This week’s guest is Elizabeth. Elizabeth grew up in what she calls a “Methodist Baptist” church, mostly Methodist but with more conservatism and even some charisma thrown in.
Elizabeth loved church as a kid, but as a teen, things were harder: purity culture demands, a youth pastor leaving abruptly and even a camp with exorcisms. Looking back, Elizabeth sees a theme: The parents did little to help the kids feel and be safe.
After graduation, Elizabeth went to a Baptist college where she met (again!) and married her now-husband. When adversity hit, trying to expand their family, they saw their Christian friends’ true colors.
“People can be really, really cruel when they’re just saying what they’ve been taught. They’re not thinking about the flip side of what they’re saying.”
Throughout a difficult pregnancy, crying out to God, Elizabeth thought, No one is listening and no one is coming to save me. She continued hoping, though, only to be let down again and again. Church people will not support you and no god is coming to save you.
“It feels like I spent my whole life pushing a really heavy dresser down a hallway…and everybody around me is saying, ‘You can do it because your best friend is on the other side holding it…’
Elizabeth sees that it was here. She was the strong and resilient one all along. She bore the load, the emotional, physical and mental weight. No one—neither supernatural or human—showed up to help.
“When there was one set of footprints they were mine.”
Now, on the other side of faith, Elizabeth has her immediate family and a strong community of friends, diverse people walking alongside her. She no longer looks to the sky for help, but knows she has all she needs inside her and right around her.
My analogy is that I’ve been carrying a tall, heavy piece of furniture my whole life, and all that time everyone around me has been telling me that my best friend is on the other end helping me. When I’ve asked to see that friend, they’ve said I just need to trust that he’s there, of course he is, because I wouldn’t be able to carry the load if he wasn’t. When I asked him to talk to me, I didn’t hear anything, but convinced myself that of course he was there. When I finally decided to set down the load and see for myself, I discovered that I’d actually been carrying it on my own the whole time, and that I’ve always been stronger than I gave myself credit for.
This week’s guest is Shannon. Shannon’ story delves into the emotional experience of deconversion. Shannon grew up in an Independent Fundamental Baptist church, where the teachings were pernicious.
“It’s like ‘Love Jesus. Love God. And be afraid of demons, ‘cause they’re everywhere and they’re going to get you!’”
As a teen and into adulthood, Shannon knew her own beliefs and convictions did not always align with her church or family. She tried to be who they wanted her to be, but her decisions were never quite enough for them.
“…showed me that no matter what I give, there will always be one step further. It’s just not good enough.”
Over the years, she slowly, like “mental velcro,” ripped out the only beliefs she had known. Where her family couldn’t hold space for her questions, her husband could. It was a hard journey, but she wasn’t on it alone.
“From, mentally saying, ‘This isn’t real. I think I’m done’ to being done? It was torture.”
Today, Shannon misses the certainty she used to have, the path laid out in front of her with easy answers. But she is able to see the world with new eyes—the glory and majesty of nature, the wonders of scientific inquiry. It has changed her for the better, and she isn’t looking back.
This week’s guest is Seth. Seth was the oldest child in a large homeschooling family who attended attended mostly non-denominational churches. He was always studious and had read through the Bible multiple times before adulthood.
In high school, Seth made his faith his own and dove deeply into Youth Earth Creationism. He studied at a state university and a few years after graduation began work at The Creation Museum.
“It was a dream come true for me but also turned into not-a-very-good experience…”
While living near the museum, Seth was introduced to a fringe religious movement he describes as “Messianic Judaism meets evangelicalism meets conspiracy theories.” In the Hebrew Roots movement, Seth discovered teachings he’d not encountered before and some doubts began to creep in.
[Sharing the gospel] I went into detail on all the doctrine and as I was saying I realized I wouldn’t believe it if I were hearing it from somebody else.
Over the next year, Seth continued to experience conflicts between YEC and Hebrew Roots. The two ways of thinking were at odds—flat earth or round, scientific cosmology or the broken body of a leviathan?
My faith “tendon” was getting stretched and stretched and stretched.
There was a point … it felt like part of my brain just broke and almost in an instant I realized I couldn’t believe anymore.
By 2020, Seth realized he was an atheist, no longer able to convince himself to believe again.
So, finally realizing that I didn’t believe and admitting to my self I was an atheist was some of the most terrifying moments of my life on an emotional level.
“I was climbing up that slope the whole time, getting closer and closer to God and then…I stepped over the edge, and I just plummeted.”
This week’s guest is Anne. Anne grew up in a loving and happy Christian home in a large city where her father pastored a small reformed church.
“We were cloistered as this little wonderful diverse congregation.”
As a teen, her faith was very real to her, and a few years later, she attended a Christian college, but struggled mentally and physically.
“I was trying to figure out what made me a christian aside from the fact that…I didn’t drink, I didn’t smoke, I didn’t blah blah blah.”
Anne left that school and attended a Bible college, but she quickly realized she would be excluded from most ministry opportunities because of her gender.
“I thought, ‘You know? What is out there for me?’”
After a short and sometimes insulting experience in children’s ministry and then a sickness that went on for man years, Anne felt like God had “benched” her, but she continued praying and hoping.
“I was such a magical thinker…”
Over the next many years, Anne’s family met one obstacle after another—toxic or cult-like churches, physical and mental illnesses, Christians backing Trump and even loved ones passing away. Finally, she couldn’t take any more.
“I couldn’t hear from God…I couldn’t worship. I couldn’t hypnotize myself with the piano. I couldn’t do anything…[I was] done.”
Then during the Pandemic, Anne read a single book that made her stop and think for a moment. Then, her questions started coming and couldn’t be stopped. From the outside, it may seem like Anne’s deconversion was quick, but she had given God plenty of time to reveal himself.
NOTE: This transcript is AI produced (otter.ai) and likely has many mistakes. It is provided as rough guide to the audio conversation.
David Ames 0:11
This is the graceful atheist podcast. Welcome, welcome. Welcome to the graceful atheist podcast. My name is David, and I am trying to be the graceful atheist. Consider telling a friend about the podcast share an episode that you've been in, or an episode that really touched you and that will grow the podcast. This Tuesday nights, we will have another deconversion anonymous hangout that will discuss the podcast and have this week's guests so please join us the Facebook group deconversion anonymous, join that first and then Tuesday night Come and meet many of the people who are part of the community. Special thanks to Mike T for editing today's show. On today's show, my guest today is Anne, and has been a part of a number of different faith traditions beginning with Dutch Reformed Calvinists background, she worked with her father in an inner city missions Church in New Jersey, she's been a Baptist, she's been a charismatic in Foursquare and Assemblies of God, and eventually was in an organization called streams. That was very cult like, and the common theme throughout Ann's life is her leadership ability, her desire to do God's will her attempt to live out the Christian ideal, and yet tragedy besets her and she is held back by the role of women and ultimately is a part of a cult where things begin to unravel. And she begins to recognize the flaws in evangelicalism and that it no longer is workable for her. To sum up. Mike T's response to me was when is an going to write a book, it is that kind of story. So without further ado, here is an to tell her story.
And welcome to the graceful atheist podcast.
Thank you. It's great to be here. David,
David Ames 2:16
I appreciate you jumping on short notice. You're a part of our community deconversion anonymous, and I put out the call I needed I needed an interview and you are right there. But I am super excited about your story in particular, because I think adult D conversions are much more telling. And just as a quick example, I had a Christian research organization reach out to me and asked me about you know that I have any Gen Z's that I could refer them to which I would have said no anyway, but I pointed out to them that you know, if you're Gen Z, you're supposed to be questioning everything. You should really be looking at adults and why they have changes of heart whether deconstruction or deconversion. So anyway, I don't want to give away thanks. So let's, let's hear your story. And we'll begin with what was your faith tradition? Growing up?
All right. So I am Dutch and I grew up in a Christian Reformed Church. So very Calvinist, yeah, um, I come from my father was a pastor, my grandfather, his dad was a pastor in the Christian Reformed Church. When we go way back, we even found some Jewish roots that that one of our forefathers was a rabbi. So you know, there's a long line of Bible teachers and scholars in the family. Yeah, I guess. Yeah. So my parents met at Calvin College, and my dad took a took a ministry opportunity in Paterson, New Jersey, which is right outside of New York City called inner city, it was in a mission. And he started a church in this mission. So they were giving out bread and soup to people on the streets. And he came and his job was to make it a church. And he did. And it was a it was a wonderful Inner City Church. It was, it was full of diversity, primarily African American, a little bit of Hispanic, you know, a few people from all over the world. And this was during the 60s. So as a civil rights movement, and all of the, all of the, you know, we shall overcome and all the civil rights movements were going on and we were cloistered as this wonderful, diverse congregation. It was it was fantastic. I mean, my mom and dad were great. My dad was the picture of love and acceptance. No judge mentalism. He helped all who had needs he was he was a fantastic preacher. He was just the real deal and everything. You know, and so it was a wonderful, wonderful experience. I felt loved and embraced. And, you know, it was great. It was Yeah, I can't even say it enough. Yeah.
