Thursday, August 8, 2013

The Jeremiah Burden, Part Five

  At first, it seemed things might actually improve.  Daniel was told an assistant would be hired to handle the administrative side of things to free up his time.  His budget was increased to help make up
for the full time video technician that he no longer had.  Daniel had been told to take days off (there had been one stretch there of a straight three weeks with no days off) and so he began to.  We even got together with Tim and Joan Shoeman, and outlined our situation as clearly as we could.  They both agreed that Daniel's work situation had been horrendous.  But Tim said, "It's actually much better than it used to be," and their best advice was:  "Wait.  Be patient.  Change takes time."

  Pastor Dean had now left, meaning that Daniel only had three bosses to interact with.  Taking Dean's place temporarily over the finances was Pastor Chase Bowler, the former missionary.  Pastor Chase didn't seem to like the fact that Daniel's budget had been increased, and that now there were set days that he would not be at the church office.  Pastor Gavin had decreed that video requests would need to be approved first by Pastor Cody before being passed on to Daniel.  This demand was apparently seen as excessive by some.  After all, everyone in the network was overworked.  Who'd  this new video guy think he was, anyway?

   I am surmising here somewhat, of course.  I do not know what the pastors of the Network were
thinking.  I can only interpret based on their interactions with us, the snide remarks that began at this time, and the outright undermining of Daniel's job responsibilities by Pastor Chase.   The pressure on our family increased.  As much as we tried to keep the stress from our children, the situation was affecting my two year old son.  He'd developed a nervous habit of digging in his belly-button with a finger.  He was doing it so much that his little belly-button would get red and sore.  His sister, my 1 year old, figured that this was the thing to do, so she had started doing it also.  One warm day in spring, I took the two of them outside to pick dandelions.  The passing tractors were treated to the sight of two toddlers, both with shirts up, digging in their belly-buttons with a finger.  It would have been funny, if it hadn't made me cry so much.

  It now became clear that Ned and Pastor Chase worked very well together.  Ned held a unique position of control in the Network.  In a land where (shockingly) there was still an incredible amount of ignorance regarding technology and the internet, the shut-down of one campus's computer system meant chaos for that campus's pastor.  And if Ned didn't like the way he had been treated at one time or another, he might find it "challenging" to get that particular campus back online again.  So to prevent this kind of thing, Ned was courted by the campus pastors, and to his face at least, they treated him with the utmost respect.  His computer knowledge, also, was considered vast and superior (which it likely was, in their neighborhood).  And so, this middling to sub-par technology man with a chip on his shoulder against Daniel, had been given the control to make life hell for any campus pastor he chose.  And now that the responsibilities were to be handed off to Daniel, if anything slipped, Ned managed to make it "that new video guy's" fault, rather than his own.  But in spite of all this, we had learned that Ned was not the issue, really.  Ned served Chase.  Pastor Chase empowered Ned every step of the way.  The real Oz behind the curtain in all of these dealings, was the former missionary turned pastor.  One meeting that Daniel had with Chase illuminated this very clearly.

  "Can we admit that you are under-mining my job here?"  Daniel asked the man.

  "Yep," Chase answered.  "And I will continue to go to Ned to get what I want done.  Because he does exactly what I ask."

  In desperation, Daniel again went to Pastor Gavin.

  "We'll sit down and have a talk together, you, me and Chase," was Gavin's response, "I really don't believe that Pastor Chase intends to undermine you."

  "He admitted that he did," was Daniel's answer.  "And I don't really think you intend to do anything."

  It was shortly after this, that the elders (including Tim Shoeman whom we had kept aware of all that was transpiring with Ned and Chase and Gavin) rubber-stamped Pastors Gavin and Chase as the men to fill the roles of New Lead Pastor and New Executive Pastor "for an interim".

