‘A man of many companions may come to ruin, but there is a friend who sticks closer than a brother.’ –Prov.18:24
Slightly abridged letter from me to a former pastor friend on the East Coast, offering a background to a series of documents I sent to him to get him ‘up to speed’. Numbers or letters have been substituted for names. ‘Exhibits’ described here in this post are not relevant to the ordering of the blog; these refer to the original document I sent to Pastor D. I have done my best to be accurate, especially on dates; anyone better informed may feel free to challenge me on the veracity of this record.
6 December 2015
Dear Pastor D.,
I’ve tried to put the documents below together in sequence, and I’ve tried to avoid deluging you with too much material (there are pages and pages of correspondence in all this mess!). I’ve pared it down to the ‘public record’ kind of stuff, with a few extra bits, in hopes that creates a more or less coherent skeleton. I think it’s accurate in terms of people and dates; I trust any mistakes won’t take away from the integrity of the whole!
Brief background: you’ve heard from me that since the first of the year, the then-recently retired 13, at whose house you stayed when you and S. came up for our wedding, changed markedly in his behavior toward my dad. He was an elder in 2014; in 2015 he ‘graduated’ to Vice President of council. The church had undertaken, with the direction of what’s called a ‘church coach’, a self-evaluation, which began with elder/deacon teams from the council meeting with as many of the congregation as they could. The coach (54, from a department we’ll call Pastor-Church Dynamics) then wrote up a summary report, which, long story short, was flawed in several ways, and has since been used as a starting point or foundation document to paint my dad as the church’s ‘problem’.
Two elders have acknowledged that the report was misleading in terms of how it portrayed people’s discontent with the minister; the big negatives they recalled from their respective visits included a complaint that one hymnal is used more often than another. These two elders said it seemed most of the negative feedback, particularly about the pastor and his preaching, came from those visited by team 3, made up of elder 13 & another deacon. They visited three former elders & their wives, those elders having served on council the summer that my dad tried to confront the abusive and unchristian behavior of one of the parishioners. I have been led to believe all 6 of them (among other people) have been critical of my dad and his preaching, apparently because they don’t find his preaching ‘encouraging’, or joyful, or any other set of adjectives, without being able to give specific examples of what he’s doing wrong or what he ought to do instead. On different occasions, all of them have expressed serious ignorance about or even disrespect for the Bible, on different issues, from the concept of the fear of the Lord, to inerrancy, to homosexuality. Their views on my dad, however, had been extrapolated and ascribed to the whole of the congregation from the time of 54’s report, which I can send you if you’re interested in reading it. (This church coach, and the community’s view of and interactions with him, is a subject in and of itself!)
At any rate, as a result of 54’s report, that there’s a ‘great deal of pain’ between the congregation and pastor, two pastors of neighboring same denomination churches (both much larger than A, with about 500 members each) were called in as Church Visitors. To do what was never really made clear. Their involvement is mostly detailed in the documents below. It should be noted that the clerk of A council, elder 11, was supposed to contact Classis N– (the equivalent of presbytery?) to ask for the assignment of church visitors. When he made the call to do so, he found that 13 had ‘gotten there ahead of him’.
In the end, the two church visitors were (indeed, are, as they’re still involved!) 21 and 22. The time frame, the meetings which took place, the rush to ameliorate the ‘pain’, meant that, from first meeting with the visitors to my dad’s firing, was 7 weeks.
Before the middle of September, I was convinced that I had to go see what was up, talk with as many people in the congregation as I could, and see if I could help get some clarity on what people actually thought was going on, and what they wanted. The conversations I had were telling (and weird, in some cases!). But we don’t have to go into all that now. Suffice it to say, there was a TON of confusion. This trip I made from the UK in early October, after I’d written my first letter to the visitors trying to give them my perspective on my dad’s preaching. Only a night or two before I arrived, the monthly council meeting was held, with the Church Visitors. They had suggested that the council come up with ‘instructions’ to give my dad, and he’d be given three weeks to think/pray about them, and see whether he could agree to them, or whatever. This was October 6. The instructions are people’s Exhibit J.
The council met again three weeks later. I won’t describe how that meeting went, because my dad touches on it in one of the documents below [Exhibit L.]. My dad responded to the list of instructions in writing and was allowed to read his response to the council before he and the Church Visitors (whom only 13 knew were coming!) were sent out of the room. The elders and deacons ‘deliberated’ for 70 minutes; when my dad and the CVs came back in, the council told my dad he was suspended from pulpit duties for 3 Sundays. CV 21 advised my dad that he and my sister not come to A. on Sunday for worship because ‘we do inappropriate things when we’re upset’, or something to that effect. That Sunday, 1 November, the council, all six of them, went up to the front to announce the suspension. Some questions from the congregation followed. My dad’s response to the list of instructions, and a transcript of the announcement at the Sunday morning service, are below (note from the author: as of this posting, I have decided to post only part of the transcript, at Exhibit M.).
After the announcement, when it was made clear(ish) to the congregation that something was going on, and after it was claimed that the suspension was made with the CVs’ ‘approval’, the circuit court judge, 42, a parishioner in the pews that morning, wrote a letter to 13, and to the CVs (this latter included below).
