the Hope of Survivors

The Wolf by S.S.

I wasn’t seeing the pastor that abused me for counseling at the time of the abuse like so many other stories, but the ‘grooming’ started when he did counsel me on a few occasions a few months prior. He ‘caught me crying’ one day at church and insisted that I come to him for counseling. This upset me because I didn’t want to be counseled and I really didn’t know him that well.

I reluctantly went to counsel with him and told him about my crazy, over-volunteered-out schedule. I told him about my frustrations in discovering that both of my sons had ADHD and were failing in school. I shared my concern over family issues with my brother and I shared with him my fears when the doctors thought that my son might have a problem with a vein in his brain. We talked about my ministry experiences and the ones I had still wanted to try working in. He told me that I would make a good church planter or a great pastor’s wife should my husband ever decide to go into the ministry. He then would tell me all about himself and he would discuss his personal issues with me so much that I left our very few sessions feeling like I had counseled him more than he had counseled me.

During his supposed friendship to me between those stages of counseling and involvement, he was always talking to me about how bad the senior pastor of our church was and that made me not trust the senior pastor.

He was also always referring to women that he said he counseled in the past, not by name just in a generic sense, (although later on he did share names and details with me). He would tell me how awful it was that most husbands grow to see their wives as ‘pieces of furniture’ and that husbands stop being able to ‘see’ their wives. At first I couldn’t understand why he would tell me these things but before long I started to view my own marriage that way and was very disappointed in my husband and in my marriage. I began to not trust my husband.

It was about that time that this pastor also started talking to me for hours on the phone and in a matter of days I felt strange feelings for him that just a few days prior would never have occurred to me, in fact would have disgusted me because he is the same age as my father.

I should also explain that he had brought me under his wing in ministry and had established me in a very high leadership position at our church (in charge of a large part of the spiritual development classes program). When these feelings began, I was highly confused. The pastor told me that he felt this way about me during one of our phone conversations and then I told him that I was feeling strange, too. He then, within two days, started talking to me about marriage and divorcing our spouses and working together in ministry because that is what God wanted. I was always so confused, but somehow too intimidated to speak up about my confusion. I didn’t want to look naive or stupid to him (he was also just finishing up his dissertation for his Ph.D.). I would describe it as always being a day or two behind. He would keep rapidly progressing the relationship and I would be so confused that what he had said the day or two before now made perfect sense. I questioned the Biblical basis for how this could be God’s plan. He told me there was a theology principle of the ‘greater good’ in which God will allow pain to happen in order to bring about a greater good by using that pain to help prevent pain in others. He said that we were made for each other and that this kind of connection (on every level) only comes along once in a lifetime and that God wanted us to go through the pain of our marriages breaking up so that we could use it together to write a book called How to Find Forgiveness in an Unforgiving World and then go to different churches and teach their leaders how to deal with forgiveness issues of their members.

This man had also counseled my brother on occasion (who is not a member of the church), so he knew all my family history and how I never felt good enough or that I never did enough to make my dad proud of me. (Even though I was an all A student throughout school). The pastor always praised my work and told me he was ‘proud of me’.

The pastor knew about my history and hopes and dreams from counseling me on those few occasions and by the hours talking on the phone (for him to have a ‘sanity break’ from his dissertation work). He invited the phone calls, I had only been sending e-mails, the responses back would tell me to call. He would spend hours talking to me about his ‘travels of the world’ in the military. He would tell me all about his problems and his life and his stresses from day one of counseling all the way through.

Thinking back to the start of it, he would tell me in the beginning of our conversations that I was his best friend and how all he wanted to do was talk to me alone in person, but that it wasn’t allowed. They would never understand the way we are such good friends, he said. Then he told me how he wished we could just sit by the fire talking when he was awake in the night. Then he just wanted to walk along the water with me talking. Then he said how nice it would be to hold my hand. Then he told me how he just missed our friendship when he wasn’t talking to me. Then he told me how it would be nice to just be able to get away with me so we could be alone and talk and not have to worry about anyone else understanding how well we connected. Then it was I just want you by my side all the time. Then it was do you know what this is? (Of course I didn’t know at that point, but I wouldn’t admit that to him, I wasn’t about to look foolish). Then it was do you realize what this means? He said, “You know, kids on weekends, every other holiday.” I was FLOORED!! But, for some reason I wouldn’t tell him that.