David Ames 4:58
I think that you know, you You've probably heard me say, but I think it's important to recognize there are so many good things about being a part of a community being, you know, loved by people beyond your parents, you know, all of those things can be quite good. Obviously, we have people in the audience who have had more traumatic experiences when they were young, but it sounds like yours was really positive, got exposed to different cultures as well. And so that sounds really interesting.
Yeah, yeah, we grew up singing all gospel music, black gospel music, you know, um, but at the same time, I went to Christian school, and the Christian School was, again, a bunch of cushy foreign people, all these Dutch immigrant kids who had moved to America, and we're second third generation. And they were more from the suburbs, they were more Republicans, whereas we were Democrats, they were more just, it was just kind of like this culture clash between what I was experiencing at church and what I was experiencing in school. And I had a hard time ever really fitting in anywhere in a way, you know, because the kids in my church, I went to the same schools and the kids in my school, I went to the same churches, and there I was kind of straddling the middle. Right. So I found that kind of hard. In a way, it was a very secular upbringing in the sense that the school didn't act very Christian. You know, we were there were the partiers, and you know, the druggies. And you know, all of that was still going on, you had a few people in there that were the Holy Rollers that I just didn't want to have any part of, because, you know, they were little dresses and carried their Bibles with them and had this weird smile on their face. Like they were in a cult. You know, I'm, I wasn't a partier, but I wasn't a holy roller. I was just kind of one of those middle line, kids, you know, just trying to get through. Yeah. And my family was very, they weren't strict about you know, what we wore, I wear bikinis and two tops, you know, we weren't all caught in the purity culture. This was kind of before that. I didn't have a curfew. You know, my parents didn't care what we watched on TV, I had all the latest records, I listened to meatloaf or everything else, you know, it just it didn't matter. It was all it was all good.
David Ames 7:24
What time period are you growing up as the 70s or late or
I grew up in? I was born in 61. So this is a 60s and 70s. So you know, I'm a total teenager during the FlowerPower movement and the hippie movement. And you know, like, behind that, and it was a Yeah. It wasn't Yeah. But you know, I, so I wasn't, you know, we had we read the Bible, every meal. We had devotions after every meal. I know, my dad would read the Bible after our dinner. And we don't lay around in the floor and listen to the Bible stories. And you know, talk about I'm going to laugh about things like, maybe God is set aside and Isaiah Isaiah, like, he's on the toilet. And then we thought that was the funniest thing. We want to hear that verse over and over again, crazy things like that. But I do think that the Christian Christianity influenced my growing up in a few ways, because my dad was absent a lot. He had, there were a lot of needs. And he was, you know, one of those pastors that met everybody else's needs and left it to my mom to raise us. And, you know, later on, he had a come to Jesus about that, and, you know, repented, and we had a hug, and you know, but if that was hard, because my dad was kind of more of the, my dad was the My mom was a strict disciplinarian. And my dad was the kind of listener, right, the pastoral care guy. So I was more like my dad. And I was, you know, kind of ADHD a little bit out there. I was emotionally impulsive, and my mom to her to be a Christian, especially a pastor's daughter with strict obedience. And I didn't fit that bill. So I got a lot of, you know, it wasn't easy. Yeah. It wasn't easy on me. And, and, you know, it's not till now that I look back on it, and I go, Oh, ah, you know, but then I just stuck. There was something wrong with me. I wasn't I wasn't good enough. I wasn't perfect enough. I had to be a perfect little Christian, you know. And, wow, I remember this one example. I was five years old. And my little best friend from school came to church with her grandmother, her grandmother was playing the organ. And she was sitting with me in the church pew and they were having communion. And when that communicate by we pretended to take the bread and we pretended to drink the cup, and my mother read me the riot act, she was furious, and I was in such trouble. I was five. Now she looks at it and she says, What was I thinking, you know, but back then it was serious business and I had blasphemed God You know,
David Ames 10:01
yeah, I think it's so hard because kids take those things so seriously. And, and you know, Christianity in general is saying that, you know, you're a bad person. Like, that is the message and right when a kid starts to internalize that pretty young, that's not very healthy.
Yeah, I didn't, I mean, I did and it wasn't healthy. I did, you know, have my whole Jesus acceptance when I was four, like, everybody else four and five. And, you know, it really came down to my Sunday school teacher who was also my babysitter who was a sweet little old grandma, who just loved Jesus and told us about how much she loved Jesus. And, and she had a little, that little picture of the white, you know, Jesus gave it to me, and I'm like, oh, I want him to come into my heart, you know, and that was it. So, yeah, I had all of that going up. But, but I wasn't, you know, I wasn't, I wasn't a holy roller. You know, I just kind of got by with what I could get by with and did my thing. So that was my growing up years.
David Ames 10:59
In the Christian school where you mentioned, it was a little more secular. But did you have Bible classes? There was Was there a religious track? But yeah, definitely,
we definitely had Bible classes. We, you know, had chapels. All our songs were Christian songs, you know, it was, you know, it's Christian, but, but it didn't, it didn't feel like beat you over the head Christianity, you know, it's just kind of like Christianity was part of it. And it was more of a, because it was more of a Calvinist kind of thing. It was more world life view. Right. So God was a part of every part of your life, but we didn't have to beat it into everything. You know, like, our history class didn't have to be all about God. And you know, you didn't even talk about God and your history class. So it was it was more of I thought, a balanced kind of environment. Yeah.
David Ames 11:52
And then, because of five year olds, not really capable of making that kind of decision. When do you identify the time where you you decided for yourself that you wanted to be a Christian?
Um, I think that would probably, well, I did make profession of faith, which was also a CRC thing. You at one point you, you take all your catechism classes and you spit, you know, you spit back all of the doctrine from John Calvin, the Heidelberg Catechism, and then you become a full fledged member. And that's when you can now take communion and not get in trouble for I was about 16 When I did that,
David Ames 12:32
okay. Okay. And again, I guess what I'm trying to get out is internally, was that real for you? Was that something that was important to you personally? Or were you just kind of following along?
No, it was very real. To me. It was very real to me. Um, I remember crying when my father was asking me questions. And he actually had a picture of me sitting there with all the council members and church people around me. And it was it was very emotional. Yeah. Very real. Yeah. So then I graduated high school, and I wanted to go to decorating school. Because I was an artist, I just really loved decorating. And my mom was like, No, you have to go to Calvin College, because that's where we went. And that's where everybody goes, and that's what's going to be good for you. So I go off to Calvin College, and I wasn't ready. I didn't want to be there. I struggled through college. I was there for two years. And I struggled because I don't know. I mean, there were all kinds of things going through me at that time. But I would go there skinny, I'd meet a lot of guys, you know, that's why I was. And I have all these boyfriends. And then as time went on, I started to gain weight because of the college food. And then my love, life started to shrink. And then I started to get miserable, and I developed an eating disorder. And then I would throw myself under the, you know, the blanket of God. And I would go into the prayer rooms, and I would just pray and pray and pray. God helped me God helped me and they always had two little prayer rooms in the dorm basements, they were all dark, and they put up little Christian posters. And they had like black lights in there. And they had a little bench and most people went in there to make out yeah, not me. I went in there to pray. So half the time I'd be in this little prayer room and then right in the prayer room next door with this thin wall, I'd hear some couple going at it, you know, and I was just praying, oh, God, you know, help me, help me be a better person and blah, blah, blah. So, um, each time like after the first year of college, I went back home, I got into Overeaters Anonymous, I lost all my weight. I went back to college again, all skinny again. All these boyfriends all these friends started to get away. Guy became a compulsive Overeater. Again, I was skipping half my classes that I didn't like, like biology. I was getting A's in my art classes. And I just, you know, I was just unstable. I was just so unstable. But, you know, I'd go out partying on the weekends and then on Wednesday nights out same prayer meeting and I just couldn't get my grounding, you know. Um, so I went back to New Jersey after two years, everyone just wanted me out of college, the professors encouraged. My grandparents, everybody was like, you just go home, you're a mess, you're a hot mess. So, I went home, and started working as a graphic artist got my weight back down, you know, I was now happy because I was back in my church that was loving and wonderful. And but then I realized I didn't have any friends anymore. My age, my friends, were all gone. I needed to meet people. So I ended up in a non denominational church in their young adults group, because that's where you're gonna get to meet people. Right? Right. So that's where I encountered more of the fundamentalist kind of faith. You know, they really drove home having daily devotional time, that was not something we ever really talked about in the CRC. Yeah. I got to see all this wonderful movies like a thief in the night and all those awful things. And I was more fascinated than terrified because we didn't adopt that view. And the CRC were more Amil. So, but at the same time, I thought, What if they're right, and this happens, and it you know, was a little scary. And, um, I was, I was, you know, just kind of getting to know that there were different expressions of faith that were going on.
