In mid-September, I went home to Michigan for a week, to help the dad and sister move house, ‘downstate’, as we call it (credit given where credit is due: her Texan bf drove all the way up from Dallas to help). They are finally free, at least in terms of physical proximity, of the Meeting House and community in which so much misery was perpetrated on them.
I arrived late on Friday, September 9. I had the opportunity that weekend to attend A. church’s morning service with a couple of friends, who weren’t afraid to be seen with me and who picked me up from my family’s temporary residence. I’m so grateful to them for letting me tag along–because it was a very interesting experience.
My main purpose in going was to be seen, and to observe how people would treat me.
One of the first parishioners and former (non?)friends I saw, getting out of her car in the parking lot, was none other than 28. I can’t describe what I felt in that moment–of course, I hadn’t seen her since the previous October, and obviously not since our email exchange earlier this year.
The couple in the narthex assigned the greeting duty that day were truly lucky to have to say hello to me! It was one of the elders (76) in the 72 debacle, one who time and again has proven his ignorance of scripture, decorum, and lack of self-control. To my face he has always been friendly, sometimes even gushing; the way he has treated my dad, in public and private, both behind his back and to his face, is what puts a lie to his ‘We just love your dad’ stuff. I didn’t look away when I said ‘hello’ to him, without a smile. His wife, however, whom I believe is conflicted and perhaps even regretful, and who has always been sweet to me and to my family, I could hug with sincerity. MH had an interesting conversation with her in the fellowship hall later, which I hope got her thinking.
I should note here that it is true–they’re no longer serving coffee in the narthex before the service! See Exhibit C., chh.23-4. And, it’s worth including a picture of that Sunday’s bulletin, so the reader can compare it to what the bulletins used to look like before ST was canned. Not only is the sample from 2015 fitting, considering A. likewise had no evening service that Sunday (thus a service held elsewhere was recommended), but this was the bulletin for ‘Pastor Appreciation Sunday’–that’s right, the Sunday just before he was ‘suspended’.
Bulletin for 11 September 2016 (pardon my notes; we sang only verses 1 & 4 of ‘Fairest Lord Jesus’, which seemed a strange choice–they’re practically the same):
Bulletin for 25 October 2016:
I obviously don’t have the slides for the song service, with which to compare to those my sister would produce, ‘back in the day’ when she would do the PowerPoint for that segment; I’ll just say here that the stark contrast in the aesthetic and readability is pretty similar to that between the above bulletins.
When we arrived in the sanctuary, we sat in the place 11 and MH described as their usual. I wasn’t sure how many people recognized me, but a certain young person who has kept in touch with me (and with my dad), and who for some bizarre reason has always been fond of my husband (it beggars belief, haha!), after a long time of studying me from a pew up front, came back to sit with us and was happy to see me (which pleased me no end, as I love her, and she is among those whom I believe Jesus described in Matt.5:8). The couple with whom she usually sits must have noticed, and no doubt they eventually recognized me. They were one of the couples to whom I sent the cards notifying people about the blog launch (see photo at the bottom of the Introduction); I didn’t hear from them about it, and they didn’t speak to me that Sunday. I’d always had a great deal of respect for them, and considered them friends.
Poor 28 was leading the song service, and she evidently knew me–she seemed very flustered, tripping over several of her words, saying ‘um’ an atypical number of times, and during the prayer, thanked God that we as Christians in America aren’t ‘prosecuted’ (I did nearly chuckle for the irony–some of us are in fact persecuted, and by none other than a prosecutor!). Her smile was forced, and when she looked at ‘my’ side of the sanctuary, her eyes were so narrowed (in stress?), they were nearly closed.
Pardon me, readers, while I address this person directly: If I read those signs right, your discomfort does give me some satisfaction, 28, as I suspect, with justification, that you were the originator of that baseless and silly rumor that my sister snuck a recording device into P. Church’s sanctuary, and taped the closed executive session of the special meeting of Classis in December 2015. I told you very clearly why I knew and wrote to you what I did, and how I came to the conclusions I did: I availed myself of the resources available to me, and accessed by rightful means, and, I used my brain. I didn’t need my sister to do anything untoward, and I have repeated over and over again, in this blog and in communications to other people, that nobody who was in ‘our camp’ at the time knows what went on in that closed session, because they weren’t allowed to be in there. It is actually quite vile that, through your husband, you aired this groundless accusation to A.’s council 8 months after the ‘event’ supposedly took place, and that, thanks to the gossip mill that is that community, the rumor got tossed around amongst several people before my sister ever heard about it. Shame on you. Again. I suppose this allegation, which has only come to the fore in the past several weeks, being mentioned in council meetings and by my father’s oversight committee, is partly an attempt to discredit this blog. Well, there was no recording. Everything I have done has been done with integrity. So, try again. (Though even if my sister had been sneaky, that would hardly make what these people have done okay, RIGHT?!) If the fact that all this information is here, and it bothers you and other members at A., well, it’s not my fault that I try to think things through, and to consider the consequences of my actions before I take them, and all you people far older than I did not. See the first paragraph of the section ‘8 December 2015’ of Exhibit T.–this information has been available since the blog went public in JUNE 2016!
