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Monday, January 6, 2014
When Reality Finally Becomes Our Friend
But first...you gotta lurk
I was a full blown ordained minister in the WCG at the ripe old age of 24 and on my own. I had been first out of college in Minneapolis under Keith Thomas and then one year later found myself scarfed up by the new Regional Director in Chicago, George Kemnitz who made me his assistant. I was rather oblivious, being relatively new to both the church and now the ministry of the drama swirling around me in Chicago. As I experienced it and then began to have things sent to me that I neither could believe nor wanted to, it got very nasty. In short order, during the " '74 Rebellion", I got fired by association with those orchestrating it all from Chicago and the East Coast. I went back to New York for a visit to figure out what happened and got my job back. I was sent then to Findlay and Toledo, Ohio where life as a minister, alone and doing what I thought I had signed on for started in earnest.
They were the best of times and they, as a minister, were the beginning of the worst of times. Rumors about this or that, drama of one kind or another and letters sent to members from those in more of the know than I wanted to be and was in denial over were abundant. It was my first experience, of more to come, with "dissident mail", tapes and not quite knowing which minister was for what or against who. It made me sick inside. I was in major denial because I needed the church to be right and I needed to do for those I loved and wanted to be a helpful teacher type what I thought I was both trained and called to do...be a pastor.
The pastor "over me" for a short time was a gentle person who I suspect only also wanted to pastor and be encouraging. He was unable to handle the drama and when it blew locally would ask me to "go see and talk to the ____________s and see if you can help them stay in the church. He probably drank to much and it may have cost him his life at a relatively young age. I have had minster friends who have drank themselves to death out of utter despair over their WCG experience or take their lives deliberately over it. Suicide is a very long term solution to a short term lesson and reality that can be faced and accepted.
Those were the days, where when talking to folk I cared about but who were much more willing to be in touch with the drama and reality of the times concerning the Armstrongs and WCG, I learned how the corners of my mouth would turn down without my permission when talking and I had to force myself to smile them back into place. It was a funky cheek muscle response to fear and stress. Deep inside, where I grew up with the idea that we neither think those things nor certainly say them, I was angry, puzzled, fearful of what may happen and depressed over my choice of Church which still seemed so right in it's Biblical view to me. "This IS the Church but what the hell is going on?" comes to mind.
Sometimes members would bring me the dissident mail they received to read. No one was sending me any at the time. I either pitched it or looked at it in a cursory manner and then threw it away. I could not or would not handle it. Besides, there are lots of scriptures I can quote about gossip and falling away so I was safe.
I went to visit one person who had not been to church and when I got there, blasted me to kingdom come while screaming at me about Rader and Armstrong through the screen door. I listened, more in shock, but it appeared as patience and then said, "I agree, I don't know what is going on and you are right to observe things this way." She looked at me and apologized like I was now on her team and came back to church until it all fell apart. It was the first time I openly admitted what others were seeing and reading was probably so. And then I withdrew into denial again and continued to do what I perceived as my calling, because I still felt that this was the most correct view of the Bible and I guess we can expect drama and deceit. I saw plenty of it in the NT account of the Church so why not?
As time when on, it just got worse. The topics changed but the drama continued. During the Receivership of '79 my denial reached new heights. We had to go to Tucson for the ministerial meetings because HWA had fled there and I simply was not going. I could not stand this much longer. A minister said to me ,"aw just go. It will be fun." He didn't mean "fun" in the typical way and it wasn't. I sat behind Gerald Waterhouse while he was trying to come up with some God inspired meaning for Tucson but he couldn't. Or at least he didn't want the genuine one. The name Tucson is derived from the Indian word, 'Chuk-son,' meaning village of the dark spring at the foot of the mountains. Sounded right to me!
Inside I was mess. Outside I was ok and doing what I still thought I was called by a God to do. After all, after my handicapped brother was born, Dad promised God if he gave him a "normal" son (stop laughing you lurker!) , God could have him for whatever he wanted. No pressure there huh? Good thing I proved not to have turned out normal! That was close!
It was in the ministry I learned to drink. I endeavor to not do that so much anymore as it just made feelings, fears and regrets worse. Drinking is a subtle son of a bitch and I grew up around it but credit the church with refining my ability to turn to it at times. I believe I was the most happy when I took my telescope out into the winter nights and just looked and wondered at it all much as I did as a kid. I guess I'm still a kid at heart.
One of my very best friends...
