Denominational prayer cycles are part of liturgical practice that has congregations praying for other congregations; leadership throughout the year.

I returned to organized religion in 1998 to a small United Church congregation in the community of Bowness in Calgary. I was in a rough spot emotionally, and my Nan and a long-time family friend took me to their church. It was a good place on the surface to re-enter Christianity, very progressive which for an activist like me was good. The Minister of the time allowed, even encouraged, an expansive understanding of Christian theology/practice/belief.

38 This is the first and greatest commandment. 39 A second is equally important: ‘Love your neighbor as yourself.’[a] 40 The entire law and all the demands of the prophets are based on these two commandments.”

-Matthew 22:38-40 (New Living Translation)

Where I had been baptized Anglican, pre-schooled in the Alliance Church, and VBS’ed Presbyterian (explored everything else). This was a space that allowed me to understand my family’s religious culture within my own growing understanding. It was the church I was confirmed in, taught Sunday School in. It was the church I answered my call to Ordered Ministry, and my minister provided a recommendation to a local bible college to attend.

When the letters went out to young adults seeking a youth leader, I answered. It was the group that I first took to a street ministry, and found another outlet for helping. It was where the strict guidelines of the new ministry initiative had to be followed, and groups had to meet on Friday nights. Which caused myself economic hardship, when the youth were told there was no money and we found a way to make some, the church board brow beat us to control the funds as general revenues not ours so they vanished and expenditures for the youth group continued to come out of my ever-shrinking income stream. When the harassment from older board members about me being young, not understanding how things were done, and threatening I did what we did in my circles, full transparency with the grass roots and one Sunday at announcements brought forward I was done and leaving. This led to a phone call of encouragement from our minister on study leave. One thing that still rings in my ear though from the harassers, “this is church”.

The final straw was they decided to post a paying position, and stated I would have to apply to see if I was qualified…which led me off to build another youth ministry as they offered and that is a horror story for other reasons.

But it was a church with fond memories, and my Nan. I was in an out to attend between ministry builds. Some healthy communities that thrived and my time naturally came to an end, others that were not good fits at all. When they hit a snag and their “qualified youth leader” kept flaking off, not showing up, I was asked to help, and I would pitch hit whether it was baking pancakes for Shrove Tuesday, or helping the youth do a service, or some minor teaching…but when time to fill the role they thought elsewhere.

Third time is the charm? Needing a Sunday School ministry, a open nursery and having youth I had returned to the church after a successful, and peaceful time in another denomination and ministerial outreach. Having completed seminary, and now looking to pursuing a doctorate, my Nan was not doing well and a regular weekly time together was nice. I once again as the one that brought the average age of the church drastically down filled roles as needed. My kids attended Sunday School. We had two young adults who were differently abled in the youth group, and two children differently abled in the Sunday School (one was my son). That stirring of the spirit to make ordination official stirred again, and I pursued discernment. A committee was struck and we began the journey to see if there was a call: Ordered, Diaconal, Designated Lay or something else.

I was also holding multiple roles in the Church board, and as Presbytery representative to aid the church in staying “politically” viable according to the United Church manual. We were working as spiritual leaders to ostracize the pain, and heal the wounds, reconcile the community together. Looking back, what should have been a strong sign that there were shenanigans planned for me, was during the meeting to craft a behavioural covenant for the community. The wealthy-power base that had harassed and expunged me previously reared their bully voice silencing the already bullied in the pews.

            Added some pulpit supply and my son and I doing chaplaincy for patients in dementia care as we went along the path less taken. Growing my para-church ministry work at the outreach I mentioned earlier (which becomes important, for the denomination, and multiple congregations were supporters of it).

Continued the work. Doing my best to let the weekly snide comments, harassment phone calls slide off my back like the proverbial duck—for this was church. Even though I knew that I had served in multiple locations that proved this wrong. But for me at this moment and time with my Nan, one of my best friend’s health declining, this was church because I needed to hold it together, it was one of the places my Nan enjoyed going.

Making safer, and brighter spaces within a very inaccessible building for our children who are differently abled. Almost dying from choking on cobwebs and dust while moving the “sacred annals of congregation history” in my deep clean.

            Harassing and angry phone calls directed at me.

