My Pastor Broke My Heart was written almost a year ago. When I realized I was still angry about the events that occured so many years ago, I knew I needed to write it out or I’d be bound to it forever. Forever is not an option and bondage to unforgiveness would not be my story. I recognize my words below may hurt some people; those involved and those affected however that is not my intention nor do I care to inflict the consequences of anyone’s own actions upon them. Unfortunately in the days since releasing this article, a lot of my family and friends have been attacked for either supporting me or telling their own truths. I didn’t mean to cause discord but I’m not backing down. We will not be silenced by bullies nor will we retaliate in anger. We will keep writing, keep sharing, keep healing, and keeping it pushing. *edited 11/10*
– Love Paula Michelle
My Pastor Broke My Heart
Like most southern black girls, I had been going to church since I was a child. My mother was a singer and a minister so some Sundays, we’d go to as much as four services. I liked church. I worshiped, I took notes, and I followed the sermons well enough. When they prophesied, I cried and when they prayed over me, I felt the power. I was an honest and true believer.
As a young adult, I had the same struggles everyone else had. I still faithfully went to church but I was known for being a little bit of a rebel. It’s not that I was living a double life but that I prided myself on being brutally honest about the life I lived. If something the pastor said didn’t make sense, I’d raise my hand to ask questions. If I disagreed with how something was being handled, I voiced my opinion. But mostly, I refused to let people or myself feel ashamed about themselves. I genuinely believed that Christianity was about collectively working together to live a better life and to serve others.
I eventually joined a church that was pretty perfect for me; folks my age, missions I could get behind, and people I considered my second family. For a few years, things were great. My pastor was a visionary and I trusted his judgment. Also, I felt a connection to God like nothing I’d ever felt before and was living my life with purpose. During those years, I grew tremendously.
Then, I got pregnant. People were shocked because I had just delivered my initial sermon and was actively celibate. The unfortunate story of how I got pregnant is for another day but I was happy I was going to be a mother. As I said, I wasn’t ashamed and my loving church family didn’t shame me either. Then tragedy struck. Shortly after birth, my son passed away from kidney complications. Though my church family was my rock during this time, I stayed away for a while. I needed a safe space free from other people’s emotional attachments to me. After talking it over with my pastor, we decided I would go to another church where nobody knew my story. There, I found peace and was able to mend my broken spirit.
After a year away, it was time to go back. Things however had changed. Most of my friends were still there but my pastor had gotten married and moved across the country. There was another pastor now. A successful black woman, single mother of two, amazing style and absolutely gorgeous. I had never had a woman head-pastor before and this person was a complete stranger and a mystery. I was hesitant to take life advice from someone I didn’t know and who didn’t know me but I wanted to give her a shot
See, it has always been important to me that my leadership be transparent. What have you gone through? What did you overcome? Are you spiritually capable to take on the burdens of other people? I didn’t know any of this about the new pastor but all my friends loved her so without asking questions, I rejoined my old church and was excited to get involved. Plus, surely a woman pastor could understand the grief I was experiencing and could relate to me.
It didn’t take long for me to notice how much the church had changed. We were once a big group of people working together like a family. Now there was a hierarchy and a business model. There were categories of leaders and secretaries and assignments and schedules. I was used to being able to call my pastor directly, now I had to make an appointment. It was different but I could understand. She needed to have order and structure. Unlike my previous pastors, she had a day job and a family; other responsibilities outside of ministry. For me, church was feeling more like a job than a community. We rarely had fun anymore and when service was over, people just went their separate ways. Plus, the church was growing and everyone wanted her time. It was difficult for me but I could and would respect it.
I recognize that I made a commitment to do life with this group of people and to this pastor’s guidance. Initially, she and I would meet bi-monthly and I’d receive direct counsel from her. I was a grieving mother striving to adjust to so many changes. I tried to listen and abide by the things she suggested. But I just couldn’t shake that something was off. I didn’t know this woman. Our connection felt forced and I was constantly struggling to find genuineness in our interactions. Was I just another person she was tasked to deal with or did she care?
Things took a downward turn a few months in when a guest preacher visited. Our pastor was out of the state and this guest minister and his wife took her place for the day. He preached a decent sermon, nothing special. After service ended, he and his wife made their way around the room shaking hands and greeting folks. When he came to me, the nature of the conversation changed. This pastor who had just delivered God’s word was now attempting to exchange phone numbers with me. He was flirting and even asked to take me out. I rejected him and immediately left church, disrespected and angry. Later that day, unable to reach the pastor, I spoke to my parents about it. They knew the reputation of the guest preacher. They said that had they known he was there, they would have suggested I skipped church that day. Two weeks later, my pastor called me into her office after service. She apologized about the situation that had happened with the guest and then began telling me about a spirit named Jezebel. I knew all about Jezebel; a spirit of destruction that wreaks havoc. Jezebel is often associated with lustfulness and manipulation. She is used as an insult to Christian women who are accused of being whores. My pastor was telling me that because of the Jezebel spirit in me, I might be responsible for this man’s actions. I was causing these things to happen. I left her office ashamed and questioning myself.