Pastoring in Kentucky and NY were probably the best years of ministry. Wonderful people (except for the woman who put a deer rifle to my head) and I felt this is what I was called to be and do. HWA was gone and stupid me thought the Tkaches may prove sane with a good dose of common sense. Oh well.... Greenville, my last stop in the line, was a nightmare for the most part. Rancorous deacons and elders who all had enjoyed the last minister (who is now an Evangelist type in the Living Church of God) keeping them in the know about all the members problems and sins were not happy that I didn't think that was any of their local business and didn't do it, were not my friends. In the transition between NY and SC I spent a week in a mental health facility (I'm being kind to myself) for depression. Now I know the "depression" was simply years of repressed anger that I felt I either had no right to express as a "minister" or the price of doing so would be higher than I was at that time willing to pay. All the years of drama and trauma had come due. I learned the hard way what escapism from reality can do for you and to you. Outside I was still the minister in function only. Inside I was finished and transitions can be messy and painful.
But in the end...when it is all said and done, reality is our friend. The years of denial over my feelings about the Church , the Armstrongs, the Tkaches, the changes, the stupidity and recklessness, the misspending, misspeaking and mistakes had come to an end. The end was forced on me but it was over. I knew I was done when a local elder type in Greenville gave a far far too long sermon full of bullshit and self serving posturing said, with me sitting there, "Brethren, you know this church is not being cared for!" Whoa....Were it not for the fingernails dug into my thigh pushing me back in my seat by my former wife, I was going to stand , interrupt him and present him as the congregations new pastor.....and leave for good. I wish I had. Coupled with the previous weeks presentation to me of a faulty watch with a dead battery by Church Administration for 25 years of lurking through it all and a sermon by the visiting minister who told the congregation that topics I had presented to the church in sermons on the birth narratives of Jesus and such were not valid, I cracked inside. I sent the watch back to the specific man who gave it to me and it was not long after it was over. A 9 pm call from this same person telling me I was terminated and to call personnel for details was received after I got home from a Bible study. I said, "That's it?" He said call personnel tomorrow and I hung up. That was the last contact I ever had again from a living breathing administrator in the then Worldwide Church of God. Curtis May, the head of the "Reconciliation Dept" (lol) did tell me he'd pray for me when I asked about retirement. I asked him if that was the modern form of "be warmed and be filled," but he didn't answer me.
What's the point? This is my story of lurking over a 26 year period when I felt I still had to be where I was in the ministry because it was the right church and the right calling for me. I was compliant and hopeful on the outside and a mess inside hearing and seeing what I simply did not want to admit to. I now read what I once refused to read. My college acquaintance, John Trechak, founder of Ambassador Report, which I denied like the plague, was correct. He was ahead of his time and willing to pay the price and he did. I know it is the same for you who come here and yet abide the gut feelings you have about your pastor Dave Pack and his views and demands he makes on your church. I know those of you who lurk here want your Gerald Flurry to be correct, but your stomach still tells you something is very wrong. You may attend UCG or LCG and feel the same way inside about many things but so want the church to be the church. That's what I did until reality caught up to me. It's a process and it's normal no matter how long it takes. It's also painful and costly. I find most unwilling to go there ....for now. I look at recent extended family pictures and I am not in them. They don't care much for me for any number of reasons most related to divorce and my views on religion now. I have family who can't figure out why I think the way I do. And I can't figure out how they don't think I suppose.
Ultimately, reality is our friend and what is can never be replaced with what I wish it was. What goes around comes around. Karma is a bitch. Sitting before the facts as a little child and following them into whatever abyss they lead is a skill and not for the faint of heart or spirit. Most look over the edge and recoil into denial because it feels safer and does until it doesn't. That's what I did for a long long time.
Coming to a site like Banned HWA is the modern form of getting your dissident letters in the mail of years past. You can read here and get angry and defensive about your church affiliation or you can hear the other side of what are important issues. I have picked on Dave Pack a bit not because I don't like him personally, (We'd probably not get along well however) but because I don't like the ideas he has about himself, how he abuses scripture and how he browbeats the way too compliant into doing and believing things that are simply not true, not necessary and not going to end well. I suppose I still feel like some kind of pastor inside to those who will consider the bigger picture of theology and spirituality.
I'm rambling a bit here. I never write quite knowing what I am going to say at times. I am processing some recent events personally and find it's all connected to that fateful day when, at 14, I went to a WCG church service and felt I had found something good. And there was much good and many wonderful friends now mostly gone and unwilling to be in touch for this or that reason.
Lurk if you must. It is a symptom of a knowing that something where you are is not right but you probably don't want to believe it, for now. Reality clarifies itself over time. You will learn that reality is your friend ultimately. I hope we here can be of help. That is the goal. Your feelings, stresses and doubts along with reconciling how you think in your head and how you feel in your stomach is a normal process. You will find in time that , as I have often said, your stomach is telling you the truth... Mine was, even when I wasn't listening.