Then the Annual General Meeting. M&P (one of those powerful members) had decided it was time to shatter the community. Redevelop the youth leader role. Needing to pay the role (I had not been taking pay, and had put forward that the monthly stipend be put as a budget line for youth monies for events). They motion before me and the congregation she pushed for vote was to hire a more qualified youth leader (keep in mind at this point I had roughly 12 years experience, was manager at the outreach, had a B.A. and M.A from a Bible College and Seminary, and had almost wrapped my doctorate). But that wasn’t the whole motion, it also attacked the differently abled to rip them from their community. The parents blamed me saying I knew. I still do not know to this day if they heard and took in that I did not, my heart was tearing.

            The bullies WON.

A church, that would see my family broken. When my Nan would enter care for her own dementia those that professed to be friends would shun and not show up. Cast us aside publicly. It was heard by me some saying that children like my son did not belong in church.

I was left with a quandary. Nearly done discernment. Looking out at the ABUSE done. Reflecting on my journey. It couldn’t be. Yet my committee I saw as good people, good members of the church, who were struggling to reconcile, asking if I would meet with folks to repair the bridge. I said I would meet but it wouldn’t change our mind about leaving. Those that say what was heard was out of context never called. I chose to end my discernment, but seeing the insidious viciousness of the power base knew I could not walk away stating this was the cause, simply said my call laid in the work I was already doing. I could not risk harm to the larger good being done by the donations and volunteerism, I did not know how much this darkness bled outwards. It was a bad decision on my part. I clearly explained to my committee the journey up to that point. It was a church now searching for a new minister and youth leader. I left it in the leaders’ hands of the church to deal with as I walked out to protect my family. I knew that my ability to be ordained in any of the three types of ministry within this church tradition were done, discernment was a one off. I knew the choice I was making.

I WALKED OUT TO PROTECT MY FAMILY.

            My Mum and Nan always said no matter who you were, how much you make, church was the one place you belong, and you should be welcomed. In my time in ministry I experienced that 30% of the time regardless of tradition. The other 70% money, control and power destroyed or is destroying communities. Churches have mechanisms to deal with ill health, but are unwilling to step up it is left to the congregational level. Then they wonder why members bleed out, staff burn out.

The Roman Catholic church could cover up crap because they moved priests around in a top down control model, churches like this case study could do this because they controlled the hiring at the congregational level. They could force the minister or board members or whomever out when they got to scratch beneath the surface and could force change. The ones who create the issue exert their unhealthy control and continue perpetuating the cycle. The worst part is larger umbrellas that are supposed to handle this allow more and more staff to cycle through.

I thought years ago I had put this to rest in my soul finally (3 years out of Christendom will do that), but we are part of the larger umbrella (in a congregation that made my top 3 for welcome of all) …and that is where this flashback came. It has plagued me all day, and caused horrendous seizures. The kernel that started it, was the denominational prayer cycle where we as a congregation were called to pray for this place.

Liturgical prayer cycles are hard when you lead a service, I have omitted and gotten hand slapped because I knew whom or where was being called to pray could do harm to someone in healing. At the same time, I know I probably have harmed because I did not know. Church communities are not transparent about our pain. It is not specific to a denomination or tradition. Where it can build broader community, it can also harm. Truly our words carry power.

This is my story. Nothing more. Nothing less. I know that as it has been shared and ignored before, it will continue. What I do know, is that all institutions need to become safer more inclusive places. That begins with each one of us.

The journey of reconciliation is a hard one. It begins with sharing the pain. Then it lets the pain stand there as testament. Then comes the hardest part, deciding to walk forward into a new reality.

This is the story of the pain.

This is where the story stands.

This is my prayer that the story will be different from here on. That change will happen.

This is me deciding to step forward and see what becomes…

Who is my Neighbour?

-Last year I shared of my son’s tears soaking my shirt as he thought he had ruined my life due to this congregation of darkness (read post here). Why the tears? The denominational cycle of prayer they had come up again…Same answer as last year: No you did not my son, we chose the light. We chose life, inclusion, belonging.

We CHOOSE L-O-V-E!

 

Comments
  1. My Neighbour: Unions, Congregation and Clergy Oh My (or why flashbacks can suck) | Ty Ragan, Psy.D says:

    […] My Neighbour: Denominational Prayer Cycles Can Re-Traumatize the Victims […]

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s