the Hope of Survivors

Not A Relationship by Sheila

Not A Relationship - Clergy Sexual AbuseWhen I was 19 years old, I had an extremely confusing and difficult experience. I have always described what happened to me as me being in ‘an inappropriate relationship with a man 17 years older than me’—and I carried a measure of shame and embarrassment over this for 25 years. However, in December of 2010, God revealed the truth and I saw things as they really were... I was not ‘in a relationship’ with a man 17 years older than me—I was sexually molested by the high-teen Sunday school teacher at my church. He sought out the most vulnerable, emotionally needy person that he could find, and he used his position of authority, trust, and endorsement by the church to manipulate me and take advantage of me, to exploit my vulnerability and to use me for his sexual amusement and excitement. When the full weight of that fact hit me—I was completely undone.

Of course, there were things that made me vulnerable to this process. My home life was quite dysfunctional; I am the youngest of four, and knew my whole life that my mother never planned a fourth child. My parents were both quite emotionally disconnected from me and, looking back, I see my emotional neediness even as a young child. My mother was a pretty heavy drinker and on medication for depression for years, and often threatened to leave when us kids got on her nerves. My father was very angry and would often throw fits of rage, very often while driving. I very rarely felt his approval, and never felt his love. As well, there was a strange, highly sexualized vibe in the home. Once my brothers were older, my mother would buy ‘all the men’ a Playboy calendar every year for their Christmas stocking. One of my brothers was addicted to porn, with literally STACKS of magazines in his room, three to four feet deep. This brother, who was seven years older than me, started sexually abusing me when I was perhaps around 10 or 11. One of the incidents involved a friend of his, where they came into my room after a night of drinking and I awoke to someone molesting me.

My mom had an aneurysm in her brain when I was 14. After spending six months in the hospital, she returned home but was brain damaged, and she really ceased functioning as a wife and mother. At this time, her drinking escalated significantly and, over the next five years, she had quite a few serious medical issues which culminated in her death when I was 19.

Not long before Mom died, when I was almost 19, I moved to a small city about 45 minutes from home to take a course at the college, and started attending the Pentecostal church there. That was where I met George*, a 35-year-old divorced man who played the guitar and had an amazing singing voice. He had also just moved into town, and the church was very excited to have someone with his talents around; there were his obvious musical abilities, but he also had been a pastor. His credentials had been revoked when his marriage dissolved, but really, he was a pastor except for that ‘technicality’ of having no credentials. He very soon was handed the high-teen Sunday school class. He was exceptionally charismatic and charming, and all the single women his age were throwing themselves at his feet. However, curiously, he was more interested in hanging around with me—a naïve 19-year-old girl who had a hole in her heart big enough to drive a truck through, that was desperately looking for the love, acceptance, and approval that she never really had growing up. He saw that neon ‘needy’ sign on my forehead and he instigated a friendship with me.

The initial point of contact was music; as mentioned, George played the guitar and had a beautiful voice, and I play the piano and sing as well, but nothing like him. There were many MANY opportunities to be alone together in this context, and soon we were quite a team when it came to special music at church. From this platform developed a close, intimate friendship where we could talk about anything, and where he was, at first, in a ‘big brother-helper’ kind of role. Right from the beginning it was inappropriate, but I didn’t (couldn’t) recognize that. He would confide in me about his pain over his failed marriage, and not being able to see his boys, and also would share how frustrated he was sexually, and how hard it was to know that he was not able to remarry (toeing the denomination’s line regarding divorce and remarriage at the time). He made no attempts to hide the fact that he was very attracted to me, and would express it often. Every conversation was laced with sexual innuendo and flirting, and he took wicked pleasure in making me blush. I don’t remember when or how, but the first physical contact was him massaging my back and neck, and the massages very quickly turned sensual and were not confined to my back and neck. At first it was fun and exciting—to have someone as handsome and kind as him showing such interest in me, and at the very beginning the massages and other touches were quite thrilling.

I sought him out because of how special he made me feel; he would smile a smile that would light up the room when he saw me, and was so caring. He complimented every aspect of me—my looks, my body, my musical abilities—and it was like a cool, refreshing rain to a parched desert. However, the relationship progressed quite quickly as he pushed it further and further on an intimacy level both emotionally and physically. I just wanted someone to love me, to make me feel worth something... but soon, on a subconscious level, I knew that for me to have his “love” and “acceptance” there was a price I had to pay.

He always knew where I was staying, and would just show up late at night, parking a few blocks away and walking to avoid detection. I never invited him—but I never told him not to come either, nor did I send him away. As things progressed, he was always the initiator/instigator of any physical contact and I would basically not react; I was frozen. He became the pursuer—and I was powerless. I didn’t like the direction things always ended up going in, but I didn’t even know what to say, let alone how to say it. I didn’t want to reject him, because there was way too much at stake; I was a gaping pit of emotional starvation for attention, and I could not lose him. So it became an odd dance; I was happy to see him and spend time with him, but when he would start massaging/ fondling/pushing the envelope, the further it went the less responsive I became. Mom had always said, “You need to be a virgin when you get married,” and I was a good Pentecostal girl, so I believed that as well. However, due to my childhood experiences and the lack of any meaningful dialogue about things of a sexual nature, I had very poor boundaries, so really had no way of drawing the line anywhere except at the very last stop before things went TOO far. I had broken up with my previous boyfriend (Thomas*) because of this very issue. Therefore, as George pushed things further, I would just shut down. I have no idea why he never pushed past my lack of response and raped me, because at one point, he said “Thomas should have raped you, because then you wouldn't be so hung up sexually.” However, he never took things to that point. Looking back, that was a small mercy in the midst of it all.

