Nine years ago I went through what the mystics call “the dark night of the soul.” I’d been receiving spiritual direction from my associate pastor, “Eileen,” so I told her I was going to leave the church. She asked me to tell “Kevin,” our senior pastor. I took the email I had sent to Eileen and forwarded it to Pastor Kevin. At that point, he and I had exchanged friendly banter getting ready for worship services, but we’d never had even one real conversation. I knew he would be disappointed to lose a parishioner. What I didn’t expect was a near-declaration of love.
His first email included these words: “I’m going to try to be a big boy about this but can’t make any promises.”
His second email said this: “I was very concerned about (actually quite troubled by) the possibility of you not being here on Sundays – I thought about it deeply and frequently for a couple of days. Your impact in my life and ministry is far greater than you know.”
His third email made this astonishing statement: “Your decision impacted me so deeply (grief is not too strong a word) because you, more than anyone else I can think of or name, are my archetypal ‘perfect parishioner’ – really smart, doubting but willing to search, … looking for your ministry niche but unwilling to serve simply for the sake of duty, … tough-minded/soft-hearted, able to ponder metaphor and see the possibility of holiness in all of life.”
By the time I received his second email, I was already reconsidering my decision. The third email clinched it. At a time when I felt useless and worthless, my pastor saw something special in me, so special that he actually grieved the thought of my leaving. Still, his words took me aback. Why would a virtual stranger tell me I was “the perfect parishioner”? Shouldn’t that have been a red flag?
Yes, it should. It certainly was to my husband. When he read my pastor’s emails, he asked incredulously, “Is he in love with you?”
My gut told me, “He might be.” But my mind said, “Impossible!”
How I wish I had known where to look for help! FaithTrust Institute would have told me how to know when my boundaries had been crossed. The experts at The Hope of Survivors would have told me more warning signs to watch for.
Even without these resources, if I had just listened to my feelings, I would have left the church that day and avoided years of suffering. But I don’t want to focus on pain. God calls us to give thanks in all circumstances (1 Thessalonians 5:18), so let me conclude with words of thanks. I’m grateful that my experience brought me to the church where I have healed and grown. I’m grateful for the strength and wisdom I have gained. Most of all, I’m grateful to be one of the community of survivors working for a safer church.