I decided the next evening that I couldn’t do this to my family no matter how ‘wonderful’ it was going to be and so I gave him a list of ground rules that we would follow and he agreed to do anything I wanted and however I wanted to handle it was ok, but told me to destroy the list of rules I had made so that my husband didn’t find it. I had been reading a book about sin in our lives and how sin keeps us from a close walk with God, especially in our prayer life at that time and I found a page on ‘improper relationships’ and told him the page number and book so that he could look it up the next day at church in his own copy of the book in his office and then he would understand what we had to do and why. The next day at church was awful. I was so sure that everyone could see what was going on. I was shaking the whole time. He abided by my ‘rules’ to stay away from me, but left books for me in his church mailbox and in passing told me to get them. Then before I left he told me to read the same page number I had told him to read. I had been given 5 books, so I asked which one, but he just kept walking. When I got home I looked at each one expecting the contents to be either about improper relationships (or spiritual gifts because I had previously asked him for that information). In the last book of the stack on page 40, he had written, “I love you.” When I read those words the emotion inside welled up and then flowed over. I had been trying so hard to put all the feelings aside. I was so sure that they would go away so we could refocus on the ministry work we were doing at church instead of each other. What flowed over were feelings of disbelief, anger, rage, an overwhelming defeat, excitement, and finally ‘love’. I could no longer fight what was inside.

My husband who had been away on a weekend trip came home to find a much different, shut down wife. He could tell right away that something wasn’t right. He asked questions; probed farther, but the farther he probed the angrier I got at him and the more I protected what I believed God wanted me to do. (We separated, and then later filed for divorce).

By the next day I had accepted that it was inevitable for us to be together. The pastor and I talked about going away together. He chose Gatlinburg because he, in prior conversations, had already told me about how he had gone there once by himself for some solitude and he wanted to take me there to show me the beauty of it. He said he knew that I could appreciate the beauty of the land like he could. He talked about where to stay. I suggested camping, the idea of a tent came next and then he got bold enough to talk about spending all day in the tent alone in the rain. Then the next time we talked it was what we can do in the tent in the rain. (Again a shocker, but I went along with it. I wouldn’t say anything against it; I didn’t want to look immature and inexperienced.) After that it seemed exciting to talk about Gatlinburg and it would be the thing we would talk about when things got overwhelming, we would talk about him just coming and picking me up in his truck and taking me away from everything.

I was to speak at a women’s conference at our church that following weekend and so I asked the pastor to drop off some papers at my house later that week and was still confused about whether this was all real or some crazy dream. I decided that I would allow him to kiss me, (Oh, how stupid I was!) But I thought if I kissed him I would know whether this was a fantasy or a reality. When he arrived there was no small talk and he kissed me all right, but not the peck on the lips that I had intended! I was grossed out and didn’t know how to tell this man that kissing him was like kissing ‘an old man’. It was awful. He tried to kiss me again and when I resisted he turned me around to face a large mirror in my living room and told me to look at us. I tried, but I couldn’t, it wasn’t right. I desperately wanted to tell him that this was all wrong, but I couldn’t hurt my closest friend with those words when he felt so deeply for me. He bent his head and told me by my ear that he would take care of me. Again confused, my initial reaction was a feeling of, ‘is my house that bad that I appear that I need to be taken care of’ and then I thought, ‘does he think my marriage and husband are that bad that I need rescuing?’ Suddenly an emotion I still cannot describe except for maybe a breakdown of all the years I hadn’t felt or allowed myself to feel taken care of by my father just overcame me and I melted. I don’t know what happened, but it was just like reading ‘I love you’ in that book had been, it changed everything. He kissed me again and this time it was different. He wasn’t any different, I was. I was receptive and the next thing I know I’m being carried to the couch and he was on top of me with his hand up my shirt and going further and further in an ‘un-pastor-like’ way. I remembered asking myself just how far was he going to go and how far was I going to let him go, but I just couldn’t say anything. I didn’t want to look like a young naive girl. I thought he knew what was best and so I stopped questioning. He didn’t push all the way for which I was thankful, I’m not sure what I would have done and was glad I didn’t have to find out.

