|At His Mercy by Elizabeth Myer|
At the start of 2007, I felt like everything in my life was perfectly on track. I was in my early 20’s, a newlywed, and just beginning my career in youth ministry. My supervisor, Adam, was a young pastor, just beginning his pastoral leadership in the Church. He had a solid history in youth ministry and served as my mentor. He was a strong, charismatic pastor, with a bit of a “bad boy” side, and I was all too aware of the feelings of inferiority and intimidation I felt around him.
At home, I quickly felt ignored by my husband and worried that our new marriage was already lacking intimacy. I knew he loved me, but his computer gaming addiction left me feeling more like his roommate than his wife. As feelings of resentment built at home, I started to become aware of new feelings budding at work—my overwhelming attraction to Adam. Certain that what I was experiencing was just a silly crush and one-sided, I tried my best to ignore my feelings and the self-consciousness I felt around him.
In the summer of 2007, Adam and I led two mission trips together. While on one of the trips, at the end of an emotionally trying day, Adam and I found ourselves alone together, late at night, in the church’s sanctuary. In that moment, the feelings of attraction I had been working so hard to suppress came bubbling to the surface—and I realized for the first time that the feelings were mutual. The intensity of the moment built until finally he kissed me. Unconcerned by my lack of guilt about my husband and Adam’s pregnant wife back home, I allowed myself to indulge in what felt like an innocently passionate moment with Adam.
In the days and weeks that followed, Adam and I pretended as if nothing happened between us. The guilt eventually started to creep in, so I admitted to my husband that Adam and I kissed. My husband was able to forgive and forget, and our relationship moved forward unchanged.
A few months later, it became apparent that Adam was still attracted to me. After a night of drinking and flirting, Adam admitted his feelings for me, but nothing happened until a few weeks later, just before Christmas, when he kissed me under some mistletoe. Again, we didn’t talk about the kiss.
Another eight months passed by, during which Adam treated me simply as a coworker and friend. During those months, we focused on our work and did good ministry together. Eager to continue my ministry, I also began graduate school at the local seminary. A few subtle things happened during that time to make me question whether Adam still had feelings for me, but for the most part I was convinced his feelings were in the past. I attempted to do my best to move on as well. To distract myself, I even went so far as to train for and run a full marathon, but even that couldn’t shake the hold he seemed to have over me.
Finally, one night when we were left alone for a brief moment, Adam kissed me again. This kiss opened Pandora’s box and in the weeks that followed, our physical relationship escalated as we unashamedly sought stolen moments alone together. Eventually, the line of intercourse was crossed, but Adam put a stop to things almost before they began. In that moment, he finally decided to think about our spouses and I was left feeling hurt, rejected, and heartbroken over the fact that what we shared had come to an end.
To cope with my despair, I sought out a therapist, who opened my eyes to the fact that what Adam and I shared was not in fact an affair like I had thought, but rather a case of clergy sexual misconduct. My therapist explained power dynamics and how, due to the responsibility Adam carried as my pastor and boss, the Church did not view me as a consenting adult in our relationship. She encouraged me to report him to the bishop’s office, but I refused. I struggled with seeing myself as a victim, since I willingly participated in our relationship, but I continued to see my therapist to work through the hurt and sense of loss I felt.
Over the next couple of months, Adam and I tried to keep our distance from each other, even though the attraction was clearly still present. At the encouragement of my therapist, I shared information on clergy sexual misconduct with Adam, who I was surprised to learn was already aware of the fact that our relationship had been inappropriate from the beginning.
Just as things finally felt manageable between us, Adam and I ended up on another mission trip together. While we were on that mission trip, I received a phone call from my husband, who told me he found out about my relationship with Adam. I admitted the truth and dreaded going home to face him.
That same night, Adam and I talked openly and honestly for the first time. We said we loved each other, but weren’t willing to give up our spouses to be with one another. On the last night of the mission trip, Adam kissed me once more, making me again question if things were truly over between us.
When we arrived back home, I had to face my husband. After a very intense, emotionally driven conversation, my husband and I agreed to work together to repair our marriage. Though I was still in love with Adam, I knew I needed to give him up.
That should have been the end of things, but instead, faced with the pain of losing me, Adam confessed the depths of his love for me. He told me he loved me more than he loved his wife and that he just wanted to be with me. We were both at a loss, unable to decide where that left us.
Then, just days after confessing his love for me, Adam unexpectedly decided that he needed to make things right with his wife. He went home and told her about us, which put an end to our relationship once and for all. I began to see everything my therapist had been telling me as truth. For the first time, I truly felt like a victim, torn about at the mercy of Adam’s whims and decisions. I made the heart-wrenching decision to leave the church I loved so I could do the right thing and report him for clergy sexual misconduct.
My last few months at the church were spent in complete agony. I still loved Adam, but I was filled with such hurt and anger. When confronted with the opportunity, I told Adam how angry I was that I was the one leaving the church. I felt like I was the only person taking responsibility for our relationship, even though he was the one at fault. He made no apology. Finally the day came for me to say my goodbyes at the church—to everyone except Adam.
A few short weeks after I left the church, I made an appointment to see the bishop and make a formal report of clergy sexual misconduct. My complaint went undisputed and Adam was immediately removed from the church and lost his title of pastor.
One month after making my report, I ran into Adam on the seminary campus. To my horror, I found out that he also decided to enroll as a student there. I spent the next few weeks pressuring the Dean of Students to require Adam to take a leave of absence from school until I graduated. My request was finally granted and I was hopeful that I could finally move forward and begin to heal.
After nearly seven years, after much soul-searching and prayer, I was finally able to find it in myself to let go of the anger I felt and forgive Adam. Shortly after I did so, I was contacted by the bishop’s office and learned that Adam was petitioning to be reinstated as a pastor. His request was ultimately denied, but that process stirred up all of my past feelings for him, which I continued to struggle with on a daily basis.
Another year later, in the spring of 2016, I sent a letter to Adam for the first time since leaving the church. I told him that I forgave him and that I still struggled with my feelings sometimes. A month later, I was shocked to receive a response from Adam. He sent a heartfelt letter, apologizing for hurting me and taking full responsibility for his actions.
In my case of clergy sexual misconduct, the line between right and wrong felt fuzzy. Selfless love and selfish abuse came wrapped up together in the same pretty package, making healing and recovery extraordinarily difficult. I found The Hope of Survivors during one of the valleys of my recovery. I was at a low point and struggling with feelings of missing my abuser—which was complicated by guilt of knowing in my mind that it was wrong to miss him. The Hope of Survivors responded to me and validated my feelings, and reminded me that what Adam showed me was not true love. The Hope of Survivors Network helped show me that I am not alone in my journey. Others, unfortunately, share similar experiences. I feel my story has been validated and I have been encouraged to share my story with others—and hopefully help validate their experiences as well.
If you are interested in hearing more of my story, I would like to invite you to read my memoir At His Mercy: The True Story of a Victim’s Journey Through Clergy Sexual Misconduct as told by Elizabeth Myer. My book is available on Amazon, and all variety of locations as an e-book. Please also share it with others. Through my memoir, I am hoping to show the long-lasting effects that happen when boundaries are not upheld, and love and abuse are allowed to freely intermingle. It is so vitally important that people in position of power, and clergy in particular, honor and uphold boundaries, so that more women don’t end up with stories like mine.
God’s peace to you today and always.
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