In the meantime, I met a guy through a friend and he was a non Christian, and I started dating him and I fell in love with him. He was just the nicest guy. He, he was better than any of the Christian boyfriends I had ever had. Yeah, I was much more moral and consider it and wonderful than anybody. Okay. So things were going on. My parents were cool with it. It was all cool. And then one day my grandparents came to visit and this is my dad's parents. My grandpa was a pastor, my grandma was the most influential adult in my life. She loved me and spoiled me and wrote me letters. And, you know, she came and she said, Oh, no, no, no, you can't you can't date a non Christian.
David Ames 17:18
I was in trouble with grandma. She wrote me a letter, I read it, I, you know, I prayed about it. And that's when I felt God telling me to break up with my boyfriend. And so three days before my 21st birthday, I dumped this poor guy breaking his heart and mind. It was a terrible scene. And all I could say to him was, it's because you're not a Christian, you know, and which, Wow, that really went over big with his mom. And so I started digging deeper into my faith. And I was reading my Bible all the time. I started going through my dad's library and reading like Burke off and all of these bobbing and all of these doctrinal, you know, things, and I was studying doctrine. And I was trying to figure out what made me a Christian, aside from the fact that all I did was, I didn't drink and I didn't smoke, and I didn't wobble, blah, you know, I didn't know section, you know, this kind of thing. So I was trying to figure it all out. And I was really miserable. And my dad said to me, you know, you when I am miserable, I serve, which obviously, he did, because that's all he did. And so he got me involved in the church serving. And so I was running the youth group, and I was always doing the music and all this great stuff in church, but I got more involved. And at that point, the, the youth pastor at that time, and my father and my mother, and one week and all said to me, have you considered going to reformed Bible College? And I was like, ah, that's where all those Holy Rollers. Oh, my God, you know, just the whole thought of it just choked me. Yeah. But three people sent it to me in one weekend, so that must be God, right? I mean, obviously, it's not. So, we happen to be going out to Michigan, for my grandparents wedding anniversary, the same one that made me break up with a non Christian. And RBC was there. So I checked it out. And I sat there the whole time with my arms crossed. And you know, the girl has showed me around was the epitome of a holy roller. And I just, I just was like, God, I can't do this. Yeah. But somewhere during those fundamentalist times in the young adults group, I had decided that God's will and my will were two different things. So God would never want me to do something I wanted to do. So if I didn't want to do it, that must be gods but guess what I went. Here was a choice that I saw I was working as a graphic artist. I could have moved on to New York City and worked at an ad agency and made a lot of money and really been fulfilled. And instead, I went to Bible college, you know, like, get the most worthless degree you can possibly.
David Ames 20:12
Tell me about it? Yes.
So for three years, it was a four year school, but I could transfer two years from Calvin, I managed to find some of the classes I did fail and transfer them over for credits. And I actually had a really good time in Bible college, I made some really good friends. I excelled in my studies, I had a lot of fun, I loved doctrine and theology, I ate it up it was, it was a really positive experience. And I was really good at what I did. I had three professors pull me aside and talk to me. The first one was my sociology professor who told me I was going to write books, because she loved the way you know, my words were in writing. I was like, wow, cool, you know. And then another professor pulled me aside and said, You're so great at teaching, I'm going to, you're going to be writing curriculum materials. I'm like, well, that's cool. Well, yeah. And then the third woman, she was about ready to retire. She was 65. She was a very, you know, powerful woman. She pulled me aside and she said, I hate to tell you this, but you're a woman. And you're not gonna have any future ministry.
David Ames 21:22
Wow. spoke the truth out loud there.
She said, It's not right. It's not fair. But you've got nothing. Maybe you should go to Calvin College and get an elementary ed degree, you know, and I was just like, oh, cuz See, my dad always taught that women should be in church office. Yeah, my dad was advocating for that. And so here I am in this environment where there's so many of the guys they're like, No, you're a woman, you should be quiet, you know, and, and they'd be speaking up in class and pontificating. And if a woman talk, they just like not even listen. I mean, they were all so high on their laurels. And I was bound to prove them all wrong, right. But that was kind of a really moment of truth. I thought, you know, what is there out there for me?
David Ames 22:11
Okay. Wow. Yeah. Yeah, so interesting. I, again, not like I think Bible College was a positive experience for me too. Same thing theology was, I just loved that. And I joke that the professors did too good a job of teaching basically critical thinking, and you know, so it's interesting, but the elements of being a strong leader and a woman that keeps coming up on people that I've been interviewing, and the struggle to know that that's something you're really good at, and that the systemic nature of the culture you're in is not going to allow you to do that. It must be really frustrating.
It was it was frustrating, and I didn't take limitations. Well, you know, I was gonna challenge him every way I could, you know, I still had that youthful zeal. And so, um, yeah.
So after I graduated, I ended up going to Yosemite National Park, as in the Christian ministry, in the national parks movement, and I lead worship in the campgrounds and in the little chapel there for the summer, really fun, you know, met people from all over the world. And at that point, there was a church in Boca Raton, Florida. It was a huge PCA church that contacted me out of the blue, they had seen my picture in the banner, which was the cushy foreign publication. And so I was, you know, in Christian ed, and they said, Would you consider being our director of children's ministries, so I didn't have any job lined up. They flew me out from California to Florida. They they loved on me with the palm trees in the ocean and the pools and the I mean, it was gorgeous. And then the key lime pie and, you know, they just presented their best foot forward to me, this was a huge PCA church that was following Willow creeks model of evangelism. And, you know, we were like really close over there to Coral Ridge, which was, you know, Kennedy's Church and the evangelism movement, and they were all tied in together. And so this was a huge church that had over 1500 people at that time, that was like a mega church, because that was a long time ago, and 500 kids under fifth grade, fifth grade, and under that I would be responsible for all the programs. Wow. And I loved Florida, and they treated me really well. But there was this Clank in my gut that was like, I don't want to do this. So guess what, that must be God's will. Right. Woman and Yeah, they'll let me do children's ministries. So I took the job moved out there. And I was on the pastoral staff, you know, with all the pastors, except that they'd all go out to lunch without me because they were the boys club. And I was just the woman doing the children's ministries. And when I got there, the ministry was it was a hot mess. They had a woman before me was an elementary school teacher, and she didn't know anything about administration and a church kind of setting. So I took all my knowledge from Bible college, and I was good friends with my Christian Ed prof there, and I'd call them all the time and what books do I read. And I went in just revamped that whole program in a couple months, like I had, they couldn't get volunteers. I had 150 volunteers lined up. I had the nurseries running. Well, they were sterilizing all the toys. I had all the children's ministries running like Lego good shit, right? And then I decided, Okay, now that I have this all done, now, I want to really teach these kids to love Jesus, like I learned to love Jesus. So I'm working really hard on that. And I'm, I'm doing I'm using all my creative gifts and getting all this great worship going. And you know, I just thought it was just, I was just getting to get going. And at one point, in one of the pastoral meetings that I was in, I said that to the senior pastor, I said, you know, I really want to see these kids get a little better education. We've been using the same curriculum, long time, I'd like to change that curriculum. I'd like to embellish these programs. And he looked at me and he said, he said, that is not your job. Your job is just to get volunteers. Oh, wow. I was like, whoa, whoa, he goes, I just want you to keep those kids out of the service. That was it. Yeah. And I was, I was just stunned. I mean, my mouth was hanging open. I'm like, I don't get it. I mean, first of all, growing up as a preacher's kid, and my dad the way it was, I could suggest anything. And my dad would say, Hey, that's a great idea. Let's do it. You know, this guy, he just he just just pulled me and one second flat. Well, I was going to on the, I've always been going around denominations, I was going to an Assembly of God church on Wednesday nights for the Wednesday night service. This kickin the Holy Spirit, you know, when I was in college, I should mention this, I was going to a charismatic Christian Reformed Church. So I had gotten, you know, a real full picture of what it was like to, you know, worship and experience the Holy Spirit and pray in tongues, and, you know, all that stuff. So, um, I was going to this Assembly of God church, and this woman was sitting next to me that night, this was just after it happened. And I didn't know I didn't know where I didn't know anyone there. She looks at me. And she says, God tells me that you work with children. And God tells me that the senior pastor just just took the wind out of your sails. And I'm just like, No one knew me there. I was. So I was towns away, you know, and she says this, and I just start crying, you know. And she prays with me, and I thank her. She says, God says, he's on your side. This is you know, and I'm like, okay, you know, good. So I go back feeling a lot better. And the senior pastor calls me in his office, and he says, you know, he says, I've seen you sitting out there with my secretary crying once in a while, I was adjusting to living there and stuff. And it was so different being in this huge white. Oh, like, there was one black woman in there that she was my friend. All like, coming there in this high wealth situation coming from this little inner city place, you know, so, um, he says, I think this isn't the right place for you. Yeah, and I'm looking at him. And he goes, I will. I want you to think about that. And it was time for Christmas vacation. He says, you can stay through June and then we'll find somebody else. We won't mention it to anybody said, Okay. I go home. I'm thinking about and I'm praying about it. I come back after Christmas. And I go into the Sunday school classroom, all these women come up to me, Oh, I hear you're leaving. And I was like, what? First of all, I had the morale so good there that they gave me a money tree for Christmas. They rolled up 20 and $50 bills and put them on this tree for me. They loved me. And they're like, you're you're leaving. And I just I didn't even know what to say. Come to find out the senior pastor had gone to the woman's group of 150 people and announced it.
