Target Practice

June 14, 2011 at 1:03 PM (Uncategorized) (, , , , , , )

Warning:  difficult read ahead, especially for those who don’t know me offline.

And this sure as hell aint going to FB.

I was afraid this would happen when I moved to this county.  And last week, it did.

I’ve been wrestling with how to write about this, because  what happened last week has affected me all over the place, even though I’ve gone over this ground before, I’ve got to walk it again and exorcise more proof that I am Not Really a Nice Person sometimes.

A woman came up to me in the grocery store.  I recognized her, and adjusted for age.  She’d been younger when I knew her.  She recognized me.   She said:   “Oh, it’s so good to see you! I often wondered what happened to you, and I’m glad you’re doing well.”

I looked her straight in the face and said coldly,

“I’m sorry ma’am but I don’t know you.  You must have mistaken me for someone else,” and wheeled away.

I’m sure she was puzzled.  Because she’d been there.  I’d been there.  Even my late  husband had been there.  In church.  His church. In the spring of 1992.

It was a small church, of about forty people.  He’d gradually been moving away from seminary style lecturing and more into sermons that genuinely gave people something good to take away with them, to help them in their lives. After all it was just his first pastorate.

By taking that pastorate, he automatically became a moral arbiter for them…someone whose life they could look up to.   The optional part, real caring for his small band of parishioners, was not hard to do.  They were the salt of the earth,  similar to his own family.

And his best work with them was the hospital or home visitation.  Because he knew about suffering.  Yes,  indeed.

But he also carried a secret they did not know.

He committed a sin of omission when he accepted their call.

And,  God help me, I initially encouraged his silence.  This isn’t an excuse,  just an explanation. He had worked so hard, against the advance of illness, to just finish seminary, that I knew he wanted the rest of it so badly.  He wanted to fully practice his profession  before he died.  And I wanted that for him,  even though I knew that when his sickness became generally known it was going to be awful.  (and even though I knew I would be completely lousy at being a pastor’s wife, which was absolutely true. )

They asked him about his health.  He said he was fine. (his meds were working well at the time and he had very few symptoms.  Wasn’t that healthy?)

He did not tell them of his medicine and/or transfusion acquired HIV disease.  AIDS,  that was  in its later stages at that time.

Eight months after he accepted that position, when he and they had begun to really connect in an  authentic way, he realized he was getting too weak to continue the hour and a half drives and the work in  the church much longer.  He opened up to his immediate superior in the denomination, who was compassionate…but wondered how, and in what format he would tell his congregation.

Ultimately there was a long rectangular table.  The elders of the church were facing him and also spilled over onto one of the sides.  I was on the other side alone, and my husband and his superior were on the other long side.  I wonder now, why I didn’t get to sit next to him.  Why my shoulder couldn’t have been next to his.  Why I could not hold his hand? I don’t recall.  Maybe it was the film projector  that showed a sensible film about the nature of HIV. Sometime before or after that film my husband told the elders about his illness,  and why it was his reason for leaving.

Then it started.  The absolutely legitimate anger and sense of betrayal.  The complete loss of trust in his word, again understandable, not because any congregant with HIV should have been outed, but because he held a position of authority and had omitted this information, in their view outright lied about it, which generally is something someone in authority shouldn’t do.

How could he do this to them,  they said.  Why on earth had he done this? How could he have let this happen and still call himself a pastor?, How could he do this and even call himself a Christian?, they said. One congregant, at least seeing a little of the big picture said, “but would we have hired him if we had known?”

Soon, mixed in, was a great deal of fear for their children fear that perhaps he had passed it on to their  children through some accident…even fear that he knew he had harmed someone in church inadvertently and kept that secret as well , fear of having broken bread with him,   or drinking punch from the same bowl.  Fear of using the same restroom he had.   Later, some families kept their children out of Sunday School because they really felt they were not safe with him…

“As if,” he would shake his head and say through tears, at home…”As if I would EVER, harm those kids!  They’re even more my responsibility, when I’m with ’em than the rest of them are…I would never,” and then he would dissolve in tears again…

Youth pastoring was not his forte, but he absolutely understood his duty to them when he was nearby.

He was uncharacteristically silent the entire length of that meeting.  Not a word, which was probably one of the reasons that they continued to hammer at him for forty-five minutes straight.

They used him as verbal target practice.

It was as if they had not seen the film that had run ten minutes ago.

Then, I spoke, because forty five minutes was a damn sight too long to keep silent when your husband was being attacked.

I knew why he’d kept silent when he was hired because he’d told me at the time, .  “I’m afraid.  I’m afraid of losing my one chance to do this one thing!” He was crying then.

I said to the elders:  “Haven’t any of you…*any* of you ever done something you *knew* was wrong…out of fear?”

As I suspected they would, the people who a moment ago couldn’t begin to stop the flow of words they used like bullets…suddenly fell silent.


Let he who is without sin cast the first stone,  and all that.

When they let us go that night, and we headed for our car, one woman came specifically to me and said, “Why didn’t *you* tell us?”

I gave them an answer that was consistent with their theology of the role of women and wives.

“It wasn’t my place.”

Within the next week, my husband had another brief meeting with the elders where he said he felt he could remain until the end of June, since he knew it would take them awhile to find a replacement.  One cold hard woman voiced her opinion as if she spoke for all.  “I want him gone, NOW!”  while he was standing right in front of her.

Enough of them were pragmatic, that they let him stay til June.

But when I heard about that one nasty answer…that was it for me.   I never set foot in that sanctuary again.  I know, from the outside that this was viewed as non-support and his family wasn’t happy with my absence.


I knew one of two things would happen if I did show up.  Either the entire building would spontaneously combust, just because I was in it, or the barbarian protecting her spouse would as soon spit on them as speak to them nicely.  I’d have engaged in conduct unbecoming, and given them a verbal flaying reminiscent of what they’d done to him.

Because at home, the mental focus that he’d kept, the  whatever it was that had kept the physical effects of his illness lessened for much of the last four and a half years…was gone.  He was devastated.   His voice was fainter, even in public…and he wept in private.  This broke him.

Yes, I know.  He couldn’t escape dying.  It was three years too early for the drug cocktails in use today.  It was going to happen…and it was not going to be far away.

But I really and truly believe that if *some* of them..had been  able to be more restrained.  Kinder.  And saved some of their:  “Why did he do this to us?” for a private discussion between themselves…if some could have been compassionate,  since he was leaving in June anyway…

He would have lasted longer.  This made him go earlier than he should have. Maybe even a year sooner.  A few months.  A month or a week or a day sooner.  He would have savored that time with me and his family.

His mother was there every Sunday for those last sermons til he left that church, defiant and proud of her son.  She had never cared what anyone thought about what she said,  and wasn’t shy about her opinions.  That served him very well, I imagine.  One mother did decide to bring her children back to Sunday School.  I was grateful to her then for doing so.

The church still exists.  Same name,  same location.  Nine miles away from where I live.

My new tradition,  my new belief system,  says I have to forgive them.

I sincerely hope God has forgiven them.  I do.  Because intellectually I get that everyone deserves forgiveness for some things.  Especially for just forty five minutes and ten minutes, especially because they were right to feel their trust had been betrayed,  as I’ve said.

I’m still unable to forgive them myself.

Perhaps with my last breath on the planet.

I think it  unlikely.

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