During my travels some years back, I met a former minister’s wife. I thought of her again as I have been preparing this series on the fallen and gave her a call. Rose (names have been changed) graciously agreed to tell me her story. Even though more than 25 years have passed, I could still hear the pain and quivering in her voice as she recounted her tale.
She and her pastor-husband, Rick, and their five children, ages 13 to three, moved to a village in upstate New York to start a new church. It was a growing and promising community not far from the Syracuse metropolitan area. With a core group of people, they were excited to start this new chapter in their lives.
Rose was a faithful ministry partner, good homemaker, excellent parent, and loyal wife. She homeschooled their children, carried the responsibility of the household on her shoulders, and did everything she could to make their home a safe and warm place for Rick.
The first five years were filled with great times of ministry. The church grew from the original founders to over 250 in attendance. A new building was nearing completion. Everything looked fantastic, but it was a façade, at least for Rick.
It all started innocently enough, as so many of these things often do. Rick was the on-call chaplain at the local hospital when a young college girl came into the emergency room severely injured. It was not life-threatening, but traumatic enough for the 22-year-old woman to think about her spiritual state and eternal destination. He ministered to her in the hospital and later she became a regular in his office for spiritual counseling.
The young lady was sincere in her new-found faith but continued to indulge in the remnants of her former life. She used Rick as a father-confessor and was often graphic and detailed in her telling. She even challenged him about what she thought was his “prudish” and “innocent” upbringing and lifestyle. He became curious and enamored with her worldly ways. They began to spend time together outside of the church office and he started to flirt with and dabble in her lifestyle choices. Before long the two of them plunged into the depths of an affair.
In a moment of conscience Rick told the local board he and Rose were having marital problems, but he did not confess to an affair. The board sent them to a two-week intensive marriage recovery program located in North Carolina. It was while they were there that Rick disclosed the affair.
Both the local church and the district supervisor were notified and upon their return to New York, Rick was immediately discharged. The elders involved thought it was necessary that he make a public confession and they required Rose to be present as well. She was humiliated and appalled at this indignity. Rick further compounded the problem by leaving his family. Rose was devastated.
The elders and district supervisor told Rose that she would have to get a job to support herself and her children posthaste. There was no salary extension, no money coming in. The district supervisor arranged for her utilities and rent to be paid for two months but required her to submit a detailed copy of every dime she spent.
Rose took a night shift job because there was no money to pay a sitter and no one volunteered to help her while she was at work. The one luxury she kept was basic cable service as a means to entertain her children while she was at work. When the district supervisor saw the cable bill, he called her and very harshly said, “If you need money, why do you have cable?” Rose canceled the service.
Several ladies were very supportive and called to comfort and advise Rose at every turn. Some of the men of the church came and got the children for outings on the weekends. They performed as the body of Christ should.
Tragically, her marriage did not survive and she was left to manage her family largely alone. She testified to the faithfulness of God and reports that her children are doing well after some very difficult and turbulent adolescent and young adult years.
She went on to say, “There are some images you just cannot get out of your mind.”
- The local church performed admirably as an organism. In both the Old and New Testaments, God expresses his concern for the poor, the widow, and the orphan. God did and does advocate for just treatment. As a living body of believers, Rose was treated well by people who attended the church.
- However, as an organization the church failed. I asked Rose if the church, district, or general church gave her any formal support beyond the initial help with rent and utilities. She said, “I didn’t think the church had any obligation to help me. I thought it was like any other job where a person gets fired.” As soon as she found a job, all financial support ceased and she never heard from the district supervisor again. She told me later that she felt “shamed and humiliated” by him.
- Counseling for her and her children was not suggested or provided.
- Although the members of the church responded appropriately, there was no formal involvement or plan. People did the right thing, not because the church was prepared for such an event, but out of the goodness of their hearts.
- Rick rejected any initial attempt at restoration and the district supervisor did not pursue it any further.
- The young mistress was never contacted by anyone, offered any help, or given any care. The relationship between her and Rick ended a few months later and she disappeared from everyone’s consciousness.
The most jarring thing I heard Rose say was that she expected to be treated like anyone else who was fired from a job. As the body of Christ on earth, the Church has a higher calling. The Church is not like any other business or corporation. The Church is to be redemptive and restorative.
As I have stated before, I believe the Church has a systemic problem in relationship to ministering to the fallen leader, their families, and the fallout from such an occurrence. There has to be a better way. To any denominational leaders that may read this blog, I throw down the challenge. I pray you will step up to it.