Pumpkins and Purple Hearts: October for the Wounded Minister

About a year ago my father preached his last sermon at A. Christian Reformed Church. The clergy-killing undertaken months before was then nearing its completion as far as the church was concerned (it continues in his treatment by the Classis), with him being “suspended”, then fired, shortly thereafter. I wrote at length in December of last year about what went down; a more thorough record can be found at the blog Veritas Praebita, run by my sister, “ekklescake”.

Right now, I want to address the people of A. Church, particularly the people I considered my/our friends. In fact, I believe I’ll plagiarize my sister’s alias convention—13 on this blog may thus be identified with 13 on hers, as can 19, 28, etc.

**
Dear A.ns,

Most of you haven’t seen me in a year. Not since the Nov. 10 congregational meeting. It’s been a while, hasn’t it? I’ve spent most of that time living in a farmhouse with almost all my belongings in storage. It’s only in the last month that my father and I finally moved from F. And I was thrilled to get out.

I started thinking a lot about you all in the last few days. Well, to be fair, our circumstances are such that I’m nearly constantly thinking about you, about Classis NM, about the CRC and why I’ve left it, etc. But recently my thoughts have shifted in emphasis a bit. I’d been angry, thinking about how my father was and is being treated by his peers, men who are supposedly fellow pastors. But now I’ve got a whelming sadness.

October is Pastor Appreciation Month. Did you know that? I think you did, because in the past at A. you would present my dad with a card and a cake. He preached his last sermon at A. on Oct. 25th (which also happened to be Reformation Sunday). There was no cake or card last year, though. Which is for the best, really, because it would have been the pinnacle of hypocrisy and ironic cruelty for you to make such a show of appreciation and honor while for months (and for some of you years) you’d been listening to and encouraging gossip and criticism about him and about his preaching, ignoring his attempts to talk to you directly, cutting him off with no explanation, etc.

I sent a letter to six of you right about that time. I’d actually written it more than a month before. 16 & 15, 20 & 28, 19 and B—I wrote you three couples because, after a few years of meeting regularly as a small group, you were those I had considered friends, both to me, and to my sister and father. Shortly before that I sent something to 19; you never responded, though you did apparently tell my father that you’d read it and were “concerned”.

I won’t rehash the longer group letter I sent, but here’s some of what I wrote 19 on Oct 29, 2015:

 I have been very distraught over the way I’ve seen him [ST] being treated over the last several months, and hearing that the other night [about what happened at the legendary council meeting] just pushed me over the edge.

I’ve also been feeling isolated for some time and like I can’t talk to many people in the congregation, including people I once considered friends, like you all from the old small group. Without going into any details, or pointing fingers, I’ll just say that things have definitely changed, and I can sense it. And I perceive that there are people talking about my dad rather than to him, people who are upset with him but won’t talk to him about it—and I’m under the impression that among those people are some of the A.ns I liked the most.

I live with my dad. I’m the only one who does. And I can see better than anyone else, perhaps, the toll recent events have taken. I continue to marvel at how he’s been able to go up there and preach Sunday after Sunday. Because at council meeting after council meeting, he’s been told by someone that the majority of the church is “fed up” with him, is “fried”, etc. Complaints and criticisms have filtered down to him through third parties. Yet he continues to proclaim the Word as best he can and as God has called him to, looking out at all those faces and wondering who among them, and how many, are holding something against him. It’s amazing—I myself have a hard time going to church and acting like everything’s normal. (I’ve even entertained the notion of stopping going to services altogether. The one thing that’s stopped me is that I don’t want to leave my dad alone in there.)

I’ve cried so many tears in the last number of weeks. I can’t say for sure exactly what I want from you. Maybe it’s just the knowledge that you said what you did to [ekkles] and that you’re someone who’s still halfway sympathetic, who’s thinking about us, that makes me feel like I can say all this to you. The rest of the small group I feel I can’t talk to.

