Part One: Trauma
I have a complicated relationship with church, both as a building and as a body. As the son of a church worker, I suppose some of that is to be expected. Long days spent at the church instead of daycare, hearing typical workplace drama about your pastoral staff, and the like make for a unique relationship with the church. But I like to think my relationship is more complex than even that.
I’ve seen, on the macro and micro levels, the way a church can fail, the way it can fracture both itself and everyone inside it. I think I’ve avoided thinking (and especially talking) about this subject, because, for so long I was ashamed of it. Scripture clearly states the importance of church to the believer and yet church was somewhere I could no longer really fit in at. I felt like a shell of a believer, two-faced in my chair every Sunday. It wasn’t until a 1am conversation, on the verge of tears, that I realized I wasn’t “not a church person” like I always thought. While I was facing one way, complaining that God was no longer there, I AM was standing in the complete other direction the whole time. All I had to do was look.
I don’t claim to have a monopoly on church trauma, nor do I claim mine’s anywhere near the top tier, but I would characterize my journey as traumatic. Our church has split twice. Once, when an executive pastor left to start his own church, and a second time when the senior pastor was let go. For anyone who has been through either event, you know how devastating it can be, how easily friends become enemies, how quickly family becomes foe. And suddenly, this place where you did life with one another, becomes a place on fire, everything you know and love turning to ash before your eyes.
And, while both of these events were traumatic, they were traumatic in an abstract, intangible way. I saw the effects on my mother and a friend who was also an employee, on my family who were congregants, and within my dwindling circle of friends. But, as for me personally, I was relatively unaffected.
Now, before I can tell the next part of this story, I have to add a bit of context. It took me a while to adjust to youth group. For some reason, I was hesitant to move up. Our church broke down programming into the following age groups: 1st-4th grade; 5th-6th, Jr. High, and High School (we also had early childhood and a nursery, but that’s not relevant to this story). I remained in the 1st-4th grade class until I was forcibly removed when I entered 7th grade (understandably so). So, it was a shock for me to go from 1st graders to 7th graders overnight. I hated going at first, and frequently ditched to spend the morning with my dad, eating brunch and talking. But, eventually, I warmed up and came to love both the people and the programming. I loved the in-depth discussions, and the rocking concert-like music. I eventually joined the youth worship team and met some of my closest friends. My faith grew exponentially.
I don’t think it would be fair to the other party to gossip about what and how everything came to happen. I have my understanding of the events, and he has his, but suffice it to say: the worship team was disbanded, I sobbed all the way home from a youth game of the capture the flag on my birthday, and felt an overwhelming sense that A) I wasn’t welcome in my youth group (inside the home I grew up in) and B) There was no one on my side who could, or was willing, to do anything.
Luckily, I got swept up in children’s ministry, and my faith and presence in church were saved. I thought that, with time and distance, the wounds from exile and destruction would heal, but if moving 1000 miles away taught me anything, it was that church as I had known it – a safe, stable community – was a thing of my past, and not something I would regain in this lifetime. Or, at least, not in the ways I expected.
Part two of this limited series is posted here.
Bryce Van Vleet is a psychology undergraduate based in the Pacific Northwest. He is a lover of words, terrible video-game player, and frequent drinker of soda and other sugary drinks. He also writes short stories here and here.
- This was written 8/31/18. Any reference to time may be distorted due to a delay in posting.
- Some names and places have been changed. See our disclaimer for more information. All identifying information has been stripped to protect the identities of minors and innocent (or not so innocent) parties.
- Edits have been made for gendered use of God (Why edit the gendered use of God?).
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