Suffer the Children . . .
by Ronnieye Arrington
My father's best friend, Joe, who was also the Chairman of the Steward Board, had five girls, which were of an age to go with my father's four girls and a boy. His oldest daughter, Jeannie, became close with my oldest sister, Gwen. His middle daughter, Faye, was my older sister Phyllis' bosom buddy. His next daughter, Sandy was my very best friend. And our younger sisters, Marcy and Christine, respectively, were as thick as thieves. Together we created an extended family. As the adults shared church worries and achievements, we children shared homework, studied our Bible verses together, attended vacation Bible school together (often egging each other on to mischief). They loved us and we loved them. Love is forever . . . isn't it?
Then, it all came crashing down. Joe, the man whom my father loved like a brother, spearheaded a movement to have him removed from the church. His middle daughter, Faye, typed the awful, ugly letter to my father. My father, in a vain attempt to spare our feelings, never showed us the letter, but we didn't need to see it. We had his eyes to look into, and the pain there was so deep and so shattering that no words could have expressed or explained it. My mother gave us the bare bones of what was going on, but she too weeded out the real facts. My sisters and I had no true idea of what was happening. We actually thought that all we had to do was march up to the church and tell them to cut it out. I guess maybe my dad thought that too, because he did attempt to go to the church. Imagine his dismay when he discovered they had actually locked the doors to the church with chains and padlocks. When he tried to get in, several members - his friends, people he had prayed with and over, people he had loaned an ear and money, people he had led for over 20 years (23 to be exact) - these people treated him like a criminal. The police were summoned, words exchanged, permanent wounds created, a fate sealed.
My father tried his absolute best to keep his children away from the dreadful, hurtful things that followed. He eventually won the right to re-enter the church, but the members in protest, stopped coming. Finally, in an attempt to resolve the issue, the bishop of our denomination left the choice to my father. In hindsight, I realize that the bishop permitted my father to save face by "allowing" this to be his decision. My father left the church. Although it was some years later that he actually passed, my sisters and I truly believe that our father died on the steps of the church he helped to build, with the souls he nurtured staring hatefully at his back.
My father continued to pray for his former church. He never spoke a negative word about them to anyone. He admitted that he was hurt by their actions, and he acknowledged that he was angry. He refused to point fingers, he refused to bestir other churches against them, and he refused to feel sorry for himself. He gave of himself and he did God's work with a vengeance. If you hadn't known him before, you would have never suspected that a huge hunk of his heart was nowhere in sight. As for his children, we are all horribly scarred by what happened to him. None of us retained our relationship with Joe, his wife, or any of his children. After several years, my family was able to divide the church into the "good" ones and the "bad" ones. By their definition, the good ones knew about what was happening to Dad, but didn't want to get involved. The bad ones are those who investigated and did the real damage. I can't see a separation at all. It's all the same to me.
My mother is still with the denomination, as is my brother. The rest of us have long since left it in the dust. For a while, all of dad's children (except my brother, also a minister) had dropped out of church entirely. I am pleased to say that all have since returned to the fold -- all except me. You see, I can't forget what happened. It was like some horrible accident and it left me spiritually crippled. My father was the cornerstone of my life. He was the best man I had ever known. How could those people who supposedly loved him hurt him like that? How could God let it happen? I don't know how long I'll continue to be hurt and angry. Probably the rest of my life. Maybe if I can get the image of my father's tear-stained face out of my head, maybe then I'll move on. Yes, maybe then it will be over for me too.