37. Fatal Innocence

“We need to learn to set our course by the stars
 and not by the light of every passing ship.”
— Omar Bradley

 

I noticed the headline and felt a rush of déjà vu. It read, “Why is church denomination cannibalizing its congregations?” The article that followed told about a church in California that had been broken into. The locks on the building had been changed, the offices ransacked. Records and checkbooks were missing.

Come to find out, their own denominational conference was taking steps to “secure the building and take possession of the structure, without the knowledge of the church’s pastor or elders! The district leadership was moving to sell the church’s assets and property for around $1,000,000, using a “reversion” clause that allowed them to close down debt-free churches and reinvest the money that was gained – without consulting the congregation!

Wow, that really hit close to home.

As I was growing up, I developed an extreme sense of loyalty to my “home church” and the dear people who had helped raise me to varying degrees. These were people who had prayed for me and supported me in the midst of all sorts of tribulations. Because I respected them, I believed in my heart that they loved me unconditionally.

In my early thirties, I was deeply involved in Christian education and children’s ministry. At that time, a man and his wife, in their late 40’s, started coming to church services. They were very likeable folks and the congregation – including myself – quickly embraced them. Before long, it was announced that he had agreed to serve on the board of elders. This was a great relief to many, because our church was small and it was always nice when someone came forward to help shoulder the responsibilities of ministry.

Tom seemed extremely supportive of my efforts as a potential leader. We got along  well, so I had no reason to feel cautious toward him.

Tom and his wife had been with us for a number of months, and the Christmas season rolled around. During that time, I began to notice that people I’d known for years and deeply respected had “gone missing.” They had stopped coming to services. I wanted to know why. I made some phone calls, one thing led to another, and – to make short a very long story – my inquiries became like a stone tossed into a pond. The ripple effect started rumors. The rumors spun out of control.

At the rehearsal for the children’s Christmas program, I can remember gripping a coffee mug with trembling hands and trying to control my shredded emotions. A dear friend approached me and confided, “I think you should know that Tom stopped by to visit my sick mother this week. He took cookies and told her that you were causing a lot of trouble…. He told her that you’re possessed by the devil!”

I was stunned. What in the world was this man thinking to slander me in such a way?      I was at a total loss about how to respond.

Without going into a lot of unnecessary details, I’ll simply say that the situation progressed to a point of no return. Finally, an “intercessor” from the District Office was asked to come and mediate – to get the whole story and help straighten things out.         I spent several hours with him relating my perspective and my hope for a resolution.

Then we waited.

At last a written assessment came in the mail to the church office. It was basically no help whatsoever and the bottom line was that we should all look for different churches to attend and find other avenues of ministry where we could serve.

Chuck and I did everything we could think of to reinstate trust among our church family, but we finally came to the conclusion that we should do as the District Office representative had suggested and find a new church.

Many years later I was still in the process of healing when I happened to talk with one of the former elders who had been in another state during the height of the crisis. He had not been emotionally entrenched in the situation, so I was interested in getting his take on what had happened.

He said, quite matter-of-factly, “It was all about the property. The District Office wanted the property the church was built on because it was debt free. They stoked the fire of contention with the hope that the church would disperse and they could absorb the assets.”

His candid account hit me like a deluge of ice water dumped over a football coach after winning a title. But there was no victory in my case. There was only a lesson in icy cold reality that colored my world for many years beyond the actual event.

However – from my mountain peak in the present, overlooking the past – I can see God’s hand guiding me through the storm. Grafting me into another church to accomplish His purpose and plan in ways that I could not have foreseen with my nose against the grindstone of familiarity where I’d been comfortable for most of my life.

 

“Lord, you know all things;
You know that I love you.”

(John 21:17)

 

A RUST REMOVER …

Betrayals hurt, but they are sometimes necessary. Jesus had the advantage of knowing ahead of time that Judas would betray Him, but that undoubtedly didn’t make His situation any easier for Him. Find a quiet place and spend some time talking with Him about any stinging sensations that you’ve experienced regarding relationships. Ask Him to wrap your pain in a poultice of forgiveness.