David Ames 29:35
And from that point on, I was lame duck. So from January through June, I was they took away my office. I had an office with all the other pastors with Windows and beauty. They stuck me in the closet behind the sanctuary. Oh Allah. Yeah, yeah, I had I had no voice I had no ability to do anything. The only thing good about being over there was there was a piano. So I just played a piano all day because I had nothing else to do. It was humiliating, and horrible. You know,
David Ames 30:13
I think what's particularly fascinating about this is that they recruited you. Yes. You know, what were they? I guess they must have thought that they were getting a docile person who would just, you know, do the bare minimum or something. But But clearly, you were ambitious and wanted to make an impact in in the world. And so it seems like, they must have been very threatened once you got on staff, and they saw that you you actually wanted to make real changes and be a leader.
Right? I think so. Yeah. Yeah. But it was, it was really hard on me, because I felt well, God, why did you let this happen? You know, I've done everything to honor you. And how could you let this happen? Yeah, you know, in the meantime, in those last five months, I fell in love with someone who didn't fall in love with me. So I had this hole, and then someone fell in love with me who I didn't fall in love with. I mean, this whole big disaster, right.
So I go home in June with my tail between my legs. I went back to Michigan, actually, I didn't go home to New Jersey and got back with my old roommate and went back into my old charismatic Christian Reformed Church where, you know, I love to them there and just kind of puddled for a while, okay. Then I got a job at RBC, the School of the Holy Rollers where I want to attend, they hired me as admissions coordinator, they made a job for me, they said, Hey, our Director of Admissions needs help. You know, you're here, you're dynamic. I think you could go recruit, you're, you know, you've been to school with all these people, you know, the school. And so I had the dream job. I mean, this was my dream job, I get to fly all over the US and Canada, all on their dime. Stay in these hotels, eat in restaurants. I talked to churches, and pastors and youth groups and schools, Christian schools. I loved it. I loved it. The director of admissions was also working on this whole program called students serving students, which was where you'd get some of the students and you did music and drama and just programs for youth groups, okay. And I was all about that, because I was all into the music and drama and the art and stuff. And so we started leaving a lot of worship in the school, and I was looking for a revival, like I was experiencing at church. And we, we do these great programs out, you know, all over the place. He left after one year, and then I was in charge, but they didn't want to give me the job because I was a woman. Here now I'm acting director of admissions with still the admissions coordinator pay, you know, and, um, but I grew that program, I started I actually made five students serving students programs of five students each, and I sent them out to all kinds of local churches, and then we go on, like trips to Florida for spring break. And you know, it was just, it was so cool. We were in Florida, Colorado, British Columbia, doing these things. And I loved it. I was in my element. I was preaching, you know, in these churches, not their sermon, but I was doing my own style of preaching. And I felt like I was thriving as a woman, and the perfect dream job, you know. So, then, unfortunately, well, at that point, I met the man who was going to become my husband. And he was in seminary because I really thought I had to marry a pastor, you know, because that's what we do. And so he was in seminary, he was working as a youth director at a church. And with my hours during the day and his hours working the evening as a youth director. He wouldn't come over to my house till 11 o'clock at night, half the time, right. But I had to be up at eight o'clock for work the next morning. I burnt the candle at both ends and I got mono, okay. And it never went away. Oh, like it didn't go away. It progressed to a chronic condition. They diagnosed me with chronic epstein barr virus, recurring Epstein Barr Virus. That was right when chronic fatigue syndrome was coming out as the Joby disease. Okay, and I had it, I was sick, I couldn't get out of bed. I couldn't do my job. I was just laying there. This was right after we got engaged. And we got married when I was sick, so I just kept hoping I would get better. I'm like my big joke was we spent our whole engagement in bed But it was that way. Yeah. So I had to quit my job. I kept trying to go back to it. And I couldn't do it. I didn't have I didn't have any energy, I used to say was like an 80 year old woman. But now that my mom is in her 80s, I realized I was more like 150 year old under the ground woman, I even push the door open, you know, and we didn't know what was wrong with me. And I was having all these tests. And, you know, we just couldn't get answers. The doctors couldn't do anything. And the meantime, my husband graduated from seminary and became a chaplain, and he was going through CPE, Clinical Pastoral Education program. And he was working in a hospital. So he would go to this hospital all day and be with these sick and dying people. And then he'd come home and look at his wife, who was basically sick and dying. And, you know, we didn't know what to do with me. So that was really stressful. And again, I was like, God, where are you? I was, you know, I was preaching your word. I was out there ministering. I had a great prayer movement going on. I was praying with all kinds of people. I was seeing miracles, I thought, I you know, and and I was just like, why did you bet me? You know, you just benched me. And so I would go up for prayer every week at church where these very astute, amazing prayer warriors would pray over me. I'd go to their prayer thing on Wednesdays and just get prayer and prayer and prayer. And I never get healed. Nothing ever happened. I never felt better. And people started giving me quote words from God, like, the joy of the Lord is your strength. And I was like, I can't even frickin live my flicked my head off the pillow, the joy of the Lord is my strength. But I was like, Okay, I'll try to be more joyful. Maybe that's gonna kill me. And then someone said to me, once you know, your husband, he's behind you, and leadership, because you're so bold and outgoing, and he's quiet. And, you know, I think God is trying to suppress you, so that he can raise your husband up.
David Ames 37:05
Yeah. And then I'd hear things like, um, God wants you to be a human being not a human doing. You know, you have to learn to just rest in God and not always be doing something. And, you know, that's probably where you're getting your self esteem. And, you know, God doesn't want this. And so people would just throw those things at me. And I took it all. I took it all. Yeah, I go to healing services at different churches, I'd see people supposably get fillings in the shape of a Holy Ghost. And I couldn't get out of bed, you know? And, uh, like, I don't get it. You know, Why, God? Why did you bench me? You know, yeah. We were pretty much starving because my husband and CP wasn't making any money. I was living off my disability. Thank goodness, we had that grant was really cheap back then, in the middle of the inner city of Grand Rapids. But we weren't making ends meet and my husband and I were fighting he was going CP has a way of stirring up everything in your past. So he's got everything stirring up in his past. By the way, he's a preacher's kid, too. And it's all stirred up and everything's just getting out of hand. And we're fighting and I'm sick in bed. And life is just how we can't pay any bills. And he's thinking we can't pay bills, because I'm spending money. And I'm like, Look, we don't have any money coming in. You know, it's bad first year stuff on dope, you know? So he finally decided to take a position in a church as an interim pastor. So there's this church in Michigan, we go over there, he takes it. I don't go to church a whole lot because I was just too sick to go to church. And honestly, I didn't like listening to sermons. I thought they were boring. Boring, but I thought the Holy Ghost will take care of that. You know, as soon as he gets the Holy Ghost, he'll be on fire and I'll be fine. Yeah, I'll just pray it through. This is I was such a magical thinker, David. I mean, when my parents told me Santa Claus didn't exist. I didn't believe them. I used to look for him. I mean, I was that person that knew that God could do anything that I asked, you know, and I was not losing faith in God. Even though I had gone through bad church experiences. I was sick. It was all I could do it you know?
Basically, the upshot of the deal is that were there 14 months they want to call a pastor there, he had he's on what they call a duo, which means that they call him or the other guy and they vote. And there was a family in the church that he had angered because he told the mama in charge to stay out of her kids marriage situation, right. And that whole clan hated him, you know, so they never came to church. urge but they came to church that one Sunday to make sure he didn't get that job voted him right out right at this, but I wasn't that upset because that same Sunday we were going to find out if he also would get a church in Virginia. And they he was on a mono there. So I was like, Well, of course they're gonna call him there's only one person there. Well, by the end of the night, we found out that we were jobless. Homeless had nothing. Here we were. I was sick. We had nothing.
