Tuesday night, June 23rd, was hot and overcast. Where could our Tuesday night spirituality group (six of us) meet?
Previously, because of the pandemic, we had been meeting on Zoom and when the warm weather arrived, in our back yard. We were always socially distanced and wearing masks.
Because of the heat projected for that Tuesday night, I emailed our pastor and asked if we could meet in the church fellowship hall. He replied, “Yes. Please wear a mask. Upon arrival at the church, we discovered the fellowship hall had no chairs and no air conditioning. It was very hot. Moving six chairs into the space and opening windows, we then began our meeting. In the process, because of the heat, we took our masks off. Shortly into the meeting, the pastor arrived, closed the windows and said, “Put on your masks!” After he left we took off our masks.
Forgetting that the church is full of cameras all of our actions were recorded.
The next morning, June 24th, I received a text from the pastor.
“Because as the leader of the group you did not wear your mask and enforce that the group wear their masks, you and your group are no longer welcome to meet at the church. Return your church keys immediately.” I knew he was right and immediately texted back, “I apologize. It was my fault because I am the leader. You are right to take away the privilege of meeting at church. I was 100% wrong. I ask you to forgive me and I hope we can move on. I do not want a fractured relationship.” As pastor, I hoped he would forgive me and the group. One week passed and we had no response from the pastor.
The group decided to write a letter of apology, seeking forgiveness. Interestingly the very night of this incident, we had been studying repentance, reconciliation and forgiveness. As a group, we seemed to have stumbled through a door and fallen from grace. We all signed the letter.
It is now mid- July. We have had no response to my text or our letter. Theologically this presents a problem for me. The Lord’s Prayer, Luke 11:2-4, is specific about repenting and seeking forgiveness. Along the way, I experienced my own anger at not being forgiven by the pastor who so often preaches about sin and forgiveness. I heard God saying, “You must forgive the pastor.” God is usually right. So forgive I did and felt peace wash over me.
During the July church governing board meeting, the pastor reported our misbehavior and his admonishment of me as the leader. He neglected to share my text, our group letter of apology (repentance), looking for reconciliation and seeking forgiveness. I now have personal experience of being “thrown under the bus”.
Because I have been a member of this church for more than 36 years and considered a leader, this has presented me with a spiritual crisis. How do I reconcile myself with the fact that a pastor preaches one thing and when stepping out of the pulpit, lives another?
Biblically, the group and I took the steps toward reconciliation only to be met with silence. There has been no forgiveness. The pandemic will keep us from returning to church in numbers.
For me, the problem is solved. Because there is no reconciliation, I must leave. I am not angry but I am sad. I’ll miss my church friends but this is no longer a crisis of faith for me. It is now a crisis of leadership for the church.