Does that look familiar, 19? My feeling like I couldn’t talk to the rest of the small group was vindicated by the fact that only one of you, 28, wrote back to my group e-mail, and your response was cold and wholly devoid of even a worldly sort of compassion, let alone the Christian one. I showed it to two other women, my sister being one; she interacted with some of it in her own correspondences with you. Yet you do at least get some points for responding at all, as, again, no one else did, not even 19.

My letter to the whole group covered the same things with the addition of some others; I expressed both my own personal sense of hurt and betrayal as well as my sadness over the way my father was being treated by you. In the year since then, the hurt and sadness haven’t left, but the dominating emotions have been frustration and anger when I think about the whole affair, how it started at A and how it’s continued through Classis NM. Like I said, though, in the last few days the sadness has returned to the surface in greater force.

October. One year since all the s**t really hit the fan. Pastor Appreciation Month. Here we are, my dad and I, relocated at last, having joined a local congregation that is United Reformed rather than Christian Reformed—because I have left the CRC for good. In the process of moving last month I unearthed my old high school catechism class workbooks—the somewhat silly “HC and Me”. In the last few years I’ve grown more and more convinced that the Heidelberg Catechism and other study materials/topics don’t need to be dressed up in some “relevant” coating like that, but that’s beside the point. My father co-taught that class. He continued to teach the youth Sunday school after I’d graduated. As part of the CRC Church Order the pastor is supposed to “catechize the youth”. At some point last year he was pushed out by 13—this action was both against the Church Order and manifestly at odds with 13’s insistence that the pastor needed to be more involved with the life of the church. The Mighty List even said the pastor should “Build a sense of unity and communication with teachers, committee members, and church members”—how the heck does one reconcile a demand like that with the “recommendation” that he stay out of the Sunday school room? Huh. Further evidence that my father couldn’t do anything right because 13 was determined to get rid of him.

Anyway. My father taught that class for years. That was one of his pastoral duties. So was the week-by-week preaching from the pulpit. As a further means of pursuing/encouraging spiritual fruitfulness among members of A., he suggested the formation of the small group. The group met at least semi-regularly for about three years, and you couples who joined it—you were enthusiastic supporters of him and of his preaching. And he preached from your pulpit, as the pastor you and the other A.ns called, for eight years. Eight years of ministry, of faithfully delivering God’s Word to you, preaching what the Spirit led him to, trying to serve you in the way God intended. Years of friendship—of meeting together, talking about things of the faith, talking about things of no consequence and just bonding as friends, and most importantly praying together.

Then it all dried up. As I already wrote to you, 19, things changed. You all started acting differently. A.ns overall started criticizing him—bad attitudes ran amok. He was cut off. Totally isolated with the knowledge that the people he’d thought were his friends were all upset with him and that many of them were talking behind his back. I asked in my letter to the group what changed, what was it that suddenly made him a bad person and justified this new treatment. Based on the fact that no one furnished me an answer to that, I assume it’s because you truly have none. What a contrast to the admonition of Hebrews 13:17!

Obey your leaders and submit to them, for they are keeping watch over your souls, as those who will have to give an account. Let them do this with joy and not with groaning, for that would be of no advantage to you. (ESV)

Let them do this with joy and not with groaning. What do you think your behavior was more conducive toward? Joy? Or grief? If ever there was a “gimme” question!

Years of labor and love—all for naught, apparently, as you all were so capable of quickly casting him aside, throwing him (and me) under the bus.

Pastor Appreciation Month. My father has joined the legions of faithful pastors who are incredibly unappreciated, victims of abuse and mistreatment by the congregations they served, by the people they befriended and loved. Can you see why I’m sad?

My blog avatar is a photo I took myself. It’s of a section of road in Oxford, England—the exact place where three martyrs of the British Reformation met their deaths. Interestingly enough, the first two, Hugh Latimer and Nicholas Ridley, were burned on October 16, 1555—another October date. (Thomas Cranmer would follow in March of the next year.)

Why do I bring that up? Not because I equate my father’s abuse at your hands with execution (though I guess one could rightly say that you all, and the entirety of Classis NM at this point, are complicit in the assassination of his character). I bring it up because he has something in common with those men: he preached and spoke as he felt God led him, proclaimed in both public and private—he was more consistent than some among you, cough, 13—what he thought was truthful and necessary, and was made a target of ill treatment because of it.