David Ames 40:29
That's devastating. Yeah, that's amazing.
Yeah, yeah. But I still trusted God. So we had a big white dog packed all our belongings or big white dog into a truck and ended up house sitting in a tiny little house somewhere for some people that were in Florida, put all our stuff in their basement, and lived in that house for a few months, while my husband scrub toilets. For a job, that was what he did. And, um, but still, I you know, knew God was gonna turn around it was gonna be okay. And then it's just that I feel like it's just such a long story. But um, upshot of the deal is he decided to become a prison chaplain. And we were able to get some stability, then get some income. I had two kids, even though I was sick. I had two girls. He went off to be the chaplain, and I was home. And we were just kind of struggling to get through, but we were doing it. You know, it was I bought a house, it was all good. And then he wanted to go back to church. He's like, Oh, I can't get church ministry out of my mind. I want to go back to a church. So he takes this Church in New Jersey. And I was all about it. Because I was like, well, it's in New Jersey, I'll be by all the people I love, this will be cool. And it was a church at war. It was a church that had run out their last seven pastors. It was a church that 150 years ago had caused the first pastor of the church to kill himself because he was treated so poorly. And we walked right into the middle of it. Yeah, it was the worst situation possible. I mean, his preaching got good. But um, it was bad. I right away, took over the worship team, which was the worst idea in the world because worship, of course, was the hot topic. I started a prayer group, we got involved in the river and all the revival movements that were going on, went to Toronto went to light the fire nation, we did everything to bring revival to this church, right. That was the goal. If we bring revival, it's all going to be okay. Yeah. And the main protagonist in that church was out on his yacht all summer. And he came back to find the church of 65 now had grown to 150 people, new young people who were following us and not him. And he blew the church apart. And they started a concerned committee. And they started all these rumors and lies. And I mean, there were things thrown around, like, no amount of prayer is gonna save this church when I get through with it. Or you're gonna be walking over my dead body before I leave this church or I mean, it was not like anything I had ever seen in my whole entire life.
David Ames 43:17
That's wild. Yeah. That that is not hiding the fact that that's a power trip, you know?
No, there was one experience where one night where my husband was on council, and he called me and he said, Don't let anyone in the door. And I'm like, why? And he goes, we had this big explosion at council meeting, and these people ran out. And, um, he goes, I'm afraid they put a bomb in the car. I mean, that's how bad it was cuz their son lived down the street, and he had bombed the church at one point, and we were like, thinking he was gonna put a bomb in our car. It was bad. It was bad. Yeah, yeah.
During that time, too, I got involved with streams ministries, they were doing courses called hearing God 101. And I was like, we need to go to this because we need to hear God because we're, you know, I mean, I was doing Jericho marches around the church. You know, pastors were dominant blowing their show Fars, every charismatic leader in the community was on board, you know, it was it was crazy. If anyone had, we had gathered the priests and prophets and apostles from the whole area, and they were praying on our behalf, you know, yeah. So, um, yeah, nothing happened. People ran us out. ran us out. My dad, you know, he was so optimistic. We used to call him every day. Guess what happened today? What happened? You know, and he'd be like, what happened today and we tell him to go I can't even I can't even believe it. So, but he always had something positive to pray and then one One Thanksgiving, I was home and he had nothing to say absolutely nothing. And I was like, Whoa,
David Ames 45:07
Bad side, I had this dream that I lost my youngest daughter in the church and I was flying all over looking for. And I went into this bathroom full of kids and this kid snuffed a candle of my nose, you know, burned me, and I heard what I felt like was the audible voice of God say to me, Do not lay your children on the altar for this church. And I was that was it. I was out. Yeah. But I had laid my kids on the altar. I was praying all day and sending them in front of the TV. I was fasting. I was skinny as a rail. I was, you know, like, I was going to save this place in prayer. If it was the last thing I did. Yeah. And at that moment, I just stopped at all I just stopped. My kids became my top priority. Fortunately, they were still very little. And I gathered them and we went to a vineyard church and left my husband at the church to preach and make the money.
David Ames 46:01
Okay. Okay. And those people were mad. Oh, they were mad that I wasn't there. And what about my tithe? Where was my tithe going? And you know, my husband was like, she doesn't even have any calm. Right? Right. So it was about six months, it took my husband to be able to pull himself away from that. And the meantime, I had gathered a really good group of friends at the vineyard and fit right in, we loved it. Our kids were all friends, we're in this community again. And then Tom just joined me there. And we felt welcome and loved there. And then they asked us to stay and play to church, because we had such a good, you know, community going. And we just said we couldn't we just were tired. We were just beat up, you know, yeah, beat up. I mean, I told you a very abridged version of what happened in that church, but you got to trust me, it was the worst thing ever,
David Ames 46:55
I believe you.
One guy said to one guy said to my husband, he goes, You know what? They want you on that cross upfront. They're not going to be happy to leave a pound of flesh. Well come to find out years later, the reason they were so persistent on running out all the pastors, and in fact, the pastor after us ended up in the mental institution. And my dad warned him, he said, Don't go to that church, and that guy didn't listen to him. So um, the reason they had done that was because they were sitting on a pot of gold, because it was a church outside New York City on 11 acres of land, right? Yes, what that property was worth. And guess who was gonna get that money? If that church died? They got it. They got millions and millions of dollars. I found this out a few years ago. Yeah, they pocketed all that money. And I was sick. Yeah. I was sick.
David Ames 47:53
I can imagine.
I mean, I was like, God, you know, what about Ananias and Sapphira? I don't get it. You know, I was waiting for people to drop dead. I was waiting for God to strike people and smite them and you know, make them sick and die. I was waiting for it. I was believing for it. You know, that sounds bad. But you know, it was it was to me, it was all a spiritual warfare. And God had to win, you know? Yeah. But God didn't when we again were unemployed and homeless. Yeah.
So we ended up going to Massachusetts living in a little half a duplex, eating at the food bank had no money freezing eating noodles for every meal. I was homeschooling the kids, they were like three and five at that point. So y'all go. And it was it was kind of horrendous. And then my husband finally got a job and it paid like 18,000 a year and we still didn't have any money. Catholic Charities brought Santa Claus the real Santa Claus this time to our house for Christmas and gave our kids toys and and we got involved in a Foursquare church. So now we're going to Foursquare church.
David Ames 49:14
Yeah. All the bases here.
