I came to the church in the fall of my sophomore year of college. My first visit, I heard the story in John 3 where Nicodemus goes to Jesus at night, and Jesus says he must be born again. I didn’t know that it was in the Bible that Jesus said to be born again. So that night with a friend who attended the church I prayed to be born again. I still consider my relationship with God a defining part of my identity, and somehow I can’t tell the story without including this. I became involved in ministry at the church. I deeply angered one of my parents when I decided not to come home for the summer, instead finding a part time job and serving at the church. In my family I was dealing with issues of substance abuse, physical and verbal abuse. I’d never been open about this; being involved in this ministry team surrounded me for the first time with people who cared about me on the inside. For the first time, I began to trust people with parts of my story.
In the fall of my senior year in college, my leader invited me to meet one-on-one weekly. Being asked by an authority I never questioned this. I also knew there was a lot of hurt inside me, and I’d read magazine articles that would say things like ‘find someone you can trust to talk to, like a pastor.’ I trusted without question. This relationship quickly turned into one that I now understand to look like counseling or therapy – but without the proper boundaries/safeguards in place. It quickly got very complicated. It affected the relationships between the leader, myself, and the leader’s spouse. Looking back, I favor the label ‘malpractice’ as I believe an appropriate reaction on the part of my leader should have been to refer me to professional counseling, but instead resulted in damaged relationships (and much guilt/shame/confusion for me).
I remained with the church and ministry and struggled with depression. When I revealed my struggles I was met with the question “How is your relationship with God?” I cannot remember what was explicitly stated, but the thrust was that I didn’t have a good enough relationship with God to resolve my problems. I devoted hours to prayer and Bible reading, in hopes God would heal my depression. I was convinced to take a break from ministry, but the effect was then I was cut off from the supportive relationships I DID have in the church. (The general saying in the church was “Get involved, join a ministry team”.) Without serving in a ministry team there were few outlets for real supportive relationship. The isolation of course did not help the depression, and I was actively discouraged by some leaders from taking any medication or seeking professional help. Eventually, I left. I found help. There are of course so many more stories, good and bad, but for today, these are the ones I need to share.