|Real Freedom by N.J. (a pseudonym)|
Over the course of the last month I've finally found freedom.
Real freedom from shame and fear.
My abuse ended 1 year ago this month and it was after typing "affair with pastor" into Google that I stumbled onto the THOS website.
I sat frozen on my bed in shock that not only were there thousands of others like me around the world but that I wasn't in an affair... I was being abused.
I knew I was trapped and had been seeking a way out but I had no idea how to tell my husband or my church the brutal realities of what our pastor had done to me.
They already knew about him raping me as I lay numb recovering from a trauma induced seizure but how could I POSSIBLY tell them why I was at his home in the first place?!
How do I break the news to my husband that, although it was the only time our pastor had violated me that extremely, it wasn't the only time he touched me and that he had photos of me that he threatened to use to exploit me?!
Surely they would all turn their backs on me.
Here I was thinking my pastor was simply the derogatory term "friends with benefits" when, in fact, I was being manipulated and targeted from the day my pastor laid eyes on me for he "loved the way I carried myself."
I had been groomed for months before he struck. He had planted lies meticulously and I had even given him a script of who hated me, who the gossips were in my church, which women had powerful testimonies and how dysfunctional our leadership was.
He knew of the problems I was having in my marriage, had encouraged estrangement from my immediate family and knew the details of my childhood and teen abuse.
He knew things nobody on the planet knew outside of my husband.
I was fully ensnared in a weird counselling but sexual relationship with an unmarried pastor old enough to be my father and I saw no way out.
My old emails actually thanked him for his counselling and I told people how helpful it was (without telling them of the methods he used for counselling) since my seizures weren't happening as often anymore. The difference wasn't that I was healing but it was, in fact, that it was because NEW trauma was happening and my brain and body didn't have to shut down to protect me from past memories... it had its work cut out for it as it tried to protect me from new abuse!
I remember times where he would touch me and I would space out telling him I needed my husband. I called out his name with my eyes closed and he would say "it's okay, just pretend its him and not me. I don't mind." Looking back now, those times were likely minor seizures ( called absent seizures) but I'll never know for sure. Bottom line is I was being taken advantage of.
The convulsive tonic—clonic seizures came back and I had bruises from when I would fall and seize around town. My husband always lovingly carried me and even threw me over his shoulder on more than one occasion when a wheelchair wasnt available.
My abuser started to convince me that my husband was "too rough" with me and that he was actually abusive! Nothing could be farther from the truth and anybody who knew him could attest to that.
My husband saw a difference in my seizures. I would regain consciousness terrified and kicking and screaming instead of the peaceful progression into the postictal stage. I yelled for him not to touch me instead of asking for his assistance and he knew something wasn't right. He said I would cower and cover my breasts in fear when I was only half conscious and he suspected something had happened with my abuser when he caught him looking lustingly as he looked over me during the recovery of a seizure.
Another time he had walked in as my abuser jumped off me and he ordered my abuser to stay away from our family. The abuser did not listen and kept contacting me privately and arranging inappropriate visits with me.
Months later I was being provided with proper counseling by our amazing church conference and I finally had the courage to tell my husband there was more to the story. He had his suspicions but he waited as I slowly had the strength to tell him bits and pieces over the next couple months . Each time I said "what if ___ happened?" he would look me in the eye and say "I'm still here."
He started to speak to his own counselor and one time I walked by the door of the room as he spoke to him. I overheard him say "I have to trust that she is telling me everything but I just don't know. I hope this is it. Please let this be it." And I fell apart.
He was so broken and I couldn't do a thing to stop it.
Then it occured to me that I had no evidence. I had deleted most of the conversations I'd had with my pastor and they were so broken onto different social media platforms that I felt it was impossible to get a proper timeline even if I did get it back. I tried tracking down the backups on a few messaging services and it was all gone, encrypted and erased.
I felt I had only a couple options.
First I tried to get him to repent.
I told him to come to the church and tell the leadership what happened. That he would be forgiven and helped. He had already been asked to resign for reasons completely separate from our situation (all misrepresentation as it was found he had lied about his experience and how many times he was married) but I knew he desperately needed help.
I had finally come to terms with the fact that he should never be in leadership or ministry again but I still felt he had a chance for redemption if he got counselling for his own childhood abuse and his adult behaviours and could find a new relationship with Christ.
I cared. Perhaps too much. But I cared.
