Monday, February 9, 2009

A Toxic Environment

The last few months at SJ were pure hell. I would not have made it through without the grace of God, my husband, and several very good clergy friends. What also kept me going on a daily basis was Nora's smile and sweet disposition. She was (and still is) such a happy, intelligent, playful, and inquisitive child. Many days she was my only bright spot. Psalm 27 and Philippians 4:13 flowed through my head a lot.

Rather than write out a play-by-play account, I'm going to try and summarize. I'm sure that you're sick and tired of reading my story and I'm a little tired from writing it.

Anyway, things continued to go downhill. After I contacted the D.S. about that Council meeting, he reprimanded my PPR chair, who in turn lashed out at me. She ranted (over the phone) at me for several minutes and said some very poisonous things. The one that hurt the most (and that I still can't believe she actually said) was her accusation that I was lying about my mother having breast cancer.

After that, I kept trying to do my job, remain fairly transparent, and keep the peace as much as possible. I had less than three months left, and I was literally counting the Sundays. However, this select group at church was out for blood...and it was my blood they wanted. (I didn't realize this until later. I kept thinking that things would get better...or at least not get worse.)

What really did it was when I sent an e-mail to my PPR chair, telling her of my plans for the end of my time at the church. I wanted to use my remaining two weeks of vacation at the end, so I could leave two Sundays early. I checked and double-checked my vacation days, and it all added up. I told my PPR Chair about this, and it caused a big stink. First she accused me of trying to pull the wool over her eyes and run off with extra vacation days. Then she e-mailed the D.S., who got confused and said she was right; that I had used all my vacation time. He then corrected himself and said that my calculations were correct. This made her furious, so she began spouting pure poison in my direction. She also began seeking ways to discredit me.

This took place over the course of a week or so. Finally, my D.S. called me (on April 22) and proposed a "study leave" for me for the remainder of the conference year. I would still receive my pay and benefits, but I would be "on leave." Of course, the church had to approve this, which they did not. They discussed and voted at a "called" meeting of the Ad Council after church. The tension in that service was incredible.

After the paid leave proposal was struck down (because the church "didn't see any benefit to them"), I had the choice of either sticking it out another two months OR taking (unpaid) family leave. I took 24 hours to pray about it. I talked to my husband (who wanted me out of that church, no matter what) and to several good friends. I made my decision by envisioning myself before Jesus at the end of my life. I imagined two scenarios; one in which I neglected and hurt my family (because they were wounded, too) and one in which I neglected and hurt a congregation by leaving it early (not everyone hated me; I did have a few friends in that church). I decided that if I had to choose between the church and my family, I would choose my family. My marriage, Harry, and Nora were more important to me than SJ, or even my career. Not more important than God, but more important than the church.

I sent a letter to my D.S. and carried a letter over to my PPR Chair (who acted all surprised and actually said, "I hope you don't think we were trying to run you off or anything." Lying, two-faced little #@$%). My last Sunday was May 4, 2008. Some people cried and said they'd miss me. A few people hugged me and wished me well, but for the most part, people just shook my hand and essentially said, "have a nice life." My Lay Leader didn't even speak to me.

I don't regret leaving early. I know that I made the right decision. What haunted me all summer, and what I've been able to deal with some in CPE, are the painful memories, the anger, and my own guilt and frustration over my part in this whole fiasco. I fully accept that some things I did caused anger, hurt, and confusion. A lot of it was inexperience, some of it was just due to a clashing of generations/cultures/styles, and some of it was due to my lack of awareness about the situation and relationships involved.

In my next post, I'll explore some of the after-effects of my experience and begin reflecting on what I've learned and what I'm learning.


Beth said...

Quote: My marriage, Harry, and Nora were more important to me than SJ, or even my career. Not more important than God, but more important than the church.

If only church people understood this. It's the same priority I hold for myself, that I expect from my clergy husband, and that I ask of them.

God does not equal Church. And isn't that Good News, especially for those who have been hurt by the Church?

Praying for you.

Anonymous said...

I have just read your story from beginning to end. Thank you for this gift.
I was ordained into my first congregation at 29, was married six months in and had my first baby after two and a half years. I've just written and deleted a litany of their sins but suffice to say I had some very similar experiences to yours. It's been nearly four years since I left, and I no longer shake with anxiety when I'm in the neighbourhood. I believe I suffered a mild form of PTSD. I am in a lovely congregation now, in a new city, but I occasionally hear myself complaining about my first congregation to people whom I love and trust in my new one. I realise then that there is still healing needed. Blessings for your journey. RK

pglm said...

wow....this story plays out for so many folks...I just found your blog...and am intrigued to learn more about you and your recovery from this encounter. I graduated seminary in 2oo5--my search and call process just about broke my spirit......I look forward to learning more about your journey. blessings to you and your family...