I had been to every kind of church right? We've been Baptists for a while everything. So we get to this Foursquare church and the pastor I try out for worship team and the pastor is all about worship, and he doesn't want me in and I'm like, devastated. I'm like, why? And he goes, I don't know. I just didn't feel it was God and I was just like, God now you're not even gonna let me leave worship, you know, or play the keyboard or anything. And and, um, he left to the pastor left a few months later, and they got a new pastor and tryouts were again, and I got on and I was on the great worship team, and we were having so much fun and great community. And that pastor came to visit the church and I was nervous as I'll get out because I'm like, Oh crap, you know, here I just he told me I was no good. And now you know, I'm playing and I was a wreck. Well, apparently I was not the only one on the worship team that felt that way. But that Pastor during worship, kneeled on his face and repented and started crying. And he got up to preach. And he said, there were people I kept from using their gifts. And I was wrong. And that just touched me, you know, that really touched me that he was repented enough and good enough to do that. Right. All right, so long story short, now, I'm going to those streams, ministries, things, you know, they're having now to hearing God to a one, which is understanding dreams and visions, and then another course, and I'm taking these courses, and I always had dreams and visions, and I want to grow in all my charismatic abilities, you know, because I didn't get that in my CRC background. Yeah. And, um, John Paul would pray for us all and give us words and you know, I started having dreams about streams. And lo and behold, someone gave them a mountain in New Hampshire to come to New England, and they were going to form a prayer Mountain, 24 hours of prayer and worship streams is going to come out, John Paul was going to come out and I was like, I got to be a part of the smooth god, I gotta be. And I was having words and dreams. And I started emailing them to the ministry. Pretty soon I was talking to John Paul. Pretty soon he gave me a job. I was like, Oh, my gosh, I got a job. But my husband is like, No, I am not leaving my job for ministry. There is no way we're gonna be homeless unemployed, yet another time, right. And so my husband and I are fighting and I'm like, this is a move of God, I have to be a part of it. I mean, we have to do this. And my husband is like, No, not unless I get a job in New Hampshire with this same company. Well, it took them about eight months, but he got one. And we moved up to New Hampshire, and I was so happy. I was like, Oh, my gosh, we're going to the promised land, and I'm dancing and jumping. And finally, I'm gonna find my spiritual calling. You know, it was really hard for me to be married to a pastor who he didn't have the same leadership abilities as I did. His was his was different. He was more of a team leader. He was he wasn't the dynamic preacher. He was more quiet and subtle. He didn't do things the way I thought they needed to be done. And we clashed over that, because I was frustrated. And he'd be like, You should be the pastor then. And I'd be like, they won't let me I'm a woman. You know, it was hard. He finally gave up his credentials, because our marriage can handle it. You know, it was marriage, her or ministry? Yeah. Wow. So this was my chance he could work and stay at a ministry and I could shine, you know, and I came on that staff and I wanted to be teaching courses. And, you know, and but, you know, I knew that in these charismatic ministries, you have to prove yourself. So the first job they gave me was to work the database in a closet, here I am in a closet again, you know, on these computers, and it was awful. But I just did it with a smile. I was so happy to be there. I was one of the first people up there. And, you know, I was close to John Paul, and everybody that was up there. And you know, and I just felt like a big way. And, um, and one day someone came in that wanted to move there. There were always people that wanted to move there. It was like God was calling everybody in. And these people said, Hey, do you have a realtor? And I said, Oh, yeah, I use this guy, Joe. He was great. And John Paul was in the office, they said, No, everyone in our office uses Vicki. And I thought, well, that's weird. You know, we didn't use Vicki and I said, Oh, but Joe gives really good gifts. And he goes, he gave gifts to and I said, Oh, but But Joe, blah, blah, blah. And he goes, Well, Vicki, blah, blah, blah, blah, and we have this little thing. And I'm just thinking we're just talking right? To that he didn't talk to me for three months, three months, because I challenged his authority. But I didn't know it, because I didn't know the rules. You know, and and I didn't play by those rules. And my dad was certainly not an authoritarian leader. And you know, I was like, I don't get it. So um, it was so weird, because I was trying to figure out what I did to offend him, but I couldn't figure it out. No one ever talked to me about it. And then one day, we were at this fireside chat, he would do these things called fireside chats. We didn't actually have a fireside, but he would sit there in the room with all of us and we would like kind of gather at his feet, so to speak, and listen to his great wisdom from God and all his words from God. And, and, um, he said, You know, God tells me not to speak to people sometimes in order to punish them. Oh, wow. Yeah. And I'm like, I think he's so and about me, hmm. But I still I just didn't get it. Um, and little by little people would come and I train them in their job and I'd worked my way up till now I was running the events not running completely it was on a team of people who ran the events and, and, you know, got the airline tickets and I've started to travel all over again. So here, it's like, I'm getting my old RBC job back. I'm traveling. I'm, you know, speaking in front of people and giving words in front of people. It's just like this really great thing. I feel like Yay, I'm back to the promised land. I am. You know, it's so good. I'm fulfilled again. Now, mind you, I'm still fighting with chronic fatigue at this time, because I was sick. I was sick in bed for the first five years, and then I was sick for another 25. And it's still kind of dogs me, but um, I'm managing and it's all going really well and everything's going great. Okay, so they call David Hayward. Do you know David Hayward?
David Ames 55:58
Yes. Not personally. But yes.
They call him to be the pastor. And so you know, initially I was leading the worship in the worship services. And then David and I were leading the worship, and then they call Trevor, a worship pastor in. And then I was part of the worship team. And it was just so much fun because it was on the worship team, in the church and in the conferences. So everything's going great. I'm happy as a clam. I love David. You know, he's a good friend of mine, Mitch and Jeanne, you know, or they're, they're good friends. And one day, John Paul calls a meeting for everybody on staff, very important meeting, he sits us all down. And he says, God has revealed to me that the reason I am sick because he was getting a lot of colds. That Let's not mention, he was traveling non stop 24/7, you know, on planes, and you know, never sleeping. God has revealed to me that there's division and conflict in the camp, and that's why he's striking me ill. Oh, yeah. And I was in fairy land. I had no idea the stuff that was going on right now. No idea. And I'm, and I'm just looking at him like, huh, yeah, I know, you're sick as you travel, you know. And all these people start repenting and getting to his feet, and they're piling on his knees, and they're crying at his feet. It's like Mary Magdalene, at the feet of Jesus. And they're just repenting. And oh, we're so sorry. And they're praying for him. And he's just sitting there just taking all this adoration and love. And the next day, David Hayward confronted him and said, that's just not cool. Now, you are setting yourself up as God basically and taking all the adoration and that's that spiritual abuse. You know, he called it well, you can imagine how furious JP was after, you know, see how mad he was at that realtor encounter, right? Yeah, imagine how furious, furious, he was at this. And he he fired. David right on the spot. Mitch, Jeanne were fired. The two other people that worked with me in the in the events thing, Mitch was over the events, they, they quit, they're like, I'm out of here, you know, and then I was like, my world was spinning, what's going on? What's going on? This was going so well, I don't understand it. So come to find out that things were going on, you know, because people were having suggestions. And he felt his authority was challenged, when there was all this stuff going on. But they were keeping me out of it because they knew I needed the job. And you know, they just wanted me to be safe. And, um, but then it all broke out. And I was devastated. Because these were the people I was close to, you know, David was my good friends. And you know, Mitch and Jeanne and them and, and, and I was just like, oh, man, but Mitch said to me, just keep your head down. Don't make any trouble. Just try to get through this and keep your job. But it was really hard because it turned into a place of slander, the talking and the way that they slandered them was just awful, right? And we were basically told to shun them all. Okay, um, but I didn't, I didn't shun them. They were my friends. And when David left, they packed up their car to leave, you know, their truck and everything because they bought a house out there and everything. And we went to help them move. You know, we went there, and Mitch and Jeanne were there but nobody from the church was there. No buddy from the ministry was there. Nobody, and one person drove down the street. And he looked at us and he said, What are you doing here? And we said, we're helping the move, you know, and they were just like, whoa.
So, it wasn't long after that, that John Paul said to me, well, We need a new pastor. Maybe we should look at your husband. In my husband's mind, he's like, there is no way in hell, I'm in the middle of this.
David Ames 1:00:12
Wise, man wise.
No way. But he didn't want to come right now and say that because I was working there and he didn't want to jeopardize my job. So we went out for lunch with all of them. And they kind of got to know Tom and talk to him. And Tom was just not biting. He was biting on nothing. And the two days later, John Paul meets me in the office by the coffee machine, and I'll never forget it. And he said to me, yeah, so that was very interesting going out to lunch with you. He said, Your husband is probably at least one or two years away from being able to be in ministry. God's told me this show, Yes, God has shown me that he, he doesn't know how to lead. He doesn't know how to be a leader. And that's the reason that you're getting fat because I was gaining weight, lifelong struggles. Yeah, this is this is the reason that your husband isn't in ministry. And that your children are damned. Your children are damned.
David Ames 1:01:19
Yeah. I'm like,
hello. You know, I had the best little girls. They were the best little girls in the church, and they were damned about them. Yeah. And I cried, and I said, thank you. And I took it because it must be a word from God, because it's John Paul, you know, I must be God. And I go back and work and I'm crying. And you know, I just can't get myself together. At the end of the day, the President calls me into the office with now the guy who is now my boss, who was the the shipping guy, he made him my boss suddenly, because I couldn't just do it because I was a woman. And they call me in the office. And the President says to me, I understand you got a word from JP today? And I'm like, Yeah, and I start to cry. And then I apologize for crying. I say, I'm sorry. I thought I must be getting my period or something. And he goes, No, it's because it was a true Word of God. He said, we've understood you have a problem with authority. Oh, dear. Ah, and you know what he cited that time, I had the little exchange about the realtor with John Hall in the office at the beginning of time. Yes. And I'm like, there it is.
David Ames 1:02:33
Super petty, very, very bad.
