The last two weeks have been heavy, I felt so much sadness I was almost numb. For me that can come with the desire to numb, but I’ve been working on staying present in my pain this year. I’m familiar with the scripture in Ecclesiastes 3 that tells us there is a season for everything under the sun: A time to weep, and a time to laugh; a time to mourn, and a time to dance. But, the faith tradition I’m familiar with tends to fly through the grief and mourning seasons and return quickly to the laughing and joy. My prayer has been that we resist the urge to fly through this season. We’re seeing quite a reckoning happen around us within the faith many of us ascribe to, the matters at willow are just one part of that.
For me, these hit closest to home. I found myself earlier this week weeping over what I read in the recent NYT article. It began as I cried for Pat and how difficult it must have been for her to carry for all those years. I can imagine the false narratives she must have dealt with regarding damage to the church, loyalty and betrayal. I’m sure she has paid the price for Bill’s abuse in ways none of us can imagine. I felt the weight of what that story means about a church and a leader that has influenced how most of us do church. I felt the weight personally, as I thought about the precarious situations Bill invited me into. At times, I feared backlash when I declined his invitations, because he was my boss and not an easy person to say no to.
More than that I couldn’t get past how her story displayed the calculated, predatory behavior I experienced. That we’ve now read multiple accounts of. And his blatant disregard for the damage of it. I’m sad for everyone who learned about this duplicitous life of their pastor. I’m distraught for how this reflects on the Gospel of Jesus. For many pastors I work with who are asking what this means for them as they and their ministries were impacted by Bill in profound ways. It also made me sad for Bill in many ways- that nobody loved him enough to hold him accountable all these years. That he hasn’t experienced the fullness of freedom that comes with living in the light. My heart breaks for Bill’s family.
I found myself grieved for the ever-damaging pendulum swing of church leadership. A swing that will now impact how our churches are led and governed. In situations like this we often see the response swing too far, likely leading to elder boards wanting full power and control, leaving pastors without the appropriate authority to lead their churches. It was after all a misinformed definition of power in the church that led to this. A pendulum swing that will also likely lead to enforcing more rules and regulations for how men and women engage- bringing more consequences to this already damaging situation. Consequences that can unintentionally sideline more women and could further hold our churches back from seeing their full redemptive potential.
My prayer is that we won’t rush past the mourning season. That each of us as congregants, leaders, pastors and Christ followers will allow ourselves to feel the weight of this reality. We read about mourning throughout the Bible, described as the manifestation of sorrow and grief over the loss, by death or otherwise, of a relative, a friend, an honored leader or prophet. There are different rituals to the mourning: shaving heads, tearing clothes, weeping for days. My practices lately have been to try to name my feelings and to hold space for people I’m closest to as they do the same. I’m hopeful the feeling and processing will prepare me to usher in a new season- in God’s timing. But not without learnings from this one. Throughout my story I’ve seen God do incredible healing, I’m certain He can usher that same healing in if we allow ourselves to be broken in ways we need to now.
The reason the mourning feels so important for all of us to sit in, to grapple with, is because I believe the ushering in of God’s Kingdom invites our participation. Mourning encourages us to seek God’s heart, to allow our hearts to break as His does so that we find the conviction and the passion to help mend what has been broken. We read in Revelation – about the Lord making everything new, actively. I believe we are seeing new ways that His Kingdom has the potential to break in around us. As light continues to penetrate darkness. I fear if we respond with the quick fix- more rules- we will rebuild the regulatory ways of the religious people in Jesus’ time. The very rules Christ died to abolish. Christ’s invitation to His followers is to partner with Him in establishing the Kingdom He came to bring. If we skip to dancing and joy instead of sitting in the mourning for as long as He wants to shape us, we might miss His invitation to shape the world around us.
I heard a voice thunder from the Throne: “Look! Look! God has moved into the neighborhood, making his home with men and women! They’re his people, he’s their God. He’ll wipe every tear from their eyes. Death is gone for good—tears gone, crying gone, pain gone—all the first order of things gone.” The Enthroned continued, “Look! I’m making everything new. Write it all down—each word dependable and accurate.” Revelation 21:4-5 (MSG)