There is another connection I would like to draw. Here is one more picture I took in Oxford, this one of the Martyrs’ Memorial.
DSCF0156.JPG

The text in the inscription reads:

To the Glory of God, and in grateful commemoration of His servants, Thomas Cranmer, Nicholas Ridley, Hugh Latimer, Prelates of the Church of England, who near this spot yielded their bodies to be burned, bearing witness to the sacred truths which they had affirmed and maintained against the errors of the Church of Rome, and rejoicing that to them it was given not only to believe in Christ, but also to suffer for His sake; this monument was erected by public subscription in the year of our Lord God, MDCCCXLI.

Like many of God’s faithful servants they faced persecution during their time of ministry but have since been honored by posterity. Grateful and fairly self-conscious inheritor of the Reformed tradition that I am, I couldn’t help but be just a little thrilled to see the memorial and read the inscription.

Yet, in the grand scheme of things, what is a mere stone monument like that? There is a far greater reward promised the ministers of God’s church:

And when the Chief Shepherd appears, you will receive the crown of glory that will never fade away. 1 Peter 5:4 (NIV)

My father’s sufferings are of course in no way comparable with the Oxford Martyrs’, or Jan Hus’s, or Patrick Hamilton’s (another whose place of execution I saw), or those of any other person who died for God’s truth. But just because you didn’t kill him you are not thereby exonerated of wrongdoing, A.ns. And I think you know this. This is addressed to you, 15: my father, sister, and former landlady (who was also a member of the erstwhile small group, as you know) all report you acting strangely when they’re around—ducking your head down, turning away (with a pained expression, according to ekkles), being deliberate to avoid eye contact. And 28, ekkles noted that you also exhibited strange behavior the Sunday she visited—stammered when you saw her, misspoke, etc., and those are things you don’t normally do. Tell me, ladies, how should we interpret all that? If I didn’t know better I’d say it looks as though you’re wrestling with guilty consciences.

Some months ago my father was approached by a Christian brother he’d never met and who knew nothing about him. This man said he just had to talk to him, because he’d seen a vision of sorts. That vision was of my father being given a Purple Heart. Again, this man had no clue who my father was or what he’d gone through. So evidently Someone else besides the mere mortals in ST’s camp believes he was severely wounded by you, A. Church. And more importantly, He recognizes His servant’s faithfulness. The Purple Heart vision is a source of encouragement and uplifting mainly because it reinforces what the Scripture plainly teaches in that verse from 1 Peter; the subjective experience is substantiated by Holy Writ. And it is taking into account both, but especially the verse, that keeps me from being wholly consumed by grief as I consider what you’ve done to my father.

I hurt greatly on his behalf, yes, but he will be vindicated in the end and rewarded; this under shepherd who was abused and kicked around by you, the flock under his care, will be gifted by the Chief Shepherd with a taste of His glory for having shared in His sufferings.

These are the things I have to consider one year later. What are you thinking and feeling? Moved on? I want to snidely say that must be nice, but the truth is, I think I would rather be in my position, not having “moved on”, still thinking over the ramifications of what happened, what you did. Facing up to what you’ve helped put us through and squaring it with the permanent truths of Scripture, bringing my needs before God, openly acknowledging how I feel and what I’ve done with those feelings (for better or worse) is how I’ve been and hope to continue growing. Where are you? By all accounts you’re still in denial, still refusing to acknowledge the part you played in a series of very evil actions. I really wonder how your refusal to admit and repent of your sin affects your spiritual life overall. Like I said, I’m glad I’m in my position, not yours.

2 Corinthians 5 says believers will stand before God and give an answer for their deeds in the body, both the good and the bad. You’re the ones who will have to answer for participating in the calculated and cruel abuse, termination, and disenfranchisement of the pastor God put over you and who trusted you as his friends. Not me.

Very Truly Yours,
Puritan Girl (PG)

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