That’s what happened on 16th April 2000, my church had its final meeting and closed its doors forever. That season is a bit foggy in my mind, perhaps it’s better that way, but I will do my best to recount someone of what happened but please keep in mind it is my view point, many others would share their version of things a little differently.
Hindsight is interesting, looking back all the signs were there, well hidden most of the time but occasionally they did pop up. Being the pastor’s PA and church secretary meant that I got to see a lot more than many and I quickly learned that what happens behind the scenes is very different to what you mostly see at church on Sunday. I learned how churches can run out of money and struggle to pay bills at times, a sad but very real circumstance. Bills need to be paid and if people don’t give generously and faithfully then where does the money come from? I saw how incredibly generous some of the church were and how about eighty percent of the people didn’t give at all of their time or money. But that’s not why my church closed.
To be perfectly honest, I can’t really rattle off a whole list of all the things I saw wrong behind the scenes, everything that I saw was still mostly right and I witnesses very little drama, politics or unpleasantness at all. One or two things surprised me like for example, I regularly visited a lady in church who seemed to be ill a lot. I was chatting to my pastor about her and at some point in the conversation he said, “Well she’s just a hypochondriac”. This lack of compassion surprised me and I thought it odd. I now realise that it was not a lack of compassion but merely the reality that he was aware of. I was very naive in those days and often didn’t see things that I should have. But that’s not why my church closed.
Our churches merged with another church, that was the official story. For some reason when I was invited to transfer my PA job to the new church still working for my pastor’s wife I declined. Looking back I have no idea why I declined as I loved my pastor’s wife and my job very much. Something inside of me said no, it wasn’t even a conscious decision I don’t think. It just happened. Looking back I know now that it must have been God protecting me from what was to come. Having our church close was hard enough. It left many confused and hurt. Our happy family was breaking up and it felt strange and wrong. It has never been clear to me why the church merged in the first place or what went wrong behind the scenes. All I know is that it was horrible and I didn’t like it one bit but got on with finding a new church right away and got involved immediately. It was a lovely Vineyard Church in Port Elizabeth and I have nothing but fond memories of my short season with them. I remember the first time I saw the pastor I thought he just like Jesus must have looked. His eyes were so soft and full of love and compassion. When he preached I hung onto every wise word and loved church and all the beautiful people that I got to meet every Sunday.
Thank God for that church as what I had to go to next has scared me for life! You see the pastor’s wife who I worked for was like a mother to me. At the time I didn’t have a very close relationship with my family and church really was my family. She influenced me more than any other person to this day. My husband can vouch for how much I still speak about her and how highly I speak of her. In my eyes she had no faults, she was just plain wonderful and such an inspiration to me! As I mentioned previously I don’t have all the details I only have my perspective and how it impacted me. Church hurt when it closed, it felt a little like the time when my parents got divorced. But what happened next really did feel like my parents got divorced all over again. I felt abandoned, alone, confused and like my whole life’s foundation was cracked.
I remember that day in detail. I went to see her as I heard a rumour that an announcement had been made at the new church that morning which devastated me. I needed to see her so went to where she was living. As I walked into the living room I burst out crying. I was a mess and can’t remember what I said but I remember what she said after I was urged to leave, “I’ll call you.”
That call never did come and I had to deal with my pain alone. What happened was the she and her husband had announced their divorce that morning. It hurt like hell for some reason. More than my parents’ divorce hurt me. Looking back I know it was unreasonable to expect her to comfort me, she had her own stuff to deal with. I felt betrayed! I didn’t know that they had marriage problems and I felt so weird that she never even spoke to me about any of it, or prepared me in any way. After being so close to her for almost 7 years I suddenly realised that we were never close at all. I was an employee, a team member and ten years her junior. I needed closure and not having that ‘call’ make it really difficult. Everything felt strange and although on the outside I just got on with life, inside I was hurting and had a lot to process. Within six months after that my then husband, two children and I left town for a job he was offered. We joined another Vineyard in Johannesburg but the job didn’t work out and so within another six months we left South Africa and moved to England.
Even though church had hurt A LOT I never once considered not going to church. I didn’t blame church as a whole for hurting me, just that isolated season of my church life and so quickly found a church within weeks of landing in the UK. Sadly I know quite a few families who did stop going to church as a result and some even strayed from the faith. I don’t think church leaders really understand how much their life impacts those whom they lead. Pastors truly are the mommy and daddy of the church. I grew up a lot from that experience when I had to face the facts just like I did when I realised that my dad was the tooth fairy and Father Christmas wasn’t real. Pastors are just people who make mistakes, give up on their church and get divorced. Well not all pastors but some sadly do.
From my position now, after years of many more experiences, I can look back at that time and to those people whom I loved and hold no bitterness and cannot judge them at all. I did learn that harsh, painful reality that churches can close and that pastors are just normal people not demigods like I originally thought.