We had an anniversary this weekend, but it wasn't the kind you might think. We didn't have a party. We didn't do anything to mark or celebrate the day. Still, we couldn't ignore it. For it was a little over a year ago, on April 20, 2012, that my husband lost his job.
It didn't happen immediately. He was given an end date, with about four months to look for something else. But for over three of those months, we didn't know if the "something else" was going to come. So it was a very long and difficult summer, one in which we had no choice but to face the possibility of unemployment and plan accordingly. I don't want to go into the details of the situation. Suffice it to say that while I have always considered Phillip's calling as a cantor (one who leads the Church's song) to be from the Lord, he has never been on our church body's official roster of called workers, having not come to the vocation of cantor in the traditional way. (That is soon to change, as he is close to completing the required courses for his colloquy.) In our former congregation his status as a contract worker meant that he was able to be dismissed without the knowledge or approval of the voters' assembly. I do want to state for the record that Phillip's firing had nothing to do with any of the reasons a congregation may, according to synod bylaws, dismiss a called worker: the teaching/promoting of false doctrine, leading of an immoral life, or willful refusal or inability to execute one's duties.
Losing a job, for anyone, is no small thing. It means not only the loss of income but also potentially the loss of professional status, on-the-job relationships, and personal purpose and motivation. But when a church worker loses a job, he loses all of that and more. He loses not just his boss, but his pastor(s); not just his office, but his communion rail; not just his friends, but his closest Christian brothers and sisters. And not only does he lose all these things, but his family does as well. In one fell swoop, it's all pulled away, at a time when those things are needed more than ever. In our case, we lost our church home of almost 13 years, the place where my two oldest children were catechized and confirmed and my youngest baptized. Not long after Phillip was fired the children and I quit attending. It was just too difficult, and we found it impossible to pretend that everything was fine. Phillip had to keep working there, however, so we spent months not being able to be in church together. We are thankful for the church and pastor who stepped in to provide spiritual care for me and the children. But for about four months we did not really have a church home. It was devastating.
It is sad beyond measure to know that what we experienced this past year is not all that unusual. I know of many church workers, either personally or through my reading, who have endured similar trials. They typically go through stages of grief much like those who have experienced the death of a loved one. Having lived for an extended period of time in a state of excessive and constant stress, they may experience a kind of PTSD (post traumatic stress disorder) in which they are always on alert for the Next Bad Thing. And having undergone the compromising of some of their most valued relationships, they may have a difficult time trusting others to the extent that they can readily embrace new relationships.
We have experienced all of these things and are to some extent still doing so. It is hard to express how thankful I am for those at our new church who have welcomed and set about making us feel loved and wanted. With that kind of care I trust there will come a day when seeing April 20 on the calendar doesn't set me to remembering. Perhaps I will eventually get to the point that I can think about the good apart from the pain. I'm not there yet. But I write this today as an encouragement to those who may be in the midst of what we experienced last year, and I write from the perspective of one who has survived and is healing. Through it all, God sustained us. He provided. And he has continued to use this very bad time to bless us in ways that we are only now beginning to see. He has humbled and convicted us, reminding us of our utter helplessness and dependence on Him. He has shown us again what is truly needful and has deprived us of people and things that were coming between us and Him. He has showed us friends we didn't know we had and has sent many to speak to us Gospel comfort. And He has led us to new people, new opportunities, and new ways of serving Him--all without having to move from our home (which would have been yet another loss and difficult transition). Sometimes I can't believe how generously He has provided. Unfortunately in my sinfulness I still sometimes manage to be unappreciative.
As much as God has worked good through this situation, it is still something I wish had never happened. We are healing, but we will bear the scars forever. So I plead with you, if you are a lay person or a church worker who some day finds yourself in a position of responsibility or oversight, to do what you can to care for the bodies and souls of all involved. For "if one member suffers, all suffer together" (1 Cor. 12:26a). Sometimes there are irreconcilable differences and the best thing is to acknowledge that fact and say goodbye. At all times, though, love should reign, and often in our fallen state it does not. May God have mercy on us all and knit us together in Him even as the inept works of our graceless hands unravel before our eyes.