Yes. And then he has some other stupid thing. And then he said to me, so we're gonna let you continue to work the events, but we're gonna not gonna let you go anymore. You're not going to be able to go to the events and I just thought, Oh, the writing's on the wall. You know, because there's, you set up an event and there's always, you know, shooting that you have to do when you get there because something fell through the cracks. They're going to just fire my ass, and that's gonna be the end of it. Yeah. And, and he said, and we want a marriage counselor, you, we went to marriage counseling to teach Tom how to be a leader and how you should be submissive. Wow. Well, now that my whole job is riding on it, all my husband's fault, you know, because he's not a leader, and I'm crying. And, you know, I left there, I went home, I cried the whole way home. And, um, and I said, I'll give you two weeks. I have to think about it. I need to think about it for two weeks. So he said, Okay, so at the end of two weeks, I quit. You know, I was like, I can't do this. But Tom was like, I want to see what happens. I'm curious of what kind of dynamics are gonna happen over there. And so I stayed on the worship team, I stayed doing worship, I stayed being friends with them. And um, this went on for a couple of months, I was miserable. We did a worship seminar at a church. It wasn't a church. It was at one of the conferences, and I was up there leading with other people and worship was a dud, everything was a dud. And I looked at some of the people there and I knew that they were there. Because of me. I knew that they were open to that ministry, because they came there because I was and they knew my background, and they trusted me. And I thought, I can't do this anymore. Yeah, I can't do it. That way. That night, on the way home, we hit a moose. Oh, wow. We hit a moose. It came out of nowhere. It hit the part of the just the actually the mirror the rearview mirror of the car, and and shattered the glass. And so Trevor, the worship leader, and I was sitting here and we were just covered with glass, and he just kept driving. We got back and found out that was just not cool. And the booths hit another car. There was an accident, he might have charges against him. And it was this whole thing that's the bottom line was the next day John Paul went to that conference and said, God came to me in prayer and asked me if I would give up some of my staff to him and let him take them home. But I prayed and said no and and they were saying and they were spared. So now I was alive because he prayed and spirit. Yeah, you know, and I was like, This is bullshit. And I quit. I quit that day. I was like, I don't care what they do. I'm not going back. Okay. And then I was shunned. Yeah, yeah, I was out of there. Nine months is only lasted. I wish it was probably like a cult, you know, I was shunned. And I didn't know why. Nobody was calling me. They even had a concert in our clubhouse where we lived. And I went, because I thought, I'm not going to let anyone keep me out of this concert. And no one would talk to me. They all looked at me with these terrible looks. A year and a half later, a friend of mine from there who had shunned me called me and said they came after her. And she apologized to me. And she said, John Paul had gone to everyone on staff and said things slandered us to death. were horrible. People were sick. We have a bad marriage with Bebo, but he just slandered us and made up all this crap. And everyone believed it. Because I had too much charisma in the office. I had too much control. John Paul said that to me. He said, I see you there's leadership, and you can steer a ship that's sinking. And you know, but you've got to be careful. Well, he had to do damage control. And he came back and just killed me. Yeah. So when I found that out, I wrote him an email. I sent him an email. I said, How dare you and I just never heard from him again. You know, never.
Yeah, so that was the end of that. We ended up moving to North Carolina, my husband started again, in ministry in a church, it was a church plant that had been dying. We just closed down the church, basically, because it wasn't going to work. Then we tried to get involved in other churches, and we were really good friends with the pastor and wife and they got fired from their church, which caused a whole nother thing in us and PTSD from our church experience. And, and, you know, I was like, this is a whole bullshit. So we started we went into another church that was just really big week to slink into the back not know anybody not talk to anyone, I didn't want to know the dynamics in a church because I could see all the crap going on, you know, and, and, you know, the just a biblical sermon, and that's what we did. Ya, um, and that lasted for a little while, and then we went back to New England to be my parents, and I just couldn't go to church anymore. I just stopped. I just, I was like, I can't do it. i There's, I can't do it.
David Ames 1:07:38
I think that's actually more common than you think that people start to realize that they're having, you know, reaction PTSD, like you mentioned, they're having a reaction and they just can't go in the building anymore. And they don't even know why really, right. But yeah, right.
Right. You know, um, yeah, it was just bad. In the meantime, we found out my youngest daughter was autistic. That's why we're having trouble with her. And she was going into depression and maybe bipolar. My husband was falling apart. Our marriage was falling apart. My other daughter went to college. And then my father dropped dead, baby. Oh, no, I'm so sorry. Thank you. He was 77 just dropped in, in a restaurant. Gone. No warning, gone. Man, it rocked my world. I mean, it just killed me. Right, it killed me. And he was the picture of all that was good and true and righteous. And, you know, I still believed in God, I still believed in the goodness of God, I just couldn't go into the church, you know. And then my father was taken away. And then every, I couldn't hear from God anymore. I couldn't worship. I couldn't hypnotize myself with a piano. I couldn't do anything. You know, I just was just, I was just floored. Um, a year after that, I decided to go to art school. And so I was getting my Master's in Fine Arts, and I was learning great critical thinking skills. I mean, if you want great critical thinking skills, you go to art school with a whole bunch of people from different backgrounds and everything. And it was just a fantastic experience. And during that whole thing, I was working on my art, I was working through my dad's grief, you know, grief for my dad, and and all his ministry and all my background and all my church stuff, and I just was working through all that great opportunity to work through it. But a year after my dad died, my aunt, my dad's sister found out she had ovarian cancer. She was like a mom to me. She was the one who took care of me in Michigan, and um, we went through this suffering of watching her just die, so we're still grieving my father. Now we're grieving my aunt. And um, and then my best friend called me and said she had stage four breast cancer. Oh guy, and she was someone that I Got a visit every year in California for three weeks I get out of the winter here. And you know, just I could be myself there and have fun. And so she's dying. And we went through my those two cancers. My aunt died, we later arrest during this time, of course it's 2016. And Trump gets into office and that caused me and a whole lot of like, like, I don't get it. I mean, when he was going for the white evangelical vote, I'm like, they're not going to be fooled. Like God did that just do me and I'm going through all this and I'm just like, spinning and how could this be? And then my sister dropped dead, my little sister 53 dropped dead of a heart attack. And that killed me worse than my father. I mean, plus, my mother was a wreck. She almost died of heartbreak in the first few weeks. And, um, I, I couldn't even buy this time. I'm just spinning. You know, I lost my dad, my aunt, my sister, my friends dying. And I'm just spitting Trump's into office, everything else go ahead basket. I you know, the stupid COVID Comes right? My daughter gets COVID the first week it comes, I'm having headaches, I find out I have high blood pressure, which my right away makes me think I'm gonna die like my sister. I'm in this existential crisis. I can't pray, I can't talk to God, I can't do anything. And then, um, I find out I have a brain tumor. And it's called a pituitary adenoma. And it's a tumor on your pituitary gland. And it's operable, it's usually benign. So they're like, well just watch it. Well, they watched it for six months, just one, one thing, they said it's growing rapidly, you have to have brain surgery. So they go in and give me brain surgery during COVID. Two weeks later, I have a gallbladder attack that puts gall stones in my bile duct. But I don't know it because I don't want to go to the doctor because it's COVID. And I just had brain surgery, crawling around on the floor for four weeks just crying and not eating until my husband says get to that doctor. And I go to the doctor, find out I have to have my gallbladder out. So I've surgery, emergency surgery with that, and then another surgery to remove the gall stones, all of this in seven weeks time. During that time, my best friend died of breast cancer. Oh, man. And I of course couldn't, you know, didn't get to say goodbye really? I sent her flowers. But you know, yeah. And I'm just done, you know, just like done. Can't can't, can't do a thing just done. And I'm not even praying anymore. Because I'm like, What is the use, nothing is happening. I, you know, I don't get it.
So sometime during that time, Christian dummies book, Jesus and John Wayne came out. And my brother had to interview her. And it was just after the book came out, like the first like, it just came out that day. And so I was listening. And it was like, Oh, I like this woman. So my mother bought the book. And we both read the book. And that's when everything started to come into place for me, because I could see almost my whole Evan Jellicle upbringing, right, and all the bookstores and all the conventions and all the stuff and authoritarianism. And all that stuff that was going on was right there on the pages. And I could see how suddenly, all these people from church thought that Trump was their God, you know, and I was like, because I didn't get it. And I saw the whole thing. And I went, Oh, and the light bulb went on. And I started to see that there were so many things built into the system that were destructive and damaging in so many ways, you know, for the, with the racism and everything, you know, down to the very core of everything, the women's issue, everything, misogyny, you know, LGBTQ community, everything. And so I read this book, and the light bulb went on, and that's when I started listening to different podcasts. And
David Ames 1:14:19
there was your first mistake, that was my mistake, because
then I'm like, I started listening to straight white American cheeses. And I was like, Yeah, I'm getting into this, you know, and then somehow I stumbled on board again, again, and they were talking about they were they did one on Noah's Ark. And I'm like, What do you mean Noah's Ark is it was how could that not really, you know, and then they're talking about worship and they're talking about they have no system and I'm like, You're kidding. Because I was addicted to being hypnotized in worship. I was the one on the floors dancing and praising it, you know, and I and honestly, I did it to myself all the time. I just would play the piano and just, I was you err, I was all when and, um, and I was like man, and then someone mentioned Bart ermine. And so I started listening to some of his stuff. And this was what cracked me. It was when he said, The gospels, Matthew, Mark, Luke and John weren't actually written by Matthew, Mark Luke. I, I thought that they were, you know, this was I thought this was God's infallible Word in Aaron, and that these were eyewitness accounts, and they weren't. And then what's to say that anything they say is true. And then I just started listening to everything and all the deconstruction stories that I found you and I found other people and I just gobbled it up. You know, after my sister died, I was listening to podcasts, but they were all about near death experiences. I was listening to that stuff and all these New Age podcasts. And as soon as this happened, I flipped, and I started listening to all deconstruction stuff. And you know, um, yeah, that's where I am now.
