My Journey

My Journey Away From Faith: Part 20

For part 19 of my journey, click here.
To start at the beginning of my journey, click here.

The next day, after the big blowup at the church, seemed like a relatively normal day. I awoke, went to work, came home and started doing some chores around the yard. My son brought the phone to me and I found it was the head pastor who had called. What he said would change my ministry entirely.

“Hello,” He said, “I just wanted to say how hurt I was last night during the service. Now I don’t want to worry you, but there are rumors that the district is going to strip you of your credentials. I don’t want that to happen and so the district has agreed that if you will get up next Sunday, apologize for the disturbance you caused, and say you were completely wrong, they will forget the whole thing.”

The only thing that I could say at the time was, “I’ll think about it.” He told me to think and pray about it, knowing that I would eventually do the right thing, the thing that god would want me to do. I hung up the phone realizing, that for the first time in my life, I was actually being blackmailed. I felt sick to my stomach, sad, hurt, and beaten down. How on earth would god allow something like this to be done to me after I had stood up for actual biblical teachings?

I don’t remember much from that week outside of the prepared statement I made. It wasn’t very long, about two paragraphs but had taken me almost the entire week to write. Every time I sat down to write it, emotion would overtake me and I that same sick feeling would hit. I knew that this was going to be something I would not be able to turn back from, and so just the thought brought waves of nausea and panic.

I arrived at church very early, the next Sunday, and spent a long time in prayer. This wasn’t something I wanted to say but I was being forced to say it. I had spent a good period of my life trying to become a minister and being threatened with the stripping of my credentials had hurt me more than you can possibly imagine. As the service started, the pastor came to me and asked if I had thought about what I was going to say. I told him that I had and was ready to give my statement.

I really don’t think I have ever been in a service that seemed to last as long as that one did. Every note during the song service seemed to last longer than the one that had come before it. The prayer requests seemed to go on for an eternity, and then the sermon seemed long and drawn out. I remember the message, the pastor gave, was on heeding authority and bowing before god. It was obvious to me that I was being told to tow the line and get back into my place before it was too late.

Finally, the sermon ended and the pastor said that I had a short statement to read before the church. I took the stage and gathered my thoughts. I looked out among the congregation of people who had become my friends. I saw the faces of my family in the congregation as well and knew how shocked they would be by my statement. Then I caught the face of the head pastor, smiling in the way one does when they know they’ve won.

I pulled my statement out from my bible and began to read. I will summarize the majority but here was the first couple of sentence. “I know that you know how much I love being a pastor here. So it saddens me to say that I am giving up my credentials with my denomination.” The church was absolutely silent apart from a few gasps that escaped the mouths of a couple congregants. As I said those words you could see the smile of victory fade from the head pastors face and replacing it was a look of fear and anger. “I have been told that my credentials would be stripped if I did not come here this morning and tell you folks a lie.I will not lie in order to please man.” I remember watching as the head pastor stood up, along with his wife, and walked out of the church.

I am not a bold person, but my point was made, I am not someone who can be blackmailed. The idea that my credentials were being used as a weapon against me had sickened me to the core and it was not something I could stand for. The rest of my statement went on to say that I would still be happy to fill in as a lay minister(A preacher who doesn’t hold credentials) and that I loved everyone in attendance.  I walked off the stage with the congregation in complete and total shock. I grabbed my stuff and I left.

Later that day, one of the deacons called me, he had been one of the people that had agreed with me during the fateful night that I had called out the non-biblical beliefs. He said that as soon as I had left the church board had met and decided that I could continue to preach as long as I felt willing. The also said that they would speak to the head pastor about what had happened and never again would that fraudulent woman’s faith healing be taught in our church.

As I hung up the phone, I don’t really know how to describe the feelings that overtook me. I had won, I was still going to be a minister at my local church, even without the credentials backing me. The joy would follow me to the next Sunday when I was handed the printout of ministry duties for the next month. The head pastor filled this out and when I looked at it I found that I was scheduled to preach only one Wednesday night bible study for the entire month, no Sunday morning or evening services. It was obvious, if he couldn’t force me to accept his dogma, he was going to try and force me out of the ministry one way or another.

The next couple of months went exactly like this and then the night of the church business meeting arrived. The first thing that was brought up was why I hadn’t been preaching as much as the other two ministers? A vote was taken and the church stripped the head pastor of his scheduling duties and gave it to my aunt. From that point on, I was back to my regular schedule.

After the initial statement was given before the church, the head pastors messages took a dark turn. He gave the same sermon nearly every Sunday that he preached, a message against those who dare to usurp authority and go against the will of god.  For the next couple of years, that was basically the only sermon he would deliver. He might switch the biblical passages up, but the message was clear, he was saying that I was an evil usurper and that I was hell-bound. Inwardly, I took a little pride every time he spoke out against me.

The next few years went by in a fairly normal fashion. Eventually the church told the head pastor that he had to stop beating me up every sermon and had to apologize before the church or he would not be allowed to preach there any more. The apology was lackluster but things did seem to improve for a bit after it was given. He started preaching less and less at the church which meant more services for me and the other minister.

Around this time I decided to go back to school. I had worked at the meat packing plant for nearly 5 years and it was killing me. Ministry wasn’t going to be something I could make a living on, the most I ever made was 50 dollars per sermon, and so I decided to go back to school and get a degree in accounting, actually it was history at first but I found accounting to be much more practical. Going back to school was scary but i found that I really enjoyed it. I was studying topics that broadened my mind and I loved it.

Life was seemingly getting better and while my mind was broadened in many aspects, my faith had never been stronger. I knew that god had protected me from the wrath of the head pastor and that I was doing his will. My sermons were still filled with fire and brimstone, sin and hellfire, a very dogmatic approach to the faith. I felt that if I just continued on this path I was on, that life would continue to get better. Things at home had seemed to calm, mostly due to the fact that my ex was having another affair, during which she would more or less leave me alone. I was happy and healthy and making a better life for myself and the kids.

I remember thinking at the time that nothing could shake my faith, I would learn very soon that not only could my faith be shaken but it could eventually leave me altogether…

To continue on to part 21 of my journey, click here.

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