A Pew, the Priesthood, and a Prayer

By MJ

Wife, mother to 4, wanna be farmer, musician, cake decorator, life-long member born to convert parents.

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I sat through the prelude hoping – praying- no one would see me. Ward Council had ended 25 minutes before Sacrament meeting began, so I had the entire time to sit by myself, like the outcast that I felt, and wait for my family. I cannot remember if I took the Sacrament. I doubt I did. All I remember was that at some point during the meeting, I ended up in the Primary room on the small pew the kids sit on when they are to give a talk or read the scripture. Somehow my 5’8” frame, dressed in Sunday best- complete with nylons and heels- folded up enough to fit the tiny bench and I laid there. Sobbing. Feeling my soul slowly drain with each tear. Until there was nothing left. Nothing left of my testimony, of hope, of faith in my Priesthood Leaders. Nothing left of me.

The day that I was released from working in Public Affairs was, perhaps, the worst day in my church life. Callings come and go, it is a fact of our membership. I’ve loved each calling, and served with everything I had. I’ve even cried when released. However, I have never felt so called to a calling. For the first time in my 30 years, I felt I had a voice in the church. I felt I could impact our members and our community. It was the scariest calling I’ve ever accepted, as it came only 1 month after moving into a new state. I worked closely with our Bishop, helping Public Affairs at the local level. Every month I sat on Ward Council, helping the ward meet its goals through service. I worked with the Stake Council, helping PA at the stake level.

As dear as community outreach was and is to my heart, I could walk away from it. I could close that door and happily accept the new calling that came my way. Except, a new calling didn’t come. This wasn’t an exchange. This was a release. And with the release came a ban that I was no longer allowed to talk to my Bishop.

At the time, no explanations were given. I received a single phone call from the Stake President- all I knew was I was to be released, I could not talk to my Bishop, who was a friend-, and the Office of the First Presidency was being called about me.

Afraid, and unsure where to turn, I turned to my dear friend, who happened to also be my RS President. I told her what had happened. I sobbed that my voice was stifled. I felt so trapped. I was being punished for something I didn’t understand, and my callings were taken from me without consultation- in the middle of a few huge community projects with no plans for a replacement. I had no one to talk to. No one to explain. As one who already felt the imbalance between men and women in the church, I was without hope.

She understood. And she cried with me. And we both came to the only logical conclusion we could find- the Bishop had developed feelings for me and that something needed to happen. In my defense, as a friend and leader, she approached either the Bishop, and called him out on the unfairness. Why am I being punished for his problems? Why is the Bishop worth preserving, but the woman is disposable? Why was no one talking to me? What was my offense?

Later that day, I received a phone call from the Stake President. He told me that I need to close my loose lips, not talk about this with anyone, and to stop spreading such false rumors. “The Bishop has never had feelings for you.” He later told me I could never be a Relief Society President because I cannot keep confidences- all because I went to my RS Pres in a time of complete emotional and spiritual despair. I didn’t realize that what was happening to me wasn’t mine to share.

If it wasn’t him, then it must have been me. Do your best, always attend church, sustain your imperfect leaders, go to the temple, love your spouse, be a mother, serve and sacrifice for others, daughter of a bishop and stake presidency member… me. I was the cause of a phone call to the First Presidency. Somehow, somewhere I did something wrong. So dreadfully wrong that it signaled “defcon 5.”

Four days later, I found myself in a pit dark and unknown. I have struggled with Major Depressive Disorder, Anxiety and OCD for nearly 20 years. I knew darkness and despair and hopelessness- both through my biological predispositions and due to the agency of others. But this was a hopelessness I had never before felt. My dear husband was as supportive as he could be, and loved me through it all. But I felt unworthy. I felt like someone had taken scarlet paint and painted an “A” on my clothes and on my membership records. In the past, I had my spiritual foundation that could get me through. Even if the rest of me was in chaos, I still had a grounding of faith. Comfort in the stability of church. That foundation was gone. Everything I had believed about myself and the church was gone. What was I to do? Where was I to run? I was left without a spiritual leader. Without faith in the restoration of the Priesthood and man’s ability to receive revelation to lead Christ’s church. Without a belief that I was welcome and needed as me. Without faith in a God that was capable of loving me. All I had known and believed was shattered. What did this mean for the rest of my testimony? What did this mean about me?

“Tylenol, allergy medicine, multi-vitamins, anti-depressants…” I sat on the floor while my husband was at Scouts. The kids were watching a movie, and I was mentally going through my medicine cabinet. Trying to figure out the best one to use to end it all.

