I do this dumb thing now and then. I read the newsletters of my former church. I used to love receiving those because it symbolized that I belonged somewhere. Now, when I read them I often feel rather emotional. It’s funny how, once removed from that situation, I can look back and see quite clearly the two-faced nature of most religious institutions, including the “liberal” one I was involved in.
I recall my first time attending a worship service there. My expectations were perhaps unrealistic. I had spoken to hospital chaplains and one suggested that having community in my life would probably open many doors for me. She was right, but I wasn’t going to find that at First Parish Watertown.
At first, of course, everything seemed terrific. I’d go to church, feel like I belonged somewhere, then I’d go home to complete isolation, loneliness, and despair, and also, over the course of the next week, abuse by my therapist. One day, at a church gathering I mentioned that not only was church the high point of my week but during that week when we weren’t together, I was truly struggling. I don’t recall my exact wording. Afterward, one person came up to me and told me that he/she felt the same way, that life was hell and no one even knew or cared. I wanted to connect with this person but he/she was always busy with some other concern and I didn’t want to interrupt or interfere. We never became friends and that saddens me.
After a while, I wasn’t a newcomer anymore. I tried at that point to get involved. That’s when I first noticed elitism and favoritism in the church. I knew that all organizations do this, but I also noticed silencing of “the rest of us” which wasn’t improving, in fact, it was getting worse. I spoke out about this numerous times. When I made my opinions public I was often approached rather quietly with a “me too,” from someone. I never was able to establish relationships with these quiet supporters. They stayed away and I didn’t see them much. Some people stopped attending and I sensed this was a result of silencing or even scandal.
The newsletters are no longer sent to me. I have to hunt them down. I write to church members occasionally and rarely have I received a response.
Funny, the very first day I attended First Parish, I did what many do. I filled out an information card that newcomers were encouraged to fill out. This was the standard sort of thing that many churches do. They wanted to know what information you’d like on the church and its activities. There was also a check box at “Do you want the minister to visit?” I checked yes.
I waited until it was quite clear that the minister didn’t really do home visits. Not only that no one in church actually wanted to come near my home in public housing. No one wanted to know how bad it was there. Or they knew but didn’t want to face the truth. Many of the members stayed away from such unpleasantries as poor people. Poor folk are diseased, after all. Best way to handle them is to send services and funding their way and not speak to them, touch them, nor truly be friends. I am extremely grateful for the one person who did show up a few times. I am also grateful she didn’t act like she was walking into a war zone named Woodland Towers.
Things went on. The situation eroded and got worse. I noticed that just about every sermon included yet one more plea for money. I was getting more and more disgusted. Some people had none to give. I felt embarrassed that the meager one dollar I left in the collection basket was often scraped from my penny jar. I leave apologies to those who had to count the pennies.
I wanted to give in other ways. I wanted to write. I was repeatedly told that they had no use for me. There is one chance for parishioners to speak out and that was called Joys and Sorrows. If you have ever been to a UU church you have witnessed this.
I rarely participated in that. I will tell you why. I felt I didn’t have anything worthwhile to say. I felt that whatever I said would be immediately knocked down no matter what it was. The one time I dared to participate in that, I did, in fact, get approached by someone and I was told, “You shouldn’t have said that.” She proceeded to berate and insult me. I never really knew if her attitude was at all reflective of the general tone of censorship in the church. That person was Rachel. After that happened and I got another berating insult from her, I avoided her to protect myself.
I didn’t know what to do anymore. I wrote to the minister and told him I wasn’t pleased about censorship in the form of tightening up Joys and Sorrows and making more rules and policies about it when this was the only chance people had, the only time there wasn’t a pastoral monopoly in the service. They had already made it clear that they didn’t want me doing the Chalice lighting. They’d advertise that they needed more volunteers for this but I knew they didn’t want the likes of me doing it. In that, I got the very clear message that I could come to church only if I completely shed my identity as writer.
There was too much silencing, too many backhand insulting remarks directed at those with known diagnoses. It all became clear to me precisely what was going on. I chose not to remain silent, to speak out and try to do something.
I was even more shocked that when my kidneys failed in mid-August and I nearly died, I received not one call nor visit from anyone in church. Oh yeah, the administrator dropped off some stuff for me. Of course, she didn’t even stay to talk. But to her, and many others, I wasn’t even worthy of a visit. The minister knew what had happened and also didn’t call. He finally showed up. I knew it was tokenism. I was embarrassed. After I got out, I figured someone would at least tell me they cared or would ask if I needed anything. What happened then was even more shocking. I was avoided on the street and people were deliberately not speaking to me nor answering my calls.
It got worse. I used to visit the minister in his office. I stopped abruptly and never told anyone why. I was embarrassed to mention it to anyone. But this is what happened:
I had just been through kidney failure, so I was still physically ill. I was suffering from trauma from the abuse as well. That means I didn’t look nor feel so great. All I wanted was compassion from this religious leader. What I got was rudeness and dismissal. It was like even more of my soul was sucked out.
Yes, I know people are human. I know people make remarks they later regret. The day was September 6th, 2013. I asked the administrator if Mark was in and she said I could go ahead into his office.
He didn’t look himself. I can tell you something was amiss. I never found out what it was. His hair was disheveled and his expression showed hostility. Almost like I had caught him in a moment that was not intended for the public. I will never know what was going on at that moment. I saw in him, for the first time, deceit.
