me was because I was “ignoring” him. I could hardly accept that as the reason for my ostracism, though. If he thought I was ignoring him, why didn’t he just walk up to me directly and address his concern – like Matthew 18 tells us?

Elliot asked me why I had never told him that I have a hearing loss and I responded that he had never asked.  I was not so cheeky as to remind him that he never gave me opportunity.  I wanted to say, “I have tried for years to talk to you about a lot of things and you ignored me – how could I tell you?” But, I was too polite to challenge him like that.

Interestingly, upon looking back, I realized that I had told him – in one of my emails.  Several years earlier, Elliot had walked up next to me as I stood in the church office taking care of some business regarding my children, and he placed a hand on my shoulder but I never heard him speak.  So, I didn’t speak either.  Thinking about it later, I didn’t want him to think I had been rude in not responding if he had spoken to me, so I sent him an email explaining my hearing loss.

After our meeting with Elliot, I tentatively began to enroll in some classes at my church.  One of the first things I signed up for was the Journey to Wholeness Conference that was being held.  I have to admit, I was a little surprised that no one told me that I wasn’t welcome to attend.

I arrived on Thursday evening with little expectation.  For several years I had felt that God was completely silent – that He had turned his back on me and was making this clear through the church.  I wasn’t expecting Him to change His mind about me any time soon.  So, when I arrived that evening, I took up residence in the back corner  As had been the case for years, I was totally unable to stand and sing, to pray, to go forward for prayer . . . mostly, I sat in my dark corner and wept as I heard them talk about grace and forgiveness.

I was hoping for something more – or perhaps less. I didn’t need to hear that I need to be born again – again. I didn’t need to hear that I need to be baptized in the Holy Spirit – again. I didn’t need to hear how God will only give me a toy pony and not a real pony unless I asked specifically and correctly.  (These were alluded to that evening.)  I didn’t need to hear how to “perform” in order to win God’s favor and love. I didn’t need to hear that God’s love for me is contingent on what I do. I didn’t need to hear that God’s acceptance of me is contingent on how I behave. I didn’t need to hear that God is so very dependent on my behavior in order for Him to be in a good mood!

I went home that night and told my husband that I was afraid I had wasted my $80 and my personal day from work.  He suggested that I didn’t have to go back for the next two days but, by golly, I had spent $80 bucks and I was going!  The next morning (Friday), I posted on a web site which I frequent:  “All I need to hear is ‘God loves you. God loves you. God loves you. God loves you. God loves you. God loves you. . . . .  on and on and on . . .’”

It wasn’t the first thing he said that morning, but it was either his 2nd or 3rd statement when Conley, one of the leaders of the conference said, “If you don’t hear anything else during this conference, you need to hear that God loves you . . . God loves you . . . God loves you . . . God loves you . . . “

My response was, “Now that’s interesting.”

Not long after that, Conley was talking about confession and forgiveness and how so many people have been abused in many ways including through the church and that often in those situations their forgiveness is never sought and the church’s forgiveness is never extended.  I don’t know if anyone else heard him, but I was startled when he said that some of us may need to forgive others for their unforgiveness toward us.   I started suspecting that I might get something out of this after all.

On Saturday, they talked about misogyny which is the hatred of women, and how this can impact and wound women so deeply.  They took a break and I moved from my corner in the back right down front because I just knew this was going to be something for me.  In the next session, they gathered all of the men around a cross and then gathered the women in an opposite corner of the sanctuary to pray healing over them. I was struck by how some of the women were weeping deeply and yet I wasn’t really all that impacted.  This surprised me.  During this time, Signa, Conley’s wife, told us that we needed to listen to God because He would give us a new name. What I heard I just thought, “No, that doesn’t really speak to my situation. God isn’t really saying anything to me. After all, He is silent to me so anything I might think I’m ‘hearing’ I’m just making up in my head.”

At the end of this, she told us that there were Godly men at the front of the sanctuary waiting to give us a Godly touch if we needed it. I found myself nearly running to the front of the church and the sweetest elderly gentleman hugged me and held me for the longest time and I just wept.  I made such a mess of his nice blue shirt!  He prayed for me and then he held me at arms length, asked my name, and said, “Ellen, your are God’s Beautiful One.”  This was stunning to me.  I began to cry again and told him that this was the name I had heard a few minutes earlier that I didn’t realize or think was for me: “Beautiful One.”

On Saturday afternoon, they had us go to the parking lot where they were going to burn sins or things that held on to us that we needed to let go. We had nailed these to a cross all throughout the conference whenever anything was called to mind.  After the fire was started, they invited people to share what the Lord was putting on their hearts.  The pastor’s brother, Ethan, the man who had “uninvited” me to be in the leadership class, quoted the “there is no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus” verse.  I walked away.

I knew this verse wasn’t true. Maybe God doesn’t condemn us, but people sure do. I went back inside and sat in my little corner of the sanctuary and just wept.  I considered packing up my little corner where I had been camping out during the conference, but decided that I would see it through to the end.