David Ames 1:16:02
Okay. Yeah, that's, that is a lot. Again, just I am very sorry for the grief that you've suffered not. I mean, obviously, in the last several years of all the people that you've lost, but grieving the ministry as well, that that you had, clearly the desire to help people and to, you know, build community and help people thrive. And that opportunity just kept being taken away from you. So that is a grief process of that loss as well.
I'm curious, at this point, how are you finding community? I know, I know, you're part of the deconversion anonymous, but like, do you have friends that have gone through some deconstruction as well? And you know, how are you? How are you at this point handling that?
I do? It's kind of amazing, because in art school, I developed a really great community, right. And then when we moved, we moved to this old house, this old homestead, and in this community, and it was very embracing town where everybody has these old primitive homes, you know, and they started having parties. And, you know, I was invited to other parties, and we just became friends with everybody. And then in that party scene, we became friends with this group of musicians. And this group of musicians totally took us in when they realized that I was a musician, too. And he only took us in. And there was a couple in there. In fact, the guy is downstairs helping my husband put a water heater on right now, that had also been raised in the Christian faith and been doing worship leading forever. And they both had deconstructed. Okay, and so we were introduced to each other as pastors kids, and we were looked at each other like, Oh, crap. Yeah, like this person, we ventured through, get to know each other and found out we had this similar deconstruction story. So, you know, we get together with him every three weeks, and we just laugh and talk. And you know, and look at all the ridiculous things we once believed, you know, that we don't anymore. So I actually feel very much like I have community.
David Ames 1:18:20
That's awesome. That's awesome. Yeah. And then you've mentioned a handful of podcasts and the book, Jesus and John Wayne, any any others that I'm not talking about this one. Any other podcasts that you'd recommend for someone who find them finds themselves in a similar situation like, like that has helped you?
Um, well, first, let me just say that I was in the lasting supper, David Hayward Scroop forever. And I think David Hayward is a wonderful deconstruction, you know, he's just wonderful. And he's great. And he's the real deal. And he's a good friend of mine. And I love him to bits. And so
David Ames 1:18:52
well, maybe you can introduce me to David and we can get David on the open welcome.
Well, I'll talk to him I already texted him this morning. He said, Is it okay, if I say your name and the story? He's like, Sure, go ahead. So um, yeah, David, you know, I would definitely recommend David. I have been listening to I think deconversion Anonymous was another podcast I was listening to. I listened to on YouTube harmonic atheist because I like to listen to their stories. Sometimes I'm listening to what is myth vision, you know, depending on who he has on there that's helpful anything bar ermine. You know, I've listened to a lot of debates, you know, between Christians and bar and you know, those have been kind of interesting. I love on YouTube Dark Matters 20 What is it 25 or whatever, you know, I love that that all the animation you know, holy Kool Aid. Yeah, I mean, I just kind of search around I think there's one now x well x seven jello coals. And I mean, I always have This crazy list going on, cuz I listen to the podcasts when I go to sleep. And then if I miss something I just read, listen, you know, so some of the podcasts, they have to be not too dynamic. Like, I don't think I could listen to myself going to sleep because, you know. But yeah, there's so much out there on YouTube and podcasts.
David Ames 1:20:20
Well, that's great. And I really appreciate you telling your story. That was, I think what's really important that people hear is how dedicated you were how often you tried even it wasn't like, I think the evangelical response to deconstruction is these weak people, you know that at the slightest, you know, difficulty there out. And it's like, clearly, that was not the case you struggled through through a lifetime of attempting to do ministry with hurdles putting you in your way the entire time. So I thank you for that honesty. Thank you for being on the podcast. Yeah, my pleasure. Thank
you for having me.
David Ames 1:21:04
Final thoughts on the episode. I can't help but hearing and story as tragedy that she wanted so badly to do God's will. And she felt gifted. And she was trained to be a leader. And yet the role of women in the church consistently limited her and ultimately led to shootings and being kicked out of churches and being rejected by the very people who said that they loved her. And then the physical aspects of her life as well, the chronic fatigue, and ultimately at the end, their brain tumor, and a gallstone and just all of the physical ailments that she's had to go through. But this often is the beauty of deconstruction, as she's describing reading Jesus and John Wayne and recognizing herself and the culture that she'd been bounced to for all of her life within evangelicalism and suddenly recognizing the corruptness of that and how she no longer had to be bound by that that freedom is amazing. And it is wonderful to hear in Anne's voice, where she is now. Last week's guests, Ursula and this week's guest and have a lot in common in that they are very big personalities, very strong leaders, and they happen to be women and being forced to enhance case stay in education. And then even when she got the role that was specific to children's education, she was limited in what she could do there, there was just constant limitation. I can't imagine the level of frustration that that must create for a person who is as gifted as both Ursula and an R. It also astonishes me that the church at large evangelicalism specifically is trying to do things with one hand tied behind their back, they're stopping 50% of the population from truly 100% participating. And that just astonishes me from a logistical and tactical point of view. It's it's dumb, on every single level, and it's horrifying and abusive on many other levels, and I am just brokenhearted, to hear how and had to deal with those limitations. In a story of astonishing things, the most astonishing thing for me was her description of the streams ministry and John Paul, and had the off hand comment of it was cult like, I don't think it was called like it was a cult. That is the definition an overbearing leader who demands loyalty and a level of obedience and subservience that has nothing to do with Christianity has nothing to do with leadership. I'm really glad that and got herself out of that scenario, that that sounded really, really bad. So in any scenario in which you find yourself with a leader who is demanding that level of loyalty, it's time to get out. I want to thank and for telling her story. She has quite the story to tell I agree with Mike t, you should write a book and as soon as you write it, I'll buy it. So and we'll promote it here on the podcast. Thank you, Anne, for telling your story with such truthfulness and passion and your big personality comes straight through and thank you for being on the podcast. The secular Grace Thought of the Week is related to but not directly about and in that I mentioned at the beginning of the interview that I had been reached out to you by a Christian media organization that was doing research about Gen Z's and deconstruction. And I've been struck by this really ever since I went through my own decastro And then deconversion, that the focus has always been on the 20 Somethings who are leaving the church. I don't want to be anti scientific here, of course, the statistics are going to be much, much, much larger for people in their 20s. Because, as I said, when you're in your 20s, you're supposed to be questioning everything. When you're a teenager, you're supposed to be questioning everything that is, by definition, what young adulthood is what I think is much more interesting. And what I think the church has ignored to their peril is what are sometimes called the Dunn's adults 40s 50s 60s, even that have lived an entire lifetime within the Christian frame, and who subsequently deconstruct and de convert, that is a much more telling canary in the coal mine, that seems to me is being utterly ignored. If the statistics that I get about the podcast are to be believed, that would suggest that most of you are at least in your 30s. And most of the listeners here are adults. And so it astonishes me how the statisticians and the church itself has ignored this group of people and berated things like the extra angelical movement. This is the second week in a row that I'm giving some atheist advice to pastors. Talk to the adults who are deconstructing the Brealey. Listen to them, ask them why they've had a change of heart, what kinds of things would make a person change their mind after decades of being a Christian? And then really listen to the answer. And if you are that person who has lived an entire lifetime of Christianity, and you're the one questioning and you're the one where it feels like God's not listening, and tragedy is around you in every direction. I need you to know that there are many of us out here, myself and all of my previous guests community on the Facebook group deconversion anonymous, who have gone through this, we've experienced it, we know what it feels like. And you don't have to be alone. And you are not alone. I just wanted to mention, for those of you who are parents, the the mothers out there, Happy Mother's Day. I know that's kind of saccharine sweet. And it's one of the things I used to really dislike about this particular Sunday in church all the time. But I want to acknowledge you, you do amazing things. You are the foundation of society and you're also leaders and teachers and amazing human beings. So thank you, and Happy Mother's Day. Until next time, my name is David and I am trying to be the graceful atheist. Join me and be graceful human. Time for the footnotes. The beat is called waves for MCI beats, links will be in the show notes. If you'd like to support the podcast, you can promote it on your social media. You can subscribe to it in your favorite podcast application. And you can rate and review it on pod chaser.com. You can also support the podcast by clicking on the affiliate links for books on risk of atheists.com. If you have podcast production experience and you would like to participate podcast, please get in touch with me. Have you gone through a faith transition? And do you need to tell your story? Reach out? If you are a creator, or work in the deconstruction deconversion or secular humanism spaces and would like to be