I suppose all clergy have their nasty side. I never realized that this was one of those inevitable truths. Now, of course, I know. I walked in there and he said “Hello” to me, but with a guilty look on his face. Like a kid who had just been caught stealing or cheating on a test. He asked me how things were going. I said, “Okay,” but nothing was at all okay of course.
He said to me, “You were here yesterday. I already talked to you.” I didn’t know what to say to that. It was like he was accusing me of….of what? Is being so sick you nearly die a petty concern? Then he said, “Were you out walking?” I told him that this was the case. He said, “Then I am going to ask you to keep on walking.”
I walked out of there and promised myself I would never return. I realized then that it was so obvious that he didn’t even like most of the non-elite parishioners. He tolerated us. In fact, he made those statements loud and clear if anyone was really listening. I’d known it all along, but it’s hard to admit that someone you consider intrinsically good or at least decent would act like that. So you try to pretend that this isn’t happening until it becomes unavoidable.
After that, and even now, I hear the words, “Keep walking.” The sound of those words causes me to relive the experiences I had of loathing in that church toward anyone with a psych label. We were called “dangerous.” A danger to what?
The fall was tough. I was completely isolated and lonely. I cried every day and wondered how the heck it had gotten so shitty.
I had an offer to move to the Seattle area. It was December 2013. The offer never panned out, but around Christmastime I decided to show up at church. I figured I was moving, so I might as well say goodbye and in secret, “Nyah nyah, I never appreciated your rotten attitude.” No, I didn’t say that. I felt it, but kept it to myself.
It was December 29, a Sunday I was not at church at all, that someone had what they called an “outburst.” When I heard, I told myself that someone must have been silenced like I was, and was expressing just how pissed off he/she was. However, I never learned who this person was. I’m sure he/she was silenced and banished much in the same manner they did to me, ultimately.
The next newsletter, that came out of First Parish, was so shockingly discriminatory that I decided at that moment to write to the person in Boston and tell her what was happening. I have sent this newsletter to a few people since, and they all confirmed that what was written reflected deep prejudice toward people like me.
I wrote a private email to a higherup in Boston, regarding my concerns. I had been through shocking nonsupport from the church. I wrote the email fast and it wasn’t the most carefully written letter I have ever written. I mentioned acts or words of discrimination against Rachel, myself, and a few other people. I quoted what I had heard, stated publicly or whispered with the assumption that no one would overhear.
I received a timely response stating that they take these things seriously, but according to UU policy, these needed to be resolved internally, church by church. I wrote back one or two sentences that stated that I was fine with her response but that I was not going to let this one go. Of course, that meant more writing, as I am now doing, for the benefit of my readers.
Those two church higherups, Chuck Dickenson, and Judy Kamm barged into my building on January 10th, accusing me of PLANNING MURDER, and bringing the social worker cop, Melissa, with them. What they did was an outrage and should never have happened. They came and accused me based on speculation with no evidence, no data, nor any written warrant. Why? They couldn’t legally do it. There was no crime, nor any crime planned, and I doubt they could have even illegally arrested me simply because they felt threatened by my pen. They had absolutely no evidence of wrongdoing. They tried to convince me that I am undeserving of Freedom of Speech. What they were saying was that I was a person of very low worth, less than human. I stood there, still freezing and dehydrated from the protest in Boston for Justina Pelletier I had just attended. I was shocked.
Not only that, they told me that this “visit” was going to be kept secret from the general church population. Of course! What they did was an outrage and no way would most people in church have supported what they did had it been known.
Clearly, this was an act done to threaten me and scare me into silence. As readers know, I am in a safe place now, free of such hate crimes, and other acts of retaliation.
It was clear what was behind this. I learned shortly after that my letter had had a lot of impact. This was challenging to Mark and his authority was questioned. His job may have been on the line. They didn’t want my letter nor anything I knew to leak out. I guess Mark and his cronies were desperate.
I didn’t know what to do. I tried telling people on Facebook what had happened, and I was again condemned. I thought these people were my friends. I was told that what happened was my own paranoid imagination. I ditched those friends and told myself I needed new ones that actually believed what i was saying.
I still struggle with credibility. It’s a constant battle. This is common to so many people who were victims of medical wrongdoing. It’s not even that known, now we disappear. Some die. Rachel died ten days after I left the USA. Without community support, we fade away. Some relocate because of the scare tactics used against us.
I would be terrified if I still lived in Boston right now. So many are. I know I was not the only one. I see now that the church has finally instigated “home visits.” As expected, these aren’t goodwill how-are-you visits. No, this is to collect money from parishioners, to use guilt and pressure to get more money from them. I am again shocked. Personally, if I still lived in Watertown, by all means, I would not allow these people to come in. The only time anyone in church ever contacted me was to get money from me. I was so shocked at that. I wouldn’t have minded it they had acted like friends all along.
I don’t know how I am going to get over this trauma. I keep telling myself it’ll just fade. It doesn’t, even though I am far away. I keep thinking I am finally okay again, but it keeps coming back. I went through medical abuse that I continue to relive. I call what happened in church form of spiritual abuse. I find myself asking over and over why these things had been deliberately done to me. Sometimes, I want to cry but now, I can’t. I want to come face to face with that God that allowed this to happen. I want to tell this God just what I think, saying,
And then, of course, I’d keep walking.