You see, I had been taught from a young age that our Priesthood leaders represent Christ. They held Priesthood keys as a “Common Judge in Israel.” But what if one… or two, in this case… judge the wrong judgement? What if you feel so rejected and unwanted in the fold by a Priesthood leader that they obviously avoid you? That they come down the line and shake people’s hands but stop before you? I was asked to lead JustServe, then abruptly removed from the project. Asked to speak in Stake Conference, but then received no follow through. That even after knowing I wanted to kill myself, and after the policy announcement (which came 2 weeks later) I had wanted to remove my name from records, no one reached out. No one was there to offer charity or a balm. I couldn’t run to my Priesthood leaders with my questions and concerns about the policy, or about anything! Was this the church led by Christ? Did these men truly hold the Keys of the Priesthood? If so, did they know something about my soul that I did not? That I was ugly and unworthy. Because they represent Christ, does that mean He wants this? He finds fault and views me as toxic to the work? He wants to preserve the Bishop’s calling over preserving a life? Can I not be trusted? He sees me as heathen. Why is He not fighting for me in this time of pain?

Every time I knelt to pray for understanding, and strength to keep going, the words from President Monson came to mind, “Never let a problem to be solved become more important than a person to be loved.” Why, when I prayed, did I feel this was all wrong? Never once did I get even a fleeting feeling of this being a correct course. What I was receiving was in opposition to what my priesthood leaders were expressing. But yet, I felt an equivalent to an Amish shunning.

Needless to say, when Ward Conference came around I did not raise my hand to sustain. I couldn’t.

Nine months later I am still not allowed to speak to my Bishop one on one. I am not allowed to hold a calling that involves me working with him on any level. I have a new calling (which, oddly came the week after Mother’s Day. A day that I sent off an email asking to be released from all of my callings including VT). I still have no trust in my leadership. I still have to sit there, every Sunday, and see my Bishop on the stand and know that he is not *really* my bishop. I still sit through talks, and lessons, and discussions that tell us the Bishop’s door is always open. And I hear professionals in mental health, and leaders in the church teach that people going through psychiatric treatment should be working with their spiritual leader. But I can’t.

However, I’m still here.

For a long time, I felt the love of God all around me, but not at church. At church I felt anxiety and hatred. I felt a deep shame of who I was at the core and was constantly reminded that I will never be allowed a voice as a woman. That men can claim revelation and keys and do what they wish. Even take action without explanation.

It was a dark night- around 2am. I once again could not sleep. My mind raced. My heart hurt. My soul ached. I felt my relationship with my Savior had been mended- mostly out of my stubbornness and unwillingness to give up. I did not want to pray, so I knelt on my bed and asked in an exasperated way:

Do You feel the same way about me as my Priesthood leaders have made me feel? Am I to be shunned, shamed and feared? Do you even want me in the church? Because apparently the guys you put in charge do not.

And then it came. The once-in-a-lifetime, never forget, all encompassing, wrap you in a blanket fresh out of the dryer on a cold winter’s day feeling.

And God said, “No. I love you. You and I both know the truth. And that is all that matters.”

He is right.

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19 Responses

  1. Sister C says:

    MJ, reading this broke my heart! So sorry that you had to go through this (or are still going through this). Thank you for sharing your story. You will always have a voice here.

  2. Emily U says:

    What the […]??? Unbelievable! I’m so sorry this happened to you. The way your leaders kept you in the dark and shunned you, as if they’re the grown-ups and you’re some child that they are ineptly trying to silence. It’s so wrong. Clearly your strength and grace outshine theirs by miles. I’m amazed you are still at church and glad you held on through the darkest moments.

  3. Cruelest Month says:

    Heartbreaking. I’m sorry for the cruelty you’ve experienced.

  4. RuthG says:

    Truly heartbreaking to read this and hear and feel the sadness in your voice. The total rejection and dismissal of a member and not even the courtesy to explain why and say thank you for your service. Please hang in there for your supportive husband, children and friends, and for the Lord.

  5. ElleK says:

    I know you’ve already gone through an unnecessary and extreme amount of trauma, but please consider escalating this to your area authority. To be disciplined, released, and shamed with no explanation is absolutely abuse. Also, I get the feeling your SP is a scary guy, but if you and your bishop were once friends, consider contacting him, maybe with your husband present (“We’re both adults, this is ridiculous, please tell me what’s going on.”) At the least, your area authority should know what your SP has been doing–punishing you for infractions you weren’t aware you committed (like talking to your RSP–WTH?).

    Mostly, though, I’m so sorry you’ve had to go through this. If you don’t have the desire to pursue further clarification, that’s ok. But if you ever do find out what on earth is going on in your stake, please consider writing an update.

    • MJ says:

      Thank you ElleK- for your thoughts and your suggestions. I have considered going up the chain, but for the time being, I am at peace enough to continue. I will write an update, as there is more that happened (for better and for worse) since where I end this story, but it was scary enough for me to post this. I think I’ll wait it out for a month or two. Grateful for The Exponent and the voice I found through this blog at a time of trial.