He was lost and I didn't want to see him cast aside and forgotten, even if I had no desire to have him in my life anymore.
The Hope of Survivors' website had suggestions for advice and counselling for pastors and their families, for churches, for husbands and for victims. I think I may have even directed him to the THOS website! All to no avail. I ended up upsetting the church leadership when they found out I had instructed him to repent to them and they eventually disciplined me for misrepresenting them. They were not interested in helping him and I didnt blame them. They also didn't feel it was their responsibility to get involved legally or through education and advocacy since he was no longer their employee.
My husband and abuse advocate tried to explain that he had groomed and manipulated me under their watch and that they hadn't done proper background checks but we were very hesitant to blame them completely since they weren't the abusers. They were showing signs of being incompetent but their actions weren't illegal.
So I had one more option to get evidence and repentance—meet up with my abuser and record our conversation.
First, I met with him in a hotel far from home. This had red flags going off for obvious reasons but I was desperate.
My plan was to record what he said and did but, due to technology issues and his ability to manipulate me, that meeting turned up void. Other than there being evidence of us meeting on hotel record, it didn't achieve much.
Then finally a month later I got in his car with him and hit record on my phone. He admitted to and discussed our relationship and problems with the church at great length. I was able to question him about the time when I recalled having a seizure and he raped me. He insisted I had consented despite being numb and defended his actions saying it was even biblical. He even rationalized his behaviour by saying any man who had looked at me had done worse in the eyes of God as he started listing off men in my church that he said he KNEW had lusted after me. He drove me home and I kept the recording locked away, terrified of even listening to it.
Then I finally had the nerve to let my husband listen to the recording.
Our whole marriage changed in that instant as I hit my knees bawling before him begging for forgiveness and giving him permission to leave me. He listened to the whole thing and bawled right along with me as the truth was overwhelmingly clear—I had been manipulated and abused.
I was right to repent to my husband for the deception I took part in, but he was freeing me from all responsibility. I'll never ever forget the moment I looked in his eyes and finally believed he wasn't going to leave me. He knew it all and he was still here. I had never known love like that outside of my Heavenly Father. He truly did love me as Christ loved his church!
We set up boundaries so that I was never out alone and I asked him to track my phone messages, location and calls. This allowed him full access to every area of my life and I knew that was necessary to finally break free from the trap I was in and rebuild trust.
The pastor started to work at a local department store and I left him one last handwritten letter saying I knew what happened to me, begging him to repent and that I was sorry for my involvement. My husband even called and emailed him saying he was willing to forgive him and get him the help he needed! We did our best to show him grace. To try to do everything we could before going to authorities.
We decided to tell our children why they suddenly needed to keep their distance from their ex pastor. It was important they heard it from us instead of anybody else. We told them a very PG kid-version of what happened and it hit them hard. Our oldest son, especially, was deeply affected by the news as he had helped vote the pastor in to his position and felt he had played a part in not protecting me. The fault was not his or anybody but the abuser's. He had come to deceive us and there was no doubt about that. It was our little girl, however, who inspired me to take action. She looked across the dinner table at me and innocently asked, "he will get a consequence right mommy? Doing bad things mean you get a consequence." I remember crying and saying "yes baby girl. He will get a consequence someday."
I decided then and there that I was going to report him to the police.
I HAD to ensure he would never hurt another person again. I owed it not only to my children but to other vulnerable people. There were signs all over the place that I wasn't his first victim and I certainly wouldn't be his last if I didnt speak up. He did not deserve to walk free and have nobody know of what he had done and God had put institutions in place to ensure consequences for illegal actions.
I started to research cases of clergy sexual abuse in Canada and the statistics haunted me. Even within our own church conference there were cases where pastors had done this exact same thing. Conviction without admission of guilt was very unlikely it seemed but I had to try. Everything in me felt it was the least I could do to protect other people. I HAD to be his last. Plain and simple.
So my abuse advocate flew in from out of town and accompanied my husband and I to the local police detachment where I gave a 3-page statement and was questioned for 3 hours along with providing the evidence I had. My abuser was arrested and charged within 6 hours of us leaving and we were already sitting in front of the church council telling them about the seriousness of his crimes (with limited detail) when we were updated about his arrest.