From that day on we had a ‘relationship’. We were to be together and just had to cover everything up until my divorce went through and his did as well, (although he never did file for one), and he got a good job outside of the church. He told me to practice writing my “L’s” for when my name changed, (I actually thought this was silly, but started signing things to him in the initials “sl.”) He acted like the gentleman, always asking how I felt and telling me he would do things my way. At times alone he would push a bit farther and farther physically each time but then always backing off and telling me that we needed to do this the right way and wait for marriage. With my divorce not even filed at this point that was going to be a long time. He went to my mother’s home and confessed his love for me to her. He told her how much he desired to take care of me and that while we knew that it would be a difficult situation to be accepted, we would make it work because God wanted us to do it and because we were so much in love that our ages didn’t matter. My mom became my only confidant other than the pastor, but she was swindled and manipulated too, and got caught up in the ‘love story’—as the pastor kept insisting it was.

Pretty soon the waiting seemed too long and the decision was made not to wait on the physical end of things. When I got to his home that day I was so sick! I felt awful, somewhere inside I knew this wasn’t right, but my emotion was overriding everything and we went upstairs to the guest room, where to my surprise he was over-prepared. He had a sheet placed over the top of the made bed. After it was over, he directed me to the bathroom where he had towels placed by the sink waiting for me.

Looking back I should have seen these things and ran, but I figured that he was so worried that his wife would find out and be hurt (he had told me from the beginning that they were just co-existing for the sake of his job, but he still didn’t want to hurt her with the knowledge of our relationship before it was the right time). I trusted, I pushed the questions away and I allowed myself to only see the good and give him the benefit of the doubt.

After that day, he was never the same. He went farther and farther away from the friend that I had fallen for. He showed anger like I had never seen, a violent streak (no, he never hit me, but did threaten to beat the sh** out of my husband once because my husband had hired a private detective to follow both of us and then later canceled before anything was done. A few weeks later, when the pastor found out that the investigator had also had his information, he threatened my husband in a violent tone I can’t forget.

Somehow I always went back to him, it didn’t matter that he was so awful and didn‘t listen to me anymore. He got the worst with me when he separated from his wife and she was moving out. I don’t think he really ever expected her to do that. He flipped out and was crazed in my opinion. He spent so much time with his wife on the phone and at dinners and hardly any time with me except for ‘those’ visits and I began to feel what I never, never wanted to feel in my entire life, like ‘the other woman,’ an ‘adulteress’ and alone. I couldn’t go back to my husband, how would he ever want me when he learned the truth? I would cry when I saw my husband and I would say over and over again “I just want to be loved.” I learned to equate physical intimacy with love because it was all the pastor gave me. I was clinging to the thread of him turning back into the sweet caring man I fell for. I never saw that man in him again. I believe now that he never really existed. It is a shame because that man could have done so much for God and his kingdom and instead he chooses to use it for his own selfish power-hungry needs and allows Satan to be his source of strength.

My husband and I got back together when I had emotionally given up and I had asked God to take my life and make it into something, anything that could be used by Him again because if He couldn’t use it then it wasn’t worth living. I surrendered all. I called my husband crying in the middle of the night and he came home, talking to me on the phone the whole way. He asked me to tell him everything. He demanded I tell him the truth. He just kept asking me ‘was it physical’? I told him. He already knew. This had all been excruciating for him to endure especially in light of the fact that the pastor had been counseling my husband on how to get me back and how to hang in there until I came back around because ‘he didn’t think I would go through with the divorce’. It sickens me that a man could steal another man’s wife and the whole while counsel him on how to get her back. Through counseling and support groups my husband had been in while separated, he was able to stay with me and showed a heart that must truly mirror God’s own. My husband saw this as the abuse it was long before anyone else saw it as such. He explained it to me once. He said, “Think about our daughter, (she’s 5). She looks up to me. She needs me. She depends on me. If I tell her to do something or that something is right to do, she will do it because she trusts me completely. Even if everything else tells her that it is wrong, she still trusts me to be the one telling her the truth.” He told me that it was no different between a pastor and a congregant, no matter how elevated in church leadership the congregant is, if he is a pastor and especially if he is older or perceived as wiser, the congregant will trust and follow the leadership of the pastor who is so close to her. She would trust him completely. My husband is so wise. Looking back, that is exactly what I had done.