In the following weeks, I grew even more troubled and I began to dream about her. In my dreams, I reached out to Pastor but she was unavailable or she’d agree to something but wouldn’t do it. Some of my dreams were disturbing and made me angry with her. As I expressed my concerns to my church friends and even other leadership, it was always the same response. “She’s a good woman… she’d never do that.” They assumed that I was just being rebellious again and that my concerns were unfathomed. They even convinced me that my dreams had alternate meanings that better suited their narrative. I was starting to question if I belonged in church at all. Maybe I was wrong about what church looked like and even who God was. I had always thought I knew him for myself but maybe I couldn’t really trust myself. What if there really was a demonic spirit controlling me? I couldn’t deny that something felt off and my dreams were warning me that I was heading down a bad path. But I didn’t know if the path was my doing or someone else’s.
One evening, she called. I had just left a group bible study and somebody told her something I said. I don’t remember what it was but I know that it wasn’t anything disrespectful because I still very much respected her and her authority. She was calling to remind me that she was in charge and that how she chose to operate the church was her business. Specifically, she wanted me to know that I was not one of her friends and that her responsibility to me was that of a leader only. She said that there were some people she had to really focus on, that I wasn’t one of them, and insinuated that I was just jealous. I heard her loud and clear but I was heartbroken. My previous pastors were more than just the appointed leader of the church. They were like family who I invested in and who made an equal investment in me. Maybe my concerns about her leadership were only my own insecurities. But I still believed that God wanted me to be there so I sucked it up. I figured maybe it was my fault. I was expecting too much of her. She was a paid employee of the organization, not my personal counselor. I had to understand and let go of my silly inclinations.
One Sunday evening, we went to visit a guest church. It was the entire leadership team plus me. Unfortunately, my ex boyfriend and the woman he left me for were also in attendance. I tried my best to ignore them but there was tension in the air. During the service, the minister pointed to my good friend and her spouse and blessed their future marriage. I got so excited, I jumped and shouted; praising God for my friend’s union. Then, the pastor turned to me. He laughed and stated that clearly I was a woman who wanted to be married. Everyone laughed along including my ex and his wife. I was shocked, angierd, and embarrassed. That wasn’t what I wanted. I was just excited for my friend. I looked to my pastor for guidance but she didn’t notice. Instead, another pastor came to me after the service and apologized for those actions. But again, I felt ashamed and alone.
A few months later, tension had softened and I found a pocket for myself. I would get in, get out, and live my life without needing anything more from the pastor. But also, I kept myself busy doing the mission work I had come to love. Most excitingly, I had finalized a project I had been working on for years. It was an art-based Christian mixer. I rented a venue, hired some performance artists, created the flyers, and started to advertise. The night the flyers went out, I got a call. I was told the church would redo my flyer using the approved church marketing. I declined. It wasn’t the church’s event and though I had previously allowed them to suggest a flyer example, it was months later and the original flyer no longer worked. About 30 mins after the phone call ended, I got an email. It was sent to every member of the congregation. The church was formally removing its support of my event. A few weeks later, when the event happened, that email must have worked. People I had been friends with for upwards of ten years did not come to support me.
It was a few weeks later but eventually, I stopped going to that church. There were so many things I was seeing that did not reflect what I had come to know as Christian love. I even remember a time where a random waiter at dinner was reprimanded when he referred to Pastor by her first name instead of her title. I was told to get his phone number and invite him to church. When I text him later that week, he let me know that there was no way he’d ever go to a church with people like ours. Even my best friend and I went our separate ways because the closer she drew to Pastor, the more tense our friendship became. She loved the person who was constantly breaking my heart. People would literally say “Pastor told me not to tell you” or that Pastor held meetings with them about me. She had convinced other people that I was a problem. Things she had said or done were starting to affect my family relationship. They called the church a cult and didn’t want to visit with me. I could no longer be around the church or her without anger. Her actions made me feel ashamed of myself. Shame was something I worked so hard to avoid doing to others and now, I was in darkness all the time. The last memory I have of Pastor and I, she spoke to me in front of the whole church. She said that I was in a dark cave and needed to stay there a while longer. I thought to myself, “You put me here.”
I’m not sure how long she stayed as pastor after I left. Eventually, the church moved to a new building and the ministries were overseen by the senior leadership. I don’t know why she left. People didn’t really talk about it. A lot of other members left too. Every once in a while, Facebook would show me a flyer for an event she’s having or somewhere she’s guest preaching. I click delete because I still have some self-care to do before I can deal with even seeing her face.
It took me about a year to stop being angry about it all. I’m still surprised that in my 30’s, I experienced such deep church hurt. Now, over three years later, I finally feel comfortable telling this story. I know that there will be people who read this and suppose that I was just a troublemaker. I wouldn’t be surprised if after this, I’m forced to have the conversations I’ve been avoiding. She is a pain point but she was not acting alone. A lot of my friends changed when she was around and not for the better. That church got a bad reputation while she was there but thankfully, I’ve seen some improvement and have slowly reconnected with some old friends. I forgive them and don’t hold anger for their actions. My faith took such a huge hit. I found myself questioning God’s love. After the heartbreak of my son’s death, what lesson was I supposed to learn under her leadership? Was this God’s way of breaking me out of religious behavior? Was I supposed to see that the institution of the church was man-made and God wanted me to find truth outside of it? I feel like now I’m in the next phase of understanding. I’ve been stripped naked and I’m being built again; learning God without the confines of someone’s opinion or personal interpretations. And for the record, I have no ill feelings toward her. I hope she heals too.
When I started writing this, I felt some trepidation. You know the scripture? Psalm 105:15 “Touch not mine anointed, and do my prophets no harm.” That scripture was once used to scare parishioners into being quiet, doing the work, and questioning nothing. It took me a while to realize that scripture isn’t just about pastors or leaders. I’m God’s anointed too. God also loves me.