  And there were other discoveries.   I had joined a local exercise group and one of the women there was rather informed on the inner workings of Crossway.  Closely connected with one of the elders, she told me that Pastor Ken's infidelity of the summer before was not his first slide into sexual immorality.  Apparently, he had been found in an "emotional affair" in the past and the discovery had been brought to the elders.  At that time, they had basically given him a "hand-slapping", but the issue had not been brought to the church body and there had been no real consequences.  (We later had this information confirmed by a local pastor).  This was bad enough to learn, but on top of it, this same lady told me that when Ken's recent issue had been brought before the elders, they did not want to remove him then, either.  The only reason that Pastor Ken had been removed at all was because one man, Ken's former mentor and a pastor of another church, stepped in and said, "You cannot allow him to continue pastoring.  He must be removed."

  A few days after this revelation, something happened at the office with a young friend of ours who we had worked with both in Colorado and here in Freeport.  Nick was Pastor Dean's son and he had moved out to the Freeport area shortly before we ourselves had, to work with Karl Barker, the Worship Pastor.  Nick had met a lovely young woman in Freeport, was shortly to be married and was preparing to move out of the state with his new bride.  In preparation of this event, he was getting things in order and had alerted the staff to his last day of work. 

  On this day, Daniel came home, more frustrated than I had seen him in many days.  "This place is such a crock!   I can't believe Chase Bowler!"

 Apparently, there was a facet of the employee contract that involved a  health benefit payment that could be utilized in any way that the employee chose.  A simple receipt with the amount stipulated in the employee contract, would mean that the church would cover it.  But in Nick's case, he had brought in his receipt only to discover that Chase Bowler was refusing to abide by the church's written policy.

  "Monetarily, it's not that big an amount, Babe.  But it's just the fact, that this is in the employee contract, so it doesn't matter if Chase doesn't agree with it.  Yet, he's okay with reneging, which is illegal.  But he doesn't care.  These are the kind of men we're dealing with.  They are completely lawless."

  "Will Nick take it to court?" I asked.

  "No.  He got upset at Chase, I guess, and told him straight up that it was illegal, and you know what Chase said?  He told him, 'The only reason you ever got this job in the first place was because your dad worked here'!"

  "I can't believe he said that!  It's not true, is it?"

  "No, it's not!  Nick knows his stuff.  Heck, he's the only one who can run the audio here!  But the point is, Babe, I think we've got to resign ourselves to leaving.  Chase doesn't like me and he's getting more power in the network.  He's completely lawless.  I've got to start looking for another job.  I'm sorry about the house.  They've pretty much screwed us there.  I hope we can sell it.  But we're not staying here under Chase Bowler."

  "What about Pastor Gavin?  Do you think he knows?"

  "Gavin says all the right words and gives the power to Chase.  He doesn't want to look bad, so they play a sort of good cop/bad cop thing with everyone.  As far as I'm concerned, Chase and Gavin are hand in hand on everything."

 It was around this time that something clicked inside of me.  I was living in this beautiful dream house, watching my husband come home miserable every day.  Pastor Gavin would not meet my eyes when I passed him in church, but would look away.  Joan Shoeman was no longer warm when she greeted me.  Something subtle had taken place, some people had been talking behind closed doors.  There was an almost palpable feeling of being watched and judged on every side.  Forgiving the men in power was not only a daily ritual but it was becoming harder and harder to do.

  The advice of Tim and Joan Shoeman to "just be patient" had sounded wise at the time.  But Tim was one of the very elders who had rubber-stamped Chase as the new Executive Pastor, and any "wisdom" he had to offer now was suspect.  It was at this time I remembered something another wise person in my life had told me long ago:  "God does not expect you to stay in a place of abuse."  In a kind of of desperate rebellion against the religious spirit that was so prevalent in Freeport, I died my hair brilliant shades of blue and purple and attended my last service at Crossway Community Church.  It didn't matter that my husband worked there.  I would not attend or take my children there one more Sunday.

Link to The Jeremiah Burden, Part Six:

To be continued...unless mentioned, all names have been changed except my husband's and my own.  I write for healing and for others wounded on similar journeys.

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