In my quest this year to extricate myself as a member of any church, I’ve come to realize just how hard it is to break free from their shackles. The pastor of the church I sent my letter of resignation to is making it needlessly complicated. Last year, I sent a letter of resignation and the pastor told me that I couldn’t send it to her, but it had to go to the membership clerk. Fine, I said, I’ll do that. Well, my resolve to leave the church weakened after talking with some member friends and I spent all of last year singing in the choir, teaching some sunday school classes, and all the regular things I would have done anyway had I decided not to leave. Now, at the beginning of this year, I felt again the urgent need to cleanse myself of church membership. So, heeding the pastor’s advise from last year, I addressed a letter to the membership clerk. I specifically wrote on the envelope:
City, State, Zip
Next thing I know, I’m getting an email from the pastor telling me that she received the letter and has not given it to the membership clerk yet. Not only that, she said that after discussing it with the Moderator, my letter will be read at the next Annual meeting and my membership resignation will be voted on. WHAT?? That’s not standard procedure in any church I’ve ever been in! I’ve left churches before and usually a request to be removed from the rolls is merely a formality. The clerk removes you from the rolls per your request. If any voting goes on, it’s usually by a board of Elders or Deacons, depending on the governmental structure of your church. Never have I ever heard of reading letters like this before the entire congregation unless there is some sort of disciplinary action involved.
I must comment here that there is a whole back history of my dealings with this pastor. Since the beginning, I fear there has been an unhealthy interest in everything that I did in the church. For example, we used to be very good friends, and specifically cultivated my friendship because I was the only one in the congregation with a Master’s degree. She thought that made me special in some way. No, it means I was stupid enough to spend my money for six years of college in the Humanities. But still, in our lunches together, she thought she had a supreme ally. She would complain a lot about the church in my presence and relate how she felt that they were resistant to her ideas or things she wanted to change. I eventually got tired of the complaining and told her outright that she could not change a small town church like that. Small town churches are a whole culture in themselves. They’ve got years of experience and friendships invested in their own church and have seen pastors come and go. If you don’t like it, I told her, then maybe you should move to a bigger church. She would ignore me.
Finally, after being there a year, I was nominated at her request for the Pastoral Relations committee. She wanted it to be her own private support group, but really the committee provides checks and balances between the pastor and the congregation. We were at odds about the purpose from the beginning. The congregation’s view of the committee and hers did not match. Anyway, during my tenure there it was necessary to voice the opinion of the congregation about something that she did (failed to do actually) at which the congregation was very angry. Since I was Chair of the committee it fell to me to voice the congregation’s concern about what she failed to do and warn her that it shouldn’t happen again. We held a meeting, and backed by the congregation, I proceeded to tell her how we all felt. Well, she did not like that at all! She called my chastisement very “non-redemptive.” For some reason she wanted to put a Matthew 18 model on a simple matter. For us, she did not sin. Sin had nothing to do with it. It was human unconcern and error. After the confrontation, others in the meeting thought I was very fair and generous since she never once admitted her error. Still, against everyone’s wishes, I resigned from the committee. She was pleased to see me go, but the subtle harassment didn’t end there.
There were numerous instances where she has singled me out for “revenge.” But oh, she wouldn’t use those words now would she? Let me give you examples.During bible studies, I would make a comment to the person on either side of me now and then, usually about the material. Mind you, others would do the very same thing. It’s COMMON in communal bible studies for everyone to comment to fellow members of the group during the study. I was not disruptive. In fact, most people did not know I was saying anything until she stopped discussion to point it out. For some reason, like a first grade teacher, she would stop the study, as say something like, “Must I separate you two?” or something equally condescending to another adult like, “Can you discuss this after class?” Now, keep in mind that others in the group were doing the very same thing and she never once stopped the class to point this out to them. Only to me. This happened in every bible study she led.
Another example. I would bring different translations of the bible to bible study to read from and to compare verses with. EVERY single time I was asked to read (and I tested this theory by bringing different ones on purpose), she made a comment about which translation I had. “Oh, well, that’s not an accurate version” or “let’s get a better reading from someone else” even if I used the exact same translation she used last time! She would always comment on it in some derogatory way.
Another example. Baptists love to pray aloud. Not only that, they love to give mini-sermons while praying aloud. You know what I mean! During bible studies or even during church service, she would specifically ADDRESS her prayers about ME to God, knowing that the whole group would know what she was talking about. For example, knowing that I was critical about spending bible study time reading The Purpose Driven Life, (which I thought was Christian fads at its worst) she would pray, “Please Lord, help those who do not see merit in our study of Rick Warren’s book, find something to hold onto. May their spirit be open….” and she would go on and on about it. You get the idea. Or in bible study, she would say, “Let us all open our hearts to this study and realize that we might be able to learn something about how to serve you, if we but listen…..” Now this is not my imagination, because she admitted doing this later and apologized. Still the damage was done.
Later, reflecting on it, I believe I know why she always did this. I think she was jealous. I make friends very easily and the congregation accepted me quickly. I am usually the class clown. For some people that makes me obnoxious, but for others they loved the humor. I was never obtrusive about it. I even asked those I knew later if they felt I overstepped the line in any way and they all said no. They may have been lying to me, but why? I hold no power in that group. In fact, my friendship with the pastor was becoming a detriment to my being on the PR committee, so I purposely put distance between myself and her.
Now, it’s come down to membership and this letter business. I don’t know what to make of it, but I sent her email requesting that my letter be returned and under no circumstances is it to be read at the annual meeting. I said I would let my membership die a natural death, if need be, since she was unable to give me a clear answer about how resigning from the rolls is done without her interference.
Well, there’s my sad tale. Let it be a lesson to you! Never write letters, just leave and don’t return. It’s your absolute right not to give a reason, especially when trying to be nice and providing one anyway makes you a spectacle in front of the whole congregation. Once again, I learned a hard lesson about revealing too much of yourself to pastors. Never become friends with a pastor. It has never turned out well in my case. Either they use information against you when things turn ugly, or they abuse your friendship and make an example of you in front of others when it suits them. I will miss the friends I made there, but I don’t feel like playing congregational games any longer. It’s not real life. It’s make believe where those in charge can make up the rules as they go along. Frankly, I don’t need the stress.