It turned out we were sitting behind 24 and his wife, and behind 12 and his. 12’s wife, a woman for whom I still have nothing but affection and respect, hadn’t arrived by the time of the greeting. 24 shook my hand and seemed happy to see me, though his wife seemed a bit thrown off kilter. 12 smiled but looked weary and uncomfortable. After his wife had been sitting for a few minutes, later in the service, she finally looked back at me, and I gave her a smile and a wink. I was hoping to speak to her. I don’t think she knew what to make of me being there.
Just in front of them were an older couple who had welcomed my family from the very beginning: the older man was one of my favorites of the senior citizens in that congregation, and he and his wife had always been good to us. He’d stopped by to check in on my dad some weeks before. He shook my hand and greeted me warmly, and I hope he could tell how glad I was to see him too.
Also during the greeting, I heard a woman’s voice behind me remarking to my young companion, ‘Who’s your friend?’, meaning me. I hope she had a shock when I turned around. Or at least an unpleasant surprise. She (88) was with her husband (89), another of the three elders from the 72 episode. How fortunate for them that they, too, were able to shake my hand! Again, I didn’t look away. And I didn’t smile.
Someday I may do a write-up or transcribe my notes from KD’s sermon that Sunday. Let’s just say that much of what he touched on was timely and ironic, and I don’t doubt some people shifted uncomfortably in their seats when he said something like, ‘Sometimes we think we’ll grow if we just get a new pastor, or have a cool new children’s program…’, or was talking about the way ‘we’ treat ‘outsiders’. MH and I were almost gasping and/or laughing out loud at times, it was so strange! At one point we were passing notes. I got the CD after the service to share with ST.
A bit more than halfway through the service, 12’s wife got up and left. It could have been that she was paged (she is an EMT), or that she was prepping coffee (they were on refreshments duty that day), but both MH and I thought she looked very upset. I hope I can reconnect with her someday and let her know I don’t blame her for any of this, and tell her that the church doesn’t deserve her.
I had earlier thought about trying to confront 13, or his wife. To her, I would say, ‘Do you really think you were being honest with me when you said x & y as we sat across from each other at lunch last October? And can you look me in the eye and tell me that furniture was not a gift to me after my back injury, but was “donated” to the parsonage?’ I am still curious about how she would answer, if she actually let me speak to her. Her daughter, at the piano that Sunday, wouldn’t look at me, but rather, if I glanced at her and nearly caught her eye, would close her eyes and direct her face to her left, with a pained expression.
After the service, 76, Mr. Greeter-and-‘we-just-really-love-your-dad-he’s-been-through-such-a-hard-time-he-must-be-so-glad-to-have-you-home’ tried to take me by the shoulder and say ‘God bless you.’ I’m not sure what my expression was; I didn’t say anything, but my look may have betrayed what I was thinking: ‘Don’t say that to me, you phoney.’ One woman, the wife (90) of the third elder (91) in the 72 episode, apparently got stuck in the traffic-jam that formed in the aisle, and had to greet me. She specifically asked how my sister was–this woman had been kind to her in the past. But I wasn’t going to let her feel okay about what she had supported, what had so hurt my sister, and told her point-blank: ‘Not good.’ How’s that!? In spite of having no interaction with the most active players of 2015, somehow 5 of the 6 individuals of the CCCs–constantly complaining couples–from over the years were forced to interact with me!
I will try to keep this short. I decided in the end it wasn’t worth going into the fellowship hall and getting things stirred up, even unwittingly. Everyone I cared to speak to and bid farewell remained in the sanctuary. It was a blessing to be able to see all of you; you know who you are. Once out in the parking lot, chatting with someone with whom I’ve corresponded a bit via email, two people did seek me out–a man whose greeting was not unexpected, though it showed the awkwardness of the situation that his wife did not find me as well; and one woman who went back through the whole length of the church from the fellowship hall to greet me. She and I have never talked much, but I’ve always liked her. This meant a lot to me, that she was so deliberate in coming to say ‘Hi’ to me. The fact that she came out shows she has no reason at all to feel guilty. That is one of the big differences between her and the women of the small group, who, you guessed it–did not speak to me. Shocker.
All in all, I’m very glad I went. It was lovely to see those who welcomed me and were happy to see me, and who had been sad to see my family leave. And it was another reminder to me that I should have taken more time to cultivate friendships with these people whose regard and good opinion was evidently much more valuable than that of those I thought were my friends, and those I thought were ‘cool’. Alas for painful life lessons.
I will close with one more trifle: by the time I was out in the parking lot, having spent some time in conversation with the folk worth talking to, I had actually forgotten about 13 & 14. It wasn’t until I got into the car with 11 and MH that MH pointed them out: they had been hovering around someone else’s van watching me, waiting for us to leave, because they had parked behind 11 and MH. Oops. I hadn’t even noticed, but 14 was so wary, she was actually sitting in the other party’s car, while MH said that 13 had been glancing our direction for the past several minutes while I talked with various people, not daring to approach. Ha. They’d stopped mattering to me, but evidently, they were afraid of me. What did they think I was going to do? What could it have been like to be them in that moment, I wonder!