      • Former Bishop says:

        I don’t understand why you (and maybe your husband for support) didn’t demand a meeting with the stake president to flesh out the problem immediately upon your release. It seems like other than two brief phone calls in which the stake president didn’t give reasons for your release and threatened to call SLC, you don’t have any information. Why haven’t you proactively pursued a meeting with the stake president to get all of this mess cleared up?

      • MJ says:

        Former Bishop- not sure why I cannot comment directly to you, but trust me. I have. I got a lot of “I cant tell you” and accusations that were untrue. Or if true, not given the opportunity to explain. I met with my stake Pres alone twice, and once with my husband. And my husband and I have met with my bishop 3x’s as well. Nothing was explained or cleared. Except my resolve to try to let it go, move on, and rely on the Lord.

      • MJ says:

        Sorry- looks like my comment did go to your comment, so forget the first line.

  6. Eskymama says:

    I am so sorry that your subject to this. You have quite a talent for expression … and know you are loved always.

  7. Ziff says:

    Wow, MJ. I’m sorry. This sounds unbelievably difficult, and so unfair! I’m sorry your leaders are being so awful to you.

  8. Juanita wooldrige says:

    The worth of a soul is great in the sight of the Lord. And that value comes from not what we do, or say, or earn, it comes because the Lord loves perfectly all of us who are imperfect. I am a convert and a widow. I hold strong opinions about that love is all we need. Real abiding love for our brothers and sisters. After my husband died, the same talks I gave from the pulpit were remove. As a couple we did great things for God, Alome, I found myself I’m the Temple, pleading for Hope. You are here to do the Lord,s work. There are many of us supporting you. Make new connections.
    My dear husband of 37 died by suicide. We lost a kind and loving priesthood holder. I lost my companion. Suicide is not the answer. Find a group that supports you. Do not be alone with darkness. You have done nothing wrong. Hold you head high and remember that Heavnly MOTHER KNOWS YOUR PAINS ANS SUFFERINGS AND IS WITH YOU ALWAYS.

    • MJ says:

      Juanita- I am truly sorry for your loss, and wish there were stronger words than that to convey my feelings to you! Thank you for sharing your experience. You are right, suicide is not the answer. But as the Lord knows, we often become very clouded and hopeless, and feel that our disappearance would benefit the ones we love. Even if/when we have the light of the gospel and the love of others. You are an incredible woman. Thank you for your words of support and know it mutual!

  9. Dawn says:

    Wait. You were punished because HE had feelings for YOU? Holy victim blaming.

    I’m really saddened by this story. I hope you get some answers from priesthood leaders one day. This does not seem right at all.

  10. Liz says:

    This is heartbreaking and beautiful, MJ. It reminds me of Eugene England’s essay, “Why the Church is as True as the Gospel” and specifically this part:

    “In the life of the true Church, there are constant opportunities for all to serve, especially to learn to serve people we would not nor­mally choose to serve—or possibly even associate with—and thus opportunities to learn to love unconditionally. There is constant encouragement, even pressure, to be “active”: to have a calling” and thus to have to grapple with relationships and management, with other peoples ideas and wishes, their feel­ings and failures; to attend classes and meetings and to have to listen to other people’s sometimes misinformed or prejudiced notions and to have to make some constructive response; to have leaders and occasionally to be hurt by their weakness and blindness, even unrighteous dominion; and then to be made a leader and find that you, too, with all the best intentions, can be weak and blind and unrighteous. Church involvement teaches us compassion and patience as well as courage and dis­cipline. It makes us responsible for the personal and marital, physical, and spiritual welfare of people we may not already love (or may even heartily dislike), and thus we learn to love them. It stretches and challenges us, though disappointed and exasperated, in ways we would not otherwise choose to be— and thus gives us a chance to be made better than we might choose to be, but ultimately need and want to be.” (emphasis added)

    I can see how these leaders’ weakness and blindness has been so, so hurtful, and yet I can also see your compassion, patience, courage, and discipline. I’m so sorry that you’ve gone through this, but I’m grateful you raised your voice about it.

  11. spunky says:

    On, MJ. I’m so sorry. But I admire your courage to still go to church, and I admire your testimony to pray and find the truth from God, that you are loved, and God sees the truth. Well done for you. Shame on your male leaders.

  12. Libby says:

    MJ, thank you so much for sharing this here. We need to hear the voices that are silenced. And if I may be so bold: this is why we need women in all levels of Church leadership.

  13. Libby says:

    Also, this, from President Obama: “We need to keep changing the attitude that raises our girls to be demure and our boys to be assertive, that criticizes our daughters for speaking out and our sons for shedding a tear. We need to keep changing the attitude that punishes women for their sexuality and rewards men for theirs.”

  14. Kristine N says:

    Wow. I’m speechless. I’m so sorry you’re being treated so terribly by people who should be friends. It’s very brave of you to share your experience. I’m glad you’ve stayed.

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