After a short time, everyone else came back in and they were going to serve communion. But first, they asked for people to come forward to share what the Lord had done in their hearts during the conference.  I had no intention of going forward, speaking, taking communion, or anything.  My intention was to sit in my seat quietly and suffer through the rest of the conference and leave as quickly and stealthily as possible.

But, you’ve heard how people are in one place and suddenly find themselves physically moved to another place, right?  Well, I have to say, that’s what happened next.  One minute I was in my seat in my corner, and the next minute I was half-way to the front of the sanctuary and suddenly I was thinking, “Okay, I guess I’m going to talk since I’m walking to the front.”  I had no idea what I was going to say – it was like I had no choice in the matter.

I found myself taking the microphone and I said, “This is not over for me yet. I cannot approach this communion table. This is my church and when Ethan shared the ‘no condemnation’ verse, I had to walk away because it’s not true!  There are people here who condemn me – who have condemned me and ostracized me for years. So, what I want to say to you is, if I have ever walked past you and not spoken or not looked at you or not smiled or I have offended you or someone you know or someone in your family in any way, please, please forgive me.”

Signa took the microphone and asked that everyone who was from my church who was there to come forward and lay their hands on me and tell me if they were willing to forgive me. I was surrounded by I don’t know how many people though, to be honest, it was kind of a blur. Anyway, after they had spoken and prayed, Signa then asked me a question which I couldn’t hear, but apparently she was asking my name because someone told her and then she spoke to me but I couldn’t hear her the first time.  Once I knew I needed to focus on what she was saying, she was telling me that I needed to tell the people surrounding me whether or not I accepted their forgiveness. She even had me say it out loud, “I accept your forgiveness.”

I never realized how important a step that was until that moment.  If I have ever been extended forgiveness in the past,  I don’t think I really accepted it.  Saying it was like an “Amen.”  “It is finished.”  “Done!”  It was REAL this time.

I went back to my corner and wept.  Then the really amazing stuff happened.

When I was ushered out of my seat for communion, the gentleman that ushered me apparently knew who I was but to this day I have no clue who he was.  Anyway, he must have felt very convicted and I’m sure he knows things about me that even I don’t know (no Matthew 18 for me!) because he said to me, “I want you to know that I forgive you and I need to ask you to forgive me.”  I was stunned.  What in the world could this person I don’t even know have to forgive me for, and even more, what in the world do I need to forgive him for?  In that moment, I realized the “what” didn’t really matter – all that mattered was that we both receive and accept forgiveness.  It was a very tender moment.

When I got in line for communion (they had us go forward to the altar) a woman who was 3 or 4 places in front of me left her place in line and came back to me.  She had long, wavy blonde hair and was wearing a white blouse with a large ruffle down the front.  I have never seen her before or since that moment so I don’t know if she is from our area or came to the conference from somewhere else.  When I shared this story with a friend, she suggested that the woman was an angel.  At any rate, she came back to me, wrapped her arms around me and said, “I have a word for you from the Lord and I just have to tell you.   You are God’s Beautiful Child and He loves you. You need to read the Song of Songs.  Do you hear me?  You are God’s Beautiful Child and you need to read the Song of Songs.  Can you hear me?”

It was stunning to me that she was so adamant in wanting me to acknowledge that I had heard her.  Not many people outside my students and my family know about my hearing loss, so to have someone be so pointed about my being able to hear them was very unusual.  But even more unusual was that she told me I was “God’s Beautiful Child” only a few hours after the man in the blue shirt had told me I was “God’s Beautiful One” which was only moments after I had “heard” it myself.

We were told that after communion, prayer leaders would say a final prayer for each of us up front.  The prayer leader available after I took communion was a woman from our church.  After she prayed for me, she took me by the shoulders and said, “You need to read Song of Songs. You are God’s Beautiful One.” Another stunner!  I immediately told her that she was the third person that day to tell me that.

I continued to cry pretty much all the way home that evening. After years of feeling that God had turned His face from me, I had heard His voice and had also heard Him speak through people whom He indwells – He was speaking healing balm to my soul. That message – of being God’s Beautiful One –  changed my life –  changed ME – in ways I was only beginning to recognize.  At first, I thought that I shouldn’t be too exuberant.  After all, it could all wear off in just a few days or weeks or months.  But what I have found is that I have a moment in time that I can point to and say, “This is when God spoke to me and this is what He said and no matter what else I am going through or thinking or feeling, this is the truth about who I am – who we all are – and this is where I place my confidence.”

God not only spoke to me directly, but He knew I needed to hear from Him through people whom He indwells.  This was one of the ways that I had been stuck and it was critical that He meet me in that very place.  Three times.  It took three times for me to really understand that something amazing was happening.  Three times is so significant, isn’t it?

Some of the immediate healing I experienced was that for the first time in longer than I can remember, I was able to close my eyes during prayer in church on Sunday morning (though I sometimes watch the pray-er because I can hear better if I can see mouths moving). I am able to sing. I am able to read scripture. I am able to truly laugh and rejoice. I read Song of Songs regularly and it makes sense to me now in ways it never did before.

I wish I could say that I then lived happily ever after.  But no.

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