In this series: Part One | Part Two | Conclusion
Orthodox Presbyterian Church – 18 years
However imposing, formal, and elitist you might imagine “Orthodox Presbyterian” to be, it’s all of that and then some. At first impression however, your experience with church members will likely be warm and welcoming, though distant and non-committal.
I want friends so desperately and I’m not going to have any if I don’t do anything. I think that’s a big part of my problem, I’m very lonely. I’ve been at my church 16 years. No one calls me when a group of kids are getting together. No one picks me to kills time with. No one wants me. I just want want friends, people to love with, laugh with, live with, grow with. – Journal entry
The following is a direct quote taken from The Book of Church Order of the OPC. It contains in alarming detail the measure of control they expect to exact over their members:
“All governing assemblies have the same kinds of rights and powers. These are to be used to maintain truth and righteousness and to oppose erroneous opinions and sinful practices that threaten the purity, peace, or progress of the church. All assemblies have the right to resolve questions of doctrine and discipline reasonably proposed and the power to obtain evidence and inflict censures. …They are to watch diligently over the people committed to their charge to prevent corruption of doctrine or morals. Evils which they cannot correct by private admonition they should bring to the notice of the session.” – The Book of Church Order
My own OPC leadership regularly sent out letters to all parishioners if there was a “sin issue” involving a church member. These so-called sins included eating disorders, mental illness, unmarried pregnancy, marital struggles, and so forth.
This shaming effectively silenced the victims of the sexual, physical, and psychological abusers being harbored in the church.
I’m confused. Completely and utterly. People are so hard to figure out. I want to be real. But who people really are and what they tell you is so different. How do you know who to trust? – Journal entry
My mother asked for help from the leadership regarding her abusive husband. Little was done, arguably nothing legitimately helpful, and she was discouraged from seeking outside help.
The last month has been hard. Finding out that your church family isn’t what it seems is difficult. Lying, secretive, untrustworthy, unchanged. – Journal entry
When I was kicked out by my father, I was expressly instructed by a pastor not to tell anyone.
I was told they would help me find housing, and this kept me from going anywhere else for assistance, waiting for help that never materialized.
What I’m feeling: Scared. Alone. Scared of what I might do. Scared of messing up. Scared of Sundays. Scared of falling apart. Scared of admitting it, admitting anything. Scared of loving and not being loved back. Scared of disappointing people. Feeling trapped by my own walls. Afraid of the solution. Tired. – Journal entry
Much later after leaving the church, I detailed for all the church leadership my parent’s history of abuse, and abuse being currently committed against minors in their home. My appeal was based upon their current membership in good standing with the church, but after formal meetings and pleading for help nothing was done.
After roughly a year at the fabric store, I came home from work to a letter from my father giving me a few weeks to get out:
“The time has come young lady for you to leave our home, and move out on your own. Though I had hoped for better circumstances under which this transition could occur, it can not be helped or avoided at this point. As you will remember, this was my position a year ago. But after talking with several of our elders, I decided to exercise deference towards their counsel and allow you to remain in the home. I have in all sincerity young lady endeavored repeatedly to express my love for you, to show you grace and forgiveness in spite of your repeated rank disrespect, animosity, and bitterness towards me. I have appealed to you for forgiveness for my known past sins against you, but you have refused to forgive me, and have chosen rather to harbor this hatred against me, as well as any effort I have made to repair and restore our relationship, and now as you can see, it is affecting your other relationships, including the ones in this home. Hatred is toxic, and it will destroy your other relationships with sound Christians. I have told you that hating me is not worth this, but you have rejected my counsel in this. I have tolerated this toxic influence in this home long enough, and in light of your continued obstinance in this regard, it’s time for you to move out.
Now if you behave yourself during this transition, you will have till the end of August to be moved out. But if you continue this same nasty pattern, and continue to neglect the few duties you have in this home (it’s your week for dishes, make sure they get done each day), you will be out much sooner. Please do not test me on this, my mind is made up, I will not be moved.
If you have a change of heart and truly desire to seek to repair and restore our relationship that would be great, and I would be up for moving forward under the proper avenues of restoration with competent counsel and mediation. But your residence here is not required for that to happen. In fact, I believe it would be detrimental to the process.
Please don’t blow this off or procrastinate with this move, please seek all available avenues in the church for help in finding a new permanent residence, if you choose not to I will help you in this regard.
I am truly sorry that it has come to this young lady, but this is a choice that you have made repeatedly and finally over the past several years. As I told you before, I am not worth hating. You will and are ruining your life over these unresolved issues. Whether you believe me or not, I do love you, and it grieves me deeply to see you to make the choices you’re making. Now I have to make some choices, please act wisely and accordingly. Sincerely, Dad.”
I had nothing I could do, nowhere to go. My mom asked if I wanted her to say anything, I told her not to, I didn’t want her fighting with dad about it and making things harder for them.
A series of excerpts from my journal at the time:
– I’m so tired. Confused. Lonely. Lost. Down. I feel like the truth I’m looking for is somewhere staring me in the nose and I just can’t see it. I wish… I even just knew what I was looking for.
– So supposedly dad is bringing a complaint against me to the church. This is going to be a big ugly mess.
– I’ve never felt like I really could be myself or belonged anywhere but my family. Now I don’t even have that.
– I didn’t know I wanted someone who would stick with me even if I wasn’t good enough. Wasn’t perfect. Maybe there’s a person out there who could love me for me, but why not a christian? Is there such a person? Someone I could trust that much? I’m just so tired. Tired of this place.
Nearing my deadline to move out, I still had nowhere to go, and I had been abandoned by the people I thought would help.
In a moment of hopelessness was honest with my coworker when she asked me what was wrong. She shares about that conversation:
“Grace started to withdraw a bit which was concerning. …One day I came in to work and found her cross legged on her car hood eating lunch. She looked upset, so I stopped and chatted her up a bit.
She confessed the most heartbreaking situation- her dad was kicking her out. Her? WTF? Hard working, sweet, talented, that made no sense.
I never hesitated. You can move in with me.
Her big green eyes widened, and a single tear rolled down her cheek.
Well, I have cats and a stressful job, but a spare bedroom and you are welcome to it.” – A
I accepted her offer, and moved in within a week. I was running on adrenaline, doing everything I could to keep it together and just survive. I was starting to deal with the impact of my childhood:
“We settled in, her coming and going when ever she wanted… When I had a minute, I cleaned out the kitchen so she could be comfortable this was *her* house. I came into the living room after work that day to find the girl curled up in a fetal position on the corner of the couch. Apparently, cleaning the kitchen set off ptsd. Her father ‘cleaned’ when mad, and the whole family pussycat stepped around when that was happening. We had a long talk after that admittance about how she lived with me now, she was her own person and could grow and set her own rules. She seemed to relax after that, and settled into her new life.” – A
I spent two wonderful years living with her. She was my angel in disguise, giving me a place to start to heal and move on. My parents were critical, but at this point I couldn’t afford to care.