by Ellen cross posted from her blog When Church Hurts
Speaking out against wrongs being perpetrated in the church . . . that was my most egregious sin. And because of it, I had lies told about me, people eavesdropped on my conversations, and I received hate mail from a group of people telling me that I was a terrible person.
My only response was to continue talking occasionally to the lay leader of the church, Denise, and to send Elliot my questions and thoughts in emails – often asking if we could meet to talk, but never getting a response. At one point (perhaps more than one but only one I know about), Elliot shared my emails with the consistory and they wrote a letter telling me that I was no longer allowed to email him. I immediately called Elliot and expressed my belief that I should be able to tell my pastor my concerns and misgivings. He claimed he had no idea that they had sent me a letter or what it contained. I realize now that this had to be a lie, but at the time, I wanted desperately to believe him and that he would be an ally – after all, he was my pastor. By the end of our conversation, he told me that I was welcome to email him any time.
One Sunday, I was standing in the kitchen of the church talking to a couple of women – Lois and Abby. The next Sunday, Elliot asked to speak with me in his office. When I got there, he and a board member named Abe present. They told me that someone had overheard my conversation in the kitchen the week before and that I had been speaking negatively about Phillip. I told them I honestly could not remember saying anything at all about him – in fact, the conversation held so little weight, I couldn’t remember what was said at all. I then had the presence of mind to ask where my accuser was. I asked why they weren’t following Matthew 18 in which the person who had something against me was to speak to me directly about it. First.
Elliot simply said that the person who had overheard me would not be willing to speak with me face to face. He then asked that I return again that evening to talk some more. My recollection was that he was giving me time to stew in my own juices, so to speak, and that I would come back that evening ready to confess and repent.
I left the meeting in tears and ran into Lois, one of the women I had been speaking to in the kitchen the week before. I asked her what we had been talking about because I could not remember. Lois reminded me that we had been talking about menopause! I told her about my conversation with Elliot and the accusations. Lois called me that afternoon to tell me that she had seen Elliot after I had left and had told him the subject of our conversation.
That evening when I went to meet with Elliot and Abe again, Elliot told me that he must apologize because he now knew that I hadn’t said or done anything wrong. But, he added that despite the accusation being unfounded, I was the one who needed to prove to everyone that I was a person of character and integrity (guilty until proven innocent, I guess). Elliot also said that now he would have to wonder why that person had made those false accusations and tried to harm my reputation.
It wasn’t until later that I realized I should have asked Elliot why I was the only person who was called in to meet with him. Three of us had been involved in the discussion in the kitchen – me, Lois, and Abby, but I was the only one who had been accused. Still, just being called in to Elliot’s office and treated like I had done something dreadfully wrong added to my fear and gave me cause to worry about being judged so unfairly – again. I began to have trouble reconciling the messages that I was hearing in Elliot’s Sunday morning sermons and the way that I was being accused of wrongdoing.
Unfortunately, discovering that I had been falsely accused did not cause Elliot to call into question the accusations that would continue to be hurled at me.
As time passed, I took the Spiritual Gifts course that was being offered at our church, and at the end of it – in the final class session – they were supposed to speak with us about our gifts and how we could use them in the church. The class was led by a staff woman I will call Connie. Connie and I had never had a conversation beyond polite greetings in the hallway until the day she called me and told me that I should not attend this final class since it was obvious that I had musical gifts and that I would not be allowed to use them in the church for a very long period of time. I was stunned by this and very hurt. I asked her if Elliot knew that she was telling me not to attend the final class and she affirmed that he was aware. Again, as with the personnel committee, here was a person who did not have any kind of personal relationship with me and yet she was calling to tell me I was unworthy to attend the final class and unworthy to serve in the church with my spiritual gifts.
When I asked her “Why?” she just sounded perplexed – as though I should already know. This was stunning to me. Yes, I had pulled myself out of working with Phillip, but this is a very large church and there are many other musical opportunities – and service opportunities – outside of Phillip’s position. Not only that, music was not one of my top three spiritual gifts – which was what our service would have been geared toward. Music was number 5 on my list! I am a “good musician, but I am not innately gifted. That would be my sister. And my mother. I just worked very, very hard.
Being banned from attending that class was a further blow to my wounded spirit. Especially since there was no clear indication of why it was happening. No one had sat down with me and directly informed me that I had done something so heinous that I was being blacklisted in the church. I had removed myself from music ministry under Phillip’s leadership, but I had many stronger gifts than music that I was willing to use to serve the church. But that didn’t matter to the leadership. I had been blacklisted for reasons unbeknownst to me and no one was talking to me or telling me why.
Since I had asked Connie if Elliot knew that she was having this conversation with me and she had indicated that he was very aware of the situation. I attempted to initiate a conversation with Elliot via email, but, again, he was non-responsive. This added to my feeling that I was not valuable enough to garner the consideration of my pastor. Just as in my previous church, I was spiraling downward with increasing momentum every time I attempted to communicate with Elliot with no response.
