“The greater the power, the more dangerous the abuse.” Edmund Burke
Might be triggering.
Maddie* and I have been emailing back and forth for weeks. Her story—only part of what I will share here—is tragic. As fantastic as it may sound, it is all true. And that is part of the tragedy of it; it is true.
Ten years ago, Maddie became Music Director of a very nice mainline Protestant church in a college town. It was a mid-sized congregation with many resources and when she was first hired, they were searching for a new Senior Pastor. Her first year was delightful; the organ was a treat to play, the choir–though not huge—was very good with an influx of college students when school was in session, and she had a decent music budget to hire extra musicians and purchase music. The Interim Pastor was a great guy, and she was sad to see him go.
Maddie’s spouse was in graduate school, and they were living in that college town until he finished. They would move on, since he had a job lined up, in three years. She took the Music Director position because it was half-time and wouldn’t interfere with the other obligations she had.
When the new Senior Pastor was hired, that’s when all the trouble started. He was, she says, smarmy and very arrogant. He told her he knew everything about church music. He told her she would be better off if she just lightened up. He wanted to know if she was married, or really married?
He was inappropriate, saying things about what she wore and asking her to show a little more skin. She began wearing her choir robe anytime she was in the building when she was practicing or leading choral rehearsals or just filing music in the choir room. She avoided staying for the Fellowship Hour after worship but she could but couldn’t totally avoid not going.
Her spouse noticed the subtle change in her and asked what was wrong. Maddie said she was just tired. Gradually, all the joy and fun went out of her, and she became a shadow of the person she had been before. She lost weight and her friends began to notice the changes as well.
As time went on, the Pastor became MORE inappropriate, making even more inappropriate comments, brushing up against her “accidentally,” and asking how her marriage was going. Professionally, Maddie doubled-down on her excellence so that the Pastor would not be able to criticize or not give her a good reference when she left. She had what she describes as panic attacks before going to the church for any reason and would occasionally vomit and she lost more weight. Her spouse thought she was “run-down” and thought she should get a physical. Maddie had a physical and was told she was fine, physically, but her physician wondered if she could be depressed. Maddie did not understand what was happening to her. The Pastor was inappropriate, sure, but was it sexual harassment? It didn’t feel severe enough to be sexual harassment, but it still made her feel awful.
As her spouse was finishing his degree program, she began to feel a little better. She knew they would be moving on, closer to their families, and it would end soon. She got a little bit of her “sparkle” back as time came closer to their move and she no longer vomited before going to church. But one afternoon, as she was practicing alone, the Pastor came in and tried to touch her in a way I won’t go into here. Maddie slapped him so hard, her right hand stung for days after. And he laughed at her.
Up until this point, she had not said a word to her spouse because she didn’t know what to say. The occasional off-color remark, or inappropriate comment, or snide thought about her marriage didn’t SEEM like anything to tell him about. But the groping in the organ loft seemed different. Maddie’s spouse didn’t believe her. She enumerated little, subtle things that added up. She told him about how afraid she had been for months, how she had panic attacks and vomited. But he wanted some tangible proof and she had none to give him.
Maddie and her spouse moved on from that college town, along with a somewhat reluctant reference from the Pastor. And her life has gone on, somewhat happily, but she is not the same as before. She has regretted not reporting the Pastor to the denomination. And has regretted not telling her spouse from the beginning.
What would you have done? Can you see why Maddie didn’t report the Pastor?
Jon Eiche says
I have no advice to give; only my sympathy for what Maddie endured and still is enduring, and my prayers that God would help her wounded soul to heal. (Churches—that is, some of the people in churches—can be the worst! And I say that as a church musician myself.)
Marie Grass Amenta says
Thank you so much, Jon. I hope Maddie will read your comments because she is still hurting.