We later initiated a weekly prayer meeting at the church. Not to discuss our issues (we were very careful never to bring it up), but just to open the doors of the church to pray for the future of the congregation. To allow people to pray in every room of that building. For the release of strongholds. To partner together under God to seek wisdom and to repent privately where necessary. To hand the church back over to HIM as His church. The first few were well attended both in person and at a distance as people saw the need. We prayed through the room I had been groomed and other rooms where help was needed and God showed up. We felt the presence of the Holy Spirit in a way I had never experienced there. It was amazing.
But some congregants (who were not in attendance at any prayer meeting) had a problem with it being my husband and I who led it. So they actively campaigned against the prayer night and had the locks changed so we couldn't get into the building. We continued to meet in homes instead and saw God work amazing things out according to His plan as we had visions and sudden knowledge of things that we would not have known if God hadn't told us. Locked doors didnt stop a mighty God!
The dark side was that I endured spiritual attack. Horrible dark images and possession, angrily speaking in old languages I didn't understand and my husband could not pray in my presence without me running out of the room. But God broke through that darkness! The name of Jesus is strong enough to overcome even the most evil presence so we told those things to flee in HIS name and they had no choice but to obey.
The prayer meetings were eventually permitted again but a board member was asked to lead it instead. He is a wonderful man of integrity and wisdom with a very repentant heart and love for the Lord and the Church so we understood and appreciated him being chosen to lead these prayer meetings. To date, very few attend and the number is much higher for court dates but we have not given up attending to pray for redemption of the church body in hopes they will all turn to Him with a renewed faith.
The church was eventually notified of the arrest and charge and I offered to have my name mentioned as the victim so that the rumours would hopefully be put to rest. By letting my name be out there, it gave other women the nudge to tell me their stories of odd behaviours by my pastor plus several other women shared their painful stories from their pasts. It gave some of us a new understanding for one another and I excitedly bought more copies of Samantha Nelson's book "Reaching the Hurting" to distribute to these women in need.
My husband suggested he step down from his role on the church board to limit any rumours of conflict of interest and that started a whole new experience of pain and exploitation. Within weeks of him stepping down my abuser involved a couple members of the church to do his dirty work. These were the very people I had told him were the gossips and had vendettas against me due to my past so he knew exactly who to use to his advantage. They fell right into his trap when he gave them access to emails and photos from me that he now claimed were sent against his will. They did exactly what he wanted when they started to spread doubt about my story, use my past history of deceit and ungodly behaviours to cause confusion and they even told people I had suggested my husband was abusive in the conversations with my abuse. One lady even printed out the photos she had access to and threw them down in front of a group of men (and one lady) who were serving as church leadership. She called the provincial conference insisting I must be lying and showed up to every court date to observe what was happening.
When the leadership finally told us about these behaviours four months after they began, we had no choice but to leave the church. Our family simply wasn't safe in that environment and there was nothing being done to hold the gossips and exploiters accountable for their actions. Several women in the congregation started to ask that I stay quiet about my story because it reflected poorly on the unequipped church. We reported these new findings to the police and began a new investigation for possession and distribution of private photos without consent. The last number we heard was that 15 church attendees had been called in for questioning due to being exposed to these photos. We have no idea if they are still being circulated or being accessed online.
About a month before we were told of the photos, the Canadian Broadcast Corporation (CBC) did a story on my abuser and the situation at our church. Very little detail of my pain was shared and the focus was on how wonderfully the church and conference had handled the situation. I was never contacted for comment so my guess is that my name wasn't shared with the reporter. When I asked church leadership why they would speak to reporters without checking with me, the conference and interim pastor apologized instantly and sympathetically whereas others said, "well at least it shows the church to be proactive." It was clear that the focus was on the reputation and health of the church institution and not the well being of the victim(s).
Our last sunday there was perfectly orchestrated by God. There just was no other way to explain it.
My journal entry for that day said the following:
"Last service was this morning. We had plans to get in, say goodbye and get out. But it was far more beautiful than that. A pastor from the church we are visiting while court is ongoing was the guest speaker this morning (we didn't know that ahead of time). She spoke a powerful sermon about not being bitter, about not passing judgement, about how the process is necessary to make us better. So thankful it will be on the church website so we can listen to it again. Truly marvelous! We had stood up during announcements to briefly say we were leaving, thanking those who had supported us and informing them we would be back after court was all done. We were met with many smiles and affirming nods. The music was AMAZING including The Battle Belongs To The Lord, which had us bawling in praise. Our family anthem Blessed Be Your Name was sung, as was As The Deer, Your Love is Amazing and In Christ Alone. It was almost as if a perfect song list was privately coordinated. GOD IS BIGGER.