There are so many details it would take me weeks to get them all down. The ending is what really matters and that is that my family is still whole, thanks to my husband who had the courage to go to the senior pastor and tell him everything I had confessed to him. He knew that I had asked the pastor to come to a counseling session of mine and so he told the senior pastor the place and time to prove he was telling the truth. The senior pastor also did some investigating and found out that the exact same scenario had been discovered at his last church, as well as at least one other incident, although I’m sure there may be others, maybe even ones that were going on at the same time as he was with.

My husband and senior pastor caught me at home after that counseling appointment. I had stopped briefly to gather clothes and then was going to run out and go to my mom’s to stay. I was so scared and confused. I had promised the pastor that I wouldn’t tell anyone. I didn’t want him to lose his job because of me. My husband had to literally had to chase me down because I tried to run away so I wouldn’t have to talk to them. They told me he’d done this before and I just started screaming ‘no!’ They took me inside and the senior pastor told me what he had found out. He left me with the phone numbers so I could talk to them myself. I left to go to my mother’s home and called one of the numbers on the way. Without saying anything other than ‘could you please tell me about --’, I was told my exact story, right down to a weekend away that the abusing pastor had taken to Gatlinburg with a woman from his previous church. I was devastated, and sickened. I started remembering little things that he had told me, like in the beginning he said that we were both innocent in this because we never intended any of it, and yet later he admitted that he often would notice and look at me at church. I remembered how he told me that he would always know where to find me even years from now and how if we ever left our spouses he would find me because I belong with him. Things like that began to scare me. I realized that he needed to be stopped before he could hurt someone else.

I told as many people as would listen. I couldn’t stop telling. I wanted everyone to know what he was doing, but it also was a way to punish myself for what I had done. It was also a way to release all the secrets that I had kept for him for so long, but wanted so desperately for others to know. I wanted to tell the whole church but for my protection the senior pastor refused that request. The abusing pastor was fired and they have talked about taking his license away, but he is still ordained at the time I am writing this, as it was another church that ordained him. And while the ordaining church knows all about what happened here and there, they are ‘still thinking about’ whether to revoke his ordination or not. That is abhorrent, but last I heard they needed to talk to him first even though they know all about the investigation and proof obtained by my church, to determine what they will do. I guess they don’t need to talk to me—I wasn’t asked.

It is funny that every time I tell this story it comes out in different forms. The content, details and events don’t change, just the ones that come to mind and seem the most important to share. I suppose someday maybe I will take the time to compile them all together and create my own book to share with the world of women I am just coming to realize share in this pain with me. Women who, like me, struggle to overcome the loss of a person that created himself to be their whole world all the while struggling to overcome the disbelief that this person never really existed. To deal with the grief of falling for and being manipulated by someone they thought radiated God’s love, not Satan’s lust. To deal with the shaming glances from those not educated about the abuse that it was. To draw closer to God instead of farther away. To mend fences with people they lied to, people they disassociated themselves from, and family relationships, (including marriages), damaged to the point of disrepair.

I refuse to give up hope. I refuse to go down. I refuse to let this one man steal anything more from me. I choose to have faith in the future, I choose to fight back, and I choose to take back my life and everything in it that belongs to me and not to him any longer! I have been as close to hell as I ever want to be, I have been to the brink of contemplating taking my life, I have cried myself to sleep more times than I thought imaginable, and I have watched my husband and children suffer from the torture of being betrayed by someone they trusted and by seeing their family almost torn apart for no reason other than one man’s lustful greed.

I will rely on God and his Grace and Comfort to get me through, and I thank God that I have my husband, who truly is my world, and understanding church friends and family there to give me comfort as well. I know how truly blessed I am to have those things. Together, with God’s help, my family will make it and be stronger for it.

[END OF STORY]

If you are a survivor of pastoral 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