The only way I can describe how it was is I think he saw himself as a ‘sex therapist’, and was ‘helping’ me with this area of my life—like he wanted to give me the gift of being free from the hang-ups that he had diagnosed me with. There were times I really wondered what he was getting out of all of this, because his attention was always focused on me. I didn’t give back anything physically to him ever, and he never requested anything. We actually never even kissed; it truly was like he was trying to give me the gift of sexual ecstasy, but I wasn’t being very responsive.

My living situation changed and I got a roommate, which had a significant effect on things. I just remember things getting awkward, and as he no longer was free to advance my ‘therapy’, well—there was really nothing there. After being in my life for about 18 months, he just moved away. I don’t really know why, because we never talked about it. He did seem hurt, so perhaps he felt I chose a roommate over him? Regardless, he just withdrew his affection and left. I really thought that I loved him, although I didn’t get why he always had to have his hands up my shirt. I called him one evening, feeling lonely and sorry for myself. He told me that if I moved there we could live together, but he wouldn't marry me—supposedly because he thought I could do better. I didn’t see how I was going to move anywhere, and so that was it.

Looking back, I see things SO much differently. He really was a deadbeat; he went from place to place housesitting or staying in someone’s empty room—taking advantage of the caring and generosity of the congregation. He had very few real-world skills so could only find odd-job type work and never had a lot of money. He really couldn’t relate to women on any other level except sexually; he was often flirtatious with married women. At one point, two fellows in the church lodged a complaint about him. One was a friend of mine who had let George crash at his house for a while and this was when things with me really took off. They went to the pastor and told him that George was (in my friend’s words) a wolf in sheep's clothing. I don't know specifically what they discussed, but there was never any follow-up on it that I was aware of, and no questions were asked of me. Our “relationship” was a secret; we never talked about it, but it was understood that other people wouldn’t ‘get it’ so we needed to not act like we were a couple. Therefore, much of the time we spent together was secret get-togethers late at night and stolen moments in obscure places... which all added to the tension and also the guilt, shame, and confusion that I felt. 

I have no idea where he is, if he’s alive or dead, or if he has ever been brought to justice for being a predator. I would be very surprised if I am the only one that he abused. I know that the police charged him with molesting a stepdaughter four or five years later (he remarried a few years after he moved away), but he was not convicted. I have not filed any kind of official complaint, and don’t even know where to start to do that—or if I wish to. Thankfully, this experience did not cause me to turn my back on the church. There was a brief time during the George scenario where I was pretty disillusioned and probably would’ve dropped out of church if I hadn’t been involved in the music ministry. However, because of the nature of the abuse and my age, his role at church, and my lack of any attempt at confrontation or resolution, I never really associated this experience with “the church”. Indeed, it was only in 2010 that I saw it for the egregious abuse that it was. It was at a woman’s retreat through the church where I entered into the most excruciating, remarkable, and ultimately freeing journey of healing that I ever could have imagined. I am so very grateful that I didn’t blame the church, because it has been the church, church programs, a pastoral counsellor, a Christian psychologist, and the loving support of friends at church that God has used to heal these wounds from my past. 

About two years along in my healing journey I was searching on the internet for someone—anyone—who might be able to relate to what I had been through, and I first found a website called Tamar’s Voice. When it explained on the front page what clergy abuse was—I cried. I had never heard that term before, and I can’t describe how it felt to know that there was a name for what had happened to me. A few months later I discovered The Hope of Survivors website, and realized they had a Canadian liaison! I contacted her by email, and discovered she not only lives in the same province as me, but in the same city as well! We have met for coffee a few times, and it has been so incredibly helpful to have someone who KNOWS what this is all about, and not just one person—but a whole community. The website has so many stories and resources and it truly is a lifeline to those of us who desperately need HOPE while we are frantically trying to survive and recover and heal. 

I absolutely love Jeremiah 29:11, which says, “For I know the plans I have for you,” declares the Lord, “plans to prosper you and not to harm you, plans to give you hope and a future.” God is trustworthy, and will bring total healing. He draws near to the broken hearted, he will replace beauty for ashes, and he will finish that which he starts. He wants you to know that he was there when you were abused. His heart was broken by the travesty that was inflicted on you, and he wept. He longs to redeem the hurt and pain, to restore you to wholeness, and to surround you with his love. The healing process for me was excruciating, yes. It took courage and trust, yes. Writing this out, going into all these details has been very painful, yes. But Abba Father has been and continues to be so very real, so present, and is closer than my very breath. He is trustworthy.

*Pseudonyms

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If you are a survivor of clergy abuse, we would love to hear your story and possibly make it available on this web site for others to read and renew their hope. You can use a pseudonym if you choose and rest assured that all personal information will be kept private and strictly confidential. Please contact us.

Please note: We do not necessarily agree with or endorse all the information contained in the survivor’s stories. We do, however, feel they have some valuable information that could be useful to you in your recovery. It helps to know you’re not alone, that others have shared your pain and have healed, by the grace of God, in their own time and way.

The LORD is nigh unto them that are of a broken heart...Psalms 34:18