Somehow, I didn’t recognize the storm that was brewing just over the horizon. It started very innocently when our District Superintendent came to Rimbey to meet with the board and myself. The purpose was my regular performance evaluation. Each of the board members had submitted their individual evaluations of my performance as their pastor. Overall, the comments they made were rather positive. They mentioned some areas that needed to be improved. No surprise! I know that I’m not perfect and need to have my deficiencies brought to my attention so they could be remedied. The last part of the meeting was between the board and the Superintendent. I was asked to leave. This conversation would end, either with the board recommending that I receive a recall for a further four years or that the congregation be asked to vote on whether or not they wanted me to continue. I was expecting a four-year recall, but that isn’t what I got. The board felt that a congregational vote would be in order. In my naivety I didn’t realize that I had lost the confidence of the board. Like everyone else’s, my hindsight is much better than my foresight. I should have resigned. I still had an offer from a church in Ontario that I could pursue, but I didn’t.
A date was set for the recall vote and the congregation was duly informed. For a pastor to receive a recall he had to receive a positive vote of 2/3 +1 of the voting members that were in attendance that day. Fewer than half of the people in church the Sunday of the vote were members and could vote. After the votes were cast, I fell one vote short of receiving a four-year recall. I was being asked to resign.
A number of things happened – first I went into denial. This hadn’t really happened. Something or someone would intervene, and I would remain. But that didn’t happen. I learned that when you have been voted out you are seen as damaged goods and few churches are willing to take a chance on you. I must have done something very wrong, or the church wouldn’t have voted as they had. One of the weaknesses voting with a secret ballot in this situation is that I was never told what I had done wrong. I wasn’t preaching heresy. I hadn’t absconded with church money. I hadn’t committed a sexual sin. I simply have never known what I should have done differently. I was devastated. My dream of being a pastor began to die. I felt abandoned. My pastoral colleagues didn’t know how to treat me. What should they say? What should they do? Since they didn’t know the answers to these questions, they chose to do nothing. They weren’t trying to further wound me; they simply didn’t know what they could do. All that is except for three. My friend Doug Cooney who was pastoring in Manchester in the UK. He wrote me long epistles encouraging me. Thank you, Doug, for your friendship. My old mentor Ken Fach and Stan Reeder, who was the senior pastor at Southside Church of the Nazarene in Edmonton. I sent out around 50 resumes to districts in Canada and the northern United States. Only two districts responded, and both were inquiries from churches that were at death’s door, and not even a damaged pastor could affect them negatively.
Iona and I made the decision that we wouldn’t allow bitterness to creep into our lives. I wish I could say that I never spent a moment with bitterness and anger, but that would be a lie. There were times of tremendous anger, when I read Psalms in which the writer asked God to destroy his enemies. I knew that I needed to forgive, but I discovered that forgiveness is a lot like peeling an onion – every time one layer was peeled away, a new layer was revealed. I also hosted a number of pity parties when I sang the old spiritual “Nobody knows the troubles I’ve seen, nobody knows my sorrow.” By the grace of God I was able to continue on this journey toward healing and wholeness.
Iona felt that the Lord had given us a verse that helped carry us through some of the darkest days – Joshua 1:9 (NIV) “Have I not commanded you? Be strong and courageous. Do not be terrified; do not be discouraged, for the Lord your God will be with you wherever you go.” This verse became a support as we moved ahead.
When I realized that we wouldn’t be rescued, we moved to Edmonton and rented a small duplex. Tim and Laura were still in school and came with us. When we were unloading at our new home, Laura jumped off the back of a truck and broke her ankle. She started in her new school on crutches. She hadn’t wanted to leave Rimbey. It was the only home she had really known. She was only 5 when we left Fort Saskatchewan and had few memories of the place. Tim was in senior high and made the transition smoothly. But what were we going to do to pay the bills?
Iona got a part time job, and I ended up with three part time positions. My friend Stan Reeder offered me a part time pastoral position at Southside. A large Baptist church sent me couples that needed pre-marital counseling. Normally they had regular pre-marital joint counseling sessions with the other couples who were planning to be married. Sometimes couples would want to be married and couldn’t be fitted into the regularly scheduled sessions, and the pastor sent them to me. I also got a casual position with Catholic Social Services working with families in crisis. Our income went down, and our expenses went up. There were months when I didn’t know how we would survive financially. We had begun a 7-year journey that would end with my leaving pastoral ministry for a dozen years. In the meantime, it was a mean time but I was learning to keep the son in my eyes in the midst of a storm.