". . . little shall I grace my cause

In speaking for myself. Yet, by your gracious patience,

I will a round unvarnish'd tale deliver . . ."

(William Shakespeare's Othello, I.iii.88-90)

Tuesday, April 23, 2013

Remembering to Forget

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.


Ewe said...

My dad lost his job as a called LCMS pastor when I was young and like Phillip there was no good reason. (Oh how the rumors flew because there couldn't possibly be no good reason!) 28 years later my mom and I still have moments of a kind of PTSD from this-it really does effect families. Now that my dad is old enough to be retired sometimes we still wish he would have stayed as a Called Pastor all those years. And yet we have the advantage of many years and we can look back and see that God took care of us and all really did work for our good. We were able to go on and my sister and I are still LCMS and I even married an LCMS pastor. We are still in contact with a few of those members of that church and we have healed since then.
This must have been difficult to blog about, but I think it does need to be addressed so those in similar situations (and unfortunately there are many in the same situation) know they are not alone. I'm sad that you have those scars now, but I praise God that you were able to get a new church home.

Cheryl said...

Ewe, thank you for your comments. I did not know about your father. Am I understanding correctly from what you wrote that he never returned to the ministry? I am so sorry for what happened to your family but thankful for how God worked it for good.

Anonymous said...

This post is hard to read. We where churchless for over 2 years before finding our way back to our LCMS of our childhoods. It still hurts and there are scars and unsettled leftovers from the nondenominational teachings but I love being back in the LCMS where we are now.

Cheryl said...

Anon, I am so glad you found your way back to the LCMS. I think we have the most biblical theology around. What a blessing when it is rightly practiced! The problem I write of is not with the LCMS or with any individual church or person. It is a problem of human sin, which is impossible to avoid in this life, even as we are freed by Christ from bondage to it. But I think nothing is served by denying that these things happen. I was worried about how this ordeal would affect my children's faith, but I think one blessing in all of this is they have learned at a very young age what I am still trying to learn--that it is folly to put our trust anywhere but Jesus Christ. Pastors are humans and churches are human institutions filled with sinners. And Satan is always busy trying to use those truths to his advantage. Thank God he has already lost the war, even as the battles rage here on earth.

Ewe said...

He was able to stay in good standing as pastor so he did lots of vacancy pastor and pulpit supply while he had a secular job. Sometimes we talk about how he ministered to a few families at a small church when he was Called, later he ministered to thousands of people all over the tri-state area and I think sometimes we listen to a fresh voice more than the one we hear every Sunday. But he was never Called again and had to "fight" to stay in good standing every year until he was old enough to "fight" to be emeritus pastor. I mean he had to meet with the DP several times and fill out paperwork every year.
For years my dad did try to talk to several in Synod and at the Seminary about addressing this problem-he finally gave up on this issue. Unfortunately we know several in all areas of church work.
Part of the PTSD is financial-my dad took retirement much earlier than he planned because of all this and was never able to contribute to a retirement fund which effects my parents now. And yet God has taken care of them in ways we never imagined. With all the years of being frugal it isn't a shock to have to pinch pennies during retirement. We never can say thank you enough to the laypeople, some of them are strangers that he preached at their church a few times-that tucked a $20 bill or a sheet of postage stamps in a Christmas card. It meant a lot to be remembered just like their regular pastor.
Sorry to hijack your post here, but I wanted to express for laypeople that even if things didn't go well for a church worker you know and it happened years ago, it is never too late to send a card to say thank you to the church worker. And you don't need to wait until Pastor Appreciation Month-if there is a pastor or church worker (or their wife) that was influential in your life send a thank you card today. So often church workers serve faithfully without ever being told thank you. Today is Administrative Professionals Day and for the past several years my family gives a card to both our church secretary and also the organists of our church as we appreciate them too. We give cards to the church preschool teachers on teacher appreciation day too. One of our secretaries said she had done the job for years with several different pastors and our family was the first to ever give her a card.

Barb the Evil Genius said...

Mr. BTEG was out of a job for eight months about ten years ago. He also lost a job about three years ago after he got sick. I can totally relate to your sense of loss.

Cheryl said...

Thanks, BTEG. I know many people can relate. We didn't actually have to face unemployment, and for that I am so grateful.

Ruth said...

Yes, yes, and yes. I agree with you completely that ours (LCMS) is the most biblically sound doctrine. I grew up LCMS, with my dad as an LCMS pastor. I also married an LCMS pastor. Unfortunately he was "peacefully released" from his Call on August 21, 2011. Of course there was nothing peaceful about it. You hit the nail on the head- a church worker loses much more than a job. We lost our church home, our friends there, the school for our kids, our entire way of life. Our kids found out less than 24 hours before the school year began that they would be attending a different school. Some people we thought were supporters turned out to vote against us. Betrayal stings. It still hurts. We had to move out of our house to a less expensive one. We went four months with no income and then four more with underemployment. My husband now works a factory job that he despises. We are renting our house and have been told just this week that our owners need to sell it and need us out by the end of June. We have nowhere to go. We have no plans. We have four children. I cannot tell you how hard this has been for them. Our DP has been most unhelpful in our situation. Pastors on CRM are basically ignored, pushed under the rug, with the hope that they'll just give up. My husband's morale has been beaten so much I'm not sure it will ever recover. And what does this show our kids? Will they want to go into church work someday? Will they even want to stay LCMS? God has been faithful, yes. He has provided friends who stepped up to the plate and spoke up for us in our former parish. They even left with us and put their kids into school with ours. We had no idea they felt so strongly. Now they are among our dearest friends. We attend a wonderful church with a wonderful pastor. But it's still incredibly hard. It has stretched our family and our marriage to the limit. If anyone knows of any kind of support group for this please let me know. Even writing this has been therapeutic. We have been in this situation for a year and 8 1/2 months, and it's hard not to lose hope sometimes. I pray that this is our "Isaac moment," as when Abraham's knife was raised for the plunge and God's angel came swooping in to save Isaac. Kyrie eleison!

Cheryl said...


I am so very sorry. Your story is heartbreaking but all too familiar. I heard another one just the other day from another musician we know. It does seem sometimes, as I have heard it said, that the LCMS likes to shoot its wounded. I have often thought of the analogy of the war horse. In the movie of the same name, the horse is pushed to the breaking point and when there is no more use for him he is simply shot on the spot and replaced with a new, fresh horse. I don't mean to imply that this is the norm. There are so many good and caring people out there, people who do not approve of this sort of behavior. But unfortunately they are often the silent majority. Your words about betrayal ring true. We have felt terribly betrayed by people we thought cared for us. The pain is deep and lasting. It is hard to get past it. But at least we have had a new beginning. How much harder in your case when you are still suffering and waiting for answers. And yes, indeed--what are our children learning about what it means to be Church? We keep telling them that what this shows us is that the Church truly is invisible. It is not the building nor the people in the building. It is not the pastors. It is the Word. That's all we really have. It's all we can depend upon never failing.

I will say that like you we have been blessed by the support of dear friends as well as discovering friends we didn't know we had. A support group would be great but I know of no such thing. I would hope that if something like that were ever started it would not be just for called workers or pastors. It doesn't hurt any less just because you're only a contract worker. When you've given your heart to a place for a number of years, it feels like you are leaving your heart behind when you are made to go.

Please check back in, Ruth, and let me know how you're doing.