Around that time, the CVs tried a couple of times to ‘reach out’ to my dad, offering to talk, asking him how he was ‘processing’ all this. Because of what had been said and done in the council room, my dad wasn’t excited to get together with them—he felt they’d betrayed his trust. My dad wrote a letter to 21 explaining why, on Wednesday 4 November. In the meantime, the elders met with the CVs on Monday the 2nd, with the whole council again either Tuesday or Wednesday (these excluded my dad while they ‘figured out what they were going to do’), and 21 was telling my dad that they were having an important meeting on 5 November and he ‘should really be there’. After this ominous-sounding meeting was arranged, my dad wrote 21 the [above-mentioned] letter. I wrote again to both the church visitors on Thursday afternoon [the 5th], and had my letter out to them by noon Stateside time. The CVs had received the first letter from 42 on Sunday night; they didn’t reply to it, but shared it with the elders without having first asked him to do so. My dad still has not received a reply pertaining to his 4 November letter to 21, though they have corresponded about admin details; I waited a week before following up with the CVs to see if they had received my 5 November letter!
Anyway, on Thursday 5 November, my dad got handed to him a Request for an Article 17a. After that, there was a region-wide scrambling of denomination personnel to schedule a special meeting of Classis to, at least, ‘approve’ the request for the 23rd, less than three weeks from the meeting, and the week of Thanksgiving. A pastor who was released under an Article 17 last year had at least a month, and that wasn’t including the time it took to find the date for the meeting, and arrange for synodical deputies; a month in advance the date was finalized, and an agenda and credentials distributed to all classical members involved. Organized, no? My dad asked several people why there was such a rush to have the special meeting; he was stonewalled at first, and finally 21 told him that ‘Classis’ was just trying to deal with a council’s request in a timely manner. Only a couple of days later, my dad got a group email from the Clerk of Classis letting all know that the meeting couldn’t be on the 23rd, because he’d canvassed as far out as Illinois and Wisconsin, and couldn’t get available deputies. That’s oversimplifying the communiques, but essentially, someone somewhere was pushing for this meeting to happen YESTERDAY. In addition, 21 was telling my dad all the way up to the 20th of November to be prepared, just in case; meanwhile a parishioner from A. (who’s since left due to dictate of conscience) and elder 11 KNEW before my dad even had a reply from anyone that the meeting was going to pushed back after the 23rd, and told him so (one of them knew as early as the 17th, and yet 21 was telling my dad anything was possible up until the weekend).
I do wish I could include emails from 21 to me, my dad, and 42, to give you an inkling of the way this pastor operates, but it would probably be too much! I will say this: 21 and 22 essentially told me they couldn’t answer any of my questions or address any issues I had about the credibility/spirituality/biblicality of proceedings, for fear of violating confidentiality, even though I told them I wasn’t asking them to tell me what went on in council meetings, etc. 21 and another pastor (who has since stopped answering my dad’s messages), in the midst of the meeting scheduling process, were passing my dad’s emails to each other without telling him, and when he called them on it, confidentiality suddenly didn’t matter anymore. I actually wrote an email to 22 as well, and rather than even acknowledging receipt of it, he forwarded it to 21 without asking me, I presume so that 21 could ‘deal with it’ (i.e., me). 22 later told my dad that he had replied to all my emails. Not true.
Anyway. Since the meeting date was up in the air, 42 wrote again to the CVs, and wrote a rebuttal to the Article 17 request, exhibits…below, and requested that they be distributed to all the delegates, particularly the synodical deputies, in advance of the meeting. 21 promised that the documents would be forwarded to the Clerk, and presented in some way, perhaps by himself verbally (whether this would have been appropriate is for the reader to judge). As of 30 November, the Clerk of Classis still had not received them from 21; he eventually ended up getting them from my dad.
The meeting was eventually finalized for 8 December (just around the corner!). My dad’s encouragers suggested he write an alternative Article 17, one which he and everyone else would be able to sign, that wouldn’t constitute a cover-up. He wrote a response to the original, with an intro and addendum, and sent those to the Clerk of Classis on Thursday night, 3 December. As of that evening, in spite of having had what my dad thought was a conversation confirming that the clerk would have 42’s documents distributed immediately, they still had not been sent. Come this past Friday-Saturday, they and my dad’s additions finally went out, along with an email grenade from 21. That’s what ‘happened’ yesterday—my dad forwarded that to his prayer partners, and I was in absolute shock when I read it. I’m curious to see what you make of all this.
I will add on one little thing I wrote—after being less than satisfied with the dismissal I was getting from the CVs, I finally printed off my emails and letters to them and posted a packet, tracked & signed for, to 21. My cover letter to this is exhibit [S].
So, ‘D-day’ is Tuesday. It’s amazing how many people have emerged, first to get my dad’s side of the story, apparently suspicious of what they’re hearing from the council, and several of them have ended up taking my dad’s part. Reading 21’s write-ups, however, you’d think they didn’t exist. Or, well, those of us who do exist are mindless robots, or something. Someone (still a member at A.) actually protested this treatment of my dad to the CVs at the congregational meeting on 10 November, where the elders announced my dad’s termination (similar to an anonymous person who later spoke with 21, asking to remain confidential for fear of reprisal if it was known he disagreed with council; 21 went to 13 and told him the person’s position, and his/her name). That doesn’t get mentioned in 21’s ‘overview’. Two couples, pillars of the church, left within a week of the congregational meeting; the young man who pushed for clarification on 1 November is getting together with my dad Tuesday—he met with 42’s older brother 43 (who left also) some weeks back, wondering what was going on. A couple just yesterday went over to my dad’s house and talked with him and my sister better than an hour, wanting to hear his side—oddly enough, they asked my dad whether 13 has something to do with this. So even in this swirling nightmare, every time the darkness seems to be creeping forward, someone else turns up and says a piece that indicates my dad isn’t crazy. It’s so strange, this Providence.
Well, here are the ‘exhibits’; several of them I’ve extracted from my dad’s combined document, so they have his contextualizing comments.
Happy reading—I hope it isn’t too overwhelming! I’m curious to hear your reaction(s) to all this.