As I mentioned earlier, there were many opportunities to be involved in music in the church. The following fall, I was asked to lead worship and speak to a class that had a worship component to it. Apparently, this person wasn’t aware that I was not to use my “musical gifts” in the church and I had never been told specifically what I could and couldn’t do, so I agreed. During the course of leading this portion of the class, I was invited by a member of the women’s ministry team named Kacey to join her in putting together a worship team for the women’s ministry. I agreed to “help out” by singing and playing guitar, but I was very reticent to step forward into a leadership role without a specific invitation.
I was so confused about my status in the church – having been told that I couldn’t serve in music by Connie, yet being asked to serve in ministries that were under her leadership (as was the worship class and the women’s ministry). I had tried so many times to get clarification from Elliot to no avail. I stepped into the women’s ministry feeling like I was trespassing and could at any moment be thrown out and reminded that I was unworthy and unwanted in any area of music ministry in the church.
As the team began to develop, I tried my best to take a backseat. Even though I was a professionally trained musician, I didn’t want to overstep my bounds. I saw Kacey as the leader of the team and I looked to her to tell me what she wanted me to do and I was committed to doing my best to help the team be effective in leading worship. It wasn’t long before Kacey expressed her dismay with me because I was not stepping forward to take a more pronounced leadership role. I explained to her that I did not want to do so without an express invitation. Perhaps this was confusing to her, I don’t really know. I just know that from my place of woundedness, I had learned to be very cautious in stepping out as a leader without a clear directive to do so. Kacey did then specifically ask that I share the leadership responsibilities with her. I was to lead the music, and Kacey would lead the prayer/devotional portion of the team.
Again, I was not once directly approached by the person who was upset with me – Angie. And the only complaint that was made clear was that I had looked at her the wrong way. Yet, it was apparent that there was an attitude that I was a terrible problem.
One day, I received several calls from five of the women on the team (we were eight total). Each of them had been called by Kacey and she had been attempting to convince them that I was a problem and should be severed from the group. She didn’t specifically state why I was a problem – just that it was apparent that I was causing problems. The women called me to let me know what was happening and how upset they were that she would do such a thing. They also wanted to know if Kasey had spoken with me about her concerns. I had no idea that, aside from Angie being upset whenever someone else was assigned to lead, that there was any problem at all.
When we met the next day, during our devotional time, Kacey was making a case for extending forgiveness and grace in any and every situation. I stopped her after several minutes of hearing her take a position that was in direct conflict with what she had done the previous day in calling the other women on the team. I told her that I was having a very hard time listening to her because I knew that she had made calls to the other women in the group with the sole purpose of maligning me and convincing them I should be asked to leave.
I expressed my concern that these phone calls had been made without anyone speaking to me directly or individually first – as prescribed in Matthew 18. What ensued was a lengthy discussion in which Kacey, and one other team member named Jill, took the position that I was a problem. To my surprise, everyone else on the team spoke in support of me – saying how much they appreciated that I didn’t play favorites, gave everyone an opportunity, was a wonderful leader who anticipated and took care of their needs so that they were comfortable and excited about participating.
One woman, Jean, very wisely said, “I am listening to what you are saying about Ellen and I don’t see her that way at all. In fact, the things that you are criticizing her for are the very things that the rest of us appreciate and love about her . . . truth is truth and we can’t both be right.”
Jean went on to say that she believed that Kasey had preconceived notions about me – probably from the music director, Phillip, – and that because of that, she chose to view my leadership in a negative light. She told Kasey and Jill that they were seeing what they wanted to see rather than what was actually the truth. Upon hearing this, Kacey apologized to me for seeing me negatively, but it wasn’t long before she and her comrade, Jill, were unhappy with me again.
Interestingly enough, it wasn’t long before Angie removed herself from the group because she had been diagnosed with a severe form of depression and this was too debilitating for her to continue.
Because my job at the Bible college was expanding and had become nearly full-time, I decided that I would step out of the women’s worship ministry. When I told the others on the team that I was leaving, all of them left as well – except for Kacey and Jill, who wanted to be the co-leader if I were to leave. Everyone else told me that without me to lead, they didn’t want to be a part of it.
I enrolled in a leadership course at the church soon after that and at the end of the course, we were given the opportunity to indicate if we would be willing to serve in a leadership capacity. I indicated that I would. The staff person in charge of leadership, Sybil, called me and invited me to meet with her in her office. Our meeting was very brief – just long enough for Sybil to tell me that I was not going to be allowed to be in leadership. When I asked her “Why?” her response vaguely hinted that “leadership” had decided. I asked her who she meant by “leadership” and she gave me the name of a board member, Peyton. and the pastor, Elliot.
Again, I found myself in a downward spiral as my standing in the church was, once again, being diminished. More and more I was questioning where God was, why He was allowing this to happen, and if He even wanted me at all – after all, it appeared that the church didn’t.
More about Ellen: