So far, I’ve written about my stepdad’s difficulties with church that have arisen because of his toxic religious upbringing, his adoptive mother’s unhealthy beliefs, and issues with United Pentecostal Church family members. Now, I’d like to focus on the positive – a few people who have been instrumental in helping him start to break out from the spiritual abuse.
The first person who played a major role was Rev. Laura, the then-rector of the church we started attending when we moved back from Houston. Jon had never dealt with a female clergy member from a mainline church before, so this was a new experience for him. However, his friendship with Laura turned out to be good for him, and he actually started attending services from time to time, although his level of participation at this time was low. There was just too much stuff going on during this time with the UPC folks that it was hindering his progress.
Around the time Laura accepted a call at another congregation, things were starting to come to a head with the frustrating religious differences between him and the UPC family members. The experience of having a clergy member go to another church after a tenure of about 12 years (she had been at our church for close to ten when we started going) was new and took some adjustment. His experience with previous Baptist congregations, for example, had involved pastors with such long tenures that the congregations had more or less been shaped into the pastor’s image.
Our most recent rector, Fr. Les, arrived about five years ago, and he and Jon hit it off right off the bat. Even though he’s still gone slowly about getting involved with church stuff, I think Les has been a very positive influence on him, and I’ve noticed some subtle positive changes in Jon’s outlook during the time Les, who is now at a church in another state, was in charge. He’s actually given formally joining serious consideration, which is a major step. However, he’s also aware of and grateful for the fact that membership is not an absolute requirement to be fully welcome.
A few other good friends from church have also had a positive influence on him. By making him feel welcome, without a hidden agenda, he now knows that you can make real friends in a church setting. The fact that people at our church come from various backgrounds and have an assortment of interests outside the church has made a good impression. With the people in his family that were involved in the UPC and other groups, everything was all about goings on at the church, all the time. I think knowledge that the body of Christ is about the people, rather than where they meet, has been refreshing for him.
This has been most obvious when Les visited him in the hospital both when he was an inpatient and when he was having outpatient surgery. Being able to receive communion and the laying on of hands/anointing with oil without being a formal member has helped him be able to approach his involvement on his own terms. Knowing that he can participate as much or as little in the life of the congregation as he wants has made him more willing to be a part of things.
This part of the story is still ongoing, but I have every reason to believe he’ll continue to recover from the toxic beliefs he was exposed to growing up. With God, all things are possible! Please keep Jon, my mother and I in your continued prayers.