The Children's story was from the beloved bird book about casting our problems on somebody else and trying not to be the "bad egg." Perfect. ____ was service leader and he spoke about everything being about perspective. 10 degrees is the same in the spring or the fall... Its all about how we choose to see it and feel it. Again perfect. THEN.... the guest speaker called us to the front. I hesitated and shook my head. I was too afraid to be seen as an attention seeker. She then insisted our family come forward to be prayed over as we head into court and as we flee to seek refuge in another church. Well I couldn't believe it when almost the ENTIRE congregation came forward to pray over us. Wow. The support and prayerful send off was so special. I am broken and tender still but i am also in awe of how God has us in his tender hands carrying us to safety to a place he has prepared for us as our beloved church heals in their own time and way."
We found refuge in a new congregation down the street from our old church. Our whole row cried through the first 5 services we attended as it felt like we were in the middle of a divorce after 21 years in our home church. This new church had different worship styles, new routines, many new faces and it just wasn't home. We had told the leadership very limited information about why we were coming and they welcomed us with open arms. No pressure to explain, no need to jump into being involved in all the activities. Just rest. This was our water in the desert. We were here for "such a time as this." We knew the best was yet to come (a phrase God had put on our hearts over and over through this entire ordeal. )
Slowly but surely we started to feel at peace. Our voices started to ring out in song and our hands started to raise in praise again. We weren't being glared at and whispered about here. We were being cherished and served. When we told the leadership that my abuser was required to keep a certain legal distance from me, they didnt bat an eye. "Whatever you need to feel safe here." When I drilled them on their Safe Place policies they didn't tell me they were impossible to uphold, they again said, "whatever you need to feel safe here."
We went up for silent prayer on more than one occasion and we were not turned away. It was the most amazing feeling in the world when our kids stopped asking to return to our old church and we saw our little girl run to a new friend she had made and hold her hand through out the service. We were going to be okay.
The new church was right in the middle of hiring a new pastor and that was very triggering for us so we kept our distance a fair bit. I was naturally curious of their hiring process and I was blown away by the protocols and steps involved in calling somebody to leadership ministry in this conference. We had family members who were a part of this denomination and so it was really heart warming to see things from a new healthy and functional perspective.
The feeling of being free from shame started when we were at the family camp with our new church and my husband felt an overwhelming need to seek prayer for me from the male pastors at the retreat. I was terrified of these men coming near me but at the same time there was a gentle nudging of peace. My husband instructed them not to touch me as they prayed over me but just to pray for a breaking of strongholds. To be done with fear and shame. They prayed loudly and compassionately, some in tongues and some in tears for God gave them the words as they didnt know my story.
I was on the path to freedom already with proper counselling, the support of my AMAZING husband and my abuse advocate plus leaving my old church but this was different. I felt so at peace for the first time since my abuse. I cried with joy and felt the shame just slip off me like an old sackcloth. So much so that I got up the next morning to help lead worship when a singer wasn't feeling well suddenly. I hadn't done this in a church since before my abuse either as my abuser used my gift of singing against me. But I led along with a male pastor freely and my friends and family sobbed to see me so comfortable singing and worshipping again.
Then my husband and I were at the Hope & Healing Conference put on by The Hope of Survivors in Hebron, Kentucky, and heard the stories of other survivors, heard from the wife of an abusive pastor and then a male pastor and board member with beautiful integrity. They all had so much hope and joy like I was feeling and I KNEW those strongholds had finally been broken. Being able to hug and share with other survivors from the THOS private online group gave me so much joy. I didn't want to come home!
Then I was finally able to finish the last couple chapters of Samantha Nelson's book. Peace. I'm gonna be okay!
THEN for the first time since the abuse my husband noticed I was happy, singing and excited to enter the city limits of the town where the abuse happened and where the rumours are still circulating. I had so often felt dread and anxiety coming home but I really didn't this time. I felt strong and rejuvenated, ready to keep fighting the battle. For the first time I really felt no shame. I didn't care what was being said about me for I was secure in who I was in Christ.
I soon shared on my Facebook ,for the very first time, that I am a CSA survivor.
I am free.
God is good and the ministry of THOS has changed my life. No... it has SAVED my life.
[END OF STORY]
If you are a survivor of clergy sexual 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.