Ch 48 “The Empire Strikes Back”
Retribution for my very mild attempt to restrict Shirley's power was swift.
At the next meeting of the church council there were bitter recriminations that I had “left off” Shirley from these two ministry areas as she had a large and devoted following.
Looking back I suppose this was meant to be my opportunity to apologize and put her back into these positions. I didn't.
Then from about March (1992) there was s sudden (clearly orchestrated) and substantial decrease in church contributions from the congregation.
Next two of Shirley's followers offered parley. Sue and I went and met with these emissaries. Shirley herself had refused my offer that she meet with me so that we could talk and pray about whether she should be reinstated to leading services and assisting with the Communion chalice.
At the meeting “their” terms were uncompromising, also surprising. For Shirley to receive an apology and be reinstated came as no surprise, but the other demand did. Rodger was to be dismissed from being a church Warden! They assured me “If you get rid of Rodger everything will be all right!”
During the meeting it had become clear that the emissaries, and I believe they were voicing the opinion of their entire group, thought I was a weakling who could not possibly take any action except as someone else's puppet. It says a lot about their own relationships with God that it clearly never entered their minds that I might actually pray about things, and that I might – as indeed I had done in this instance – have taken action because I believed it was the right and godly thing to do. By contrast, Sue, in talking about why she married me said I made her feel safe because while she knew she could do things which would make me upset and angry, nothing she could do would make me do something I believed was morally wrong.
So Shirley's people had taken it into their heads that simce I had acted to slightly reduce Shirley's scope of ministry in the church, Rodger or his wife Helen must have put me up to it. They were wrong, quite wrong! But even if they had been right, to publicly sack Rodger from being one of the three church wardens would have been a humiliation and “punishment” far out of proportion to Shirley being quietly dropped from service leading and administering the chalice. Far more than “an eye for an eye and a tooth for a tooth” let alone following Jesus' commandments!
I refused to sack Rodger. No other “peace” terms were offered to us.
The shortfall in church income remained at a constant rate which would amount to about $30,000 in a year.
About July the Wardens and church committee decided to issue a questionnaire to the congregation ostensibly to find out the reason(s) for this decrease. This action was put forward by supporters of Shirley, and they wrote the text of the questionnaire, which invited negative comments.
There were only replies from a third of the congregation, however these were tabulated and reported back to the three church wardens and myself.
But the data from replies that did come in was very interesting.
Some said they did not realise there was a problem and would try to give more.
Some said they had cut their giving because they had lost their job, or had reduced incomes. Some of these were very touching in the selfless and generous spirit the writers displayed.
Many said they had not altered their giving.
A group boasted that they had reduced or ceased giving and they accompanied that statement with really nasty comments about me. Amazingly the total number who voiced dissatisfaction only amounted to 11% of the morning congregation. And one did not have to look far beyond Shirley's home group to find that number. Also as I said, Shirley's home group included many of the wealthier people in the church.
Also while not every one who said that they had decreased or stopped giving gave a figure, when one added up the amounts that were stated, it came near the decrease the church had experienced. It was not rocket science to deduce that while only a third of the congregation as a whole had replied, nearly all those who were “dissatisfied” had taken the opportunity offered them to do so!
I decided to present this (not naming Shirley or her home group of course – just the numbers!) to the congregation. So Sunday 13th September 1992 I handed out the tabulated numbers – showing that the church's shortfall in income came from just 11% of the morning congregation.
Shirley's people were furious at my disclosure! There seemed no limit or end to their rage.
I had to endure abuse from them about disclosing what should have been “secret” information, I was accused of lying, because the real figures did not suit their agenda. And so on.
Roger and Helen also had to endure abuse and vilification – although I had deliberately not consulted or even informed Roger about presenting the tabulated figures to the congregation. Shirley had even come to see me and demanded that Helen and Roger be expelled from the church!
At the beginning of December Roger came to see me to tell me that he and Helen were crumpling under the hatred that was being directed at them. He said that, after much prayer they both felt that God was releasing them to save their health by leaving the church.
I made no attempt to dissuade him. I understood perfectly how God in his infinite kindness often pulls his servants out of the fray when they are wounded and wearied. God loves us. So different for the devil who comes only “to steal and destroy” and who drives those who serve him on and on until they too are destroyed!
But I was really sad to lose Roger and Helen. They had met regularly with Sue and me to pray for and about the church. They were good and upright people and faithful servants of Christ.
Roger sent a letter of resignation to the secretary of the Church Committee (and a more explicit one to me). The one the secretary read out included as the reasons: “the rumours and innuendos about us” and the one to me added “the level of criticism directed towards us has gone unabated … I also realise that you and Sue have been criticised for your relationship with us ...”
I announced Roger's resignation in church the next Sunday.
Shirley's husband Peter – a member of the church council – then circulated a letter accusing me of lying in this announcement:
“What right have you (David) then to stand up in front of the congregation and tell us all, the (name deleted)'s are leaving because of a two year “campaign: against them? David this is by no means the first time you have mislead the congregation with extremely inaccurate statements, and I would expect that this matter is put right without delay.”
Always the same call! Obey us! (in this thing for a start but in everything in the long run) and all will be well!
For any Christian minister the only reply is the quote: I am, for Christ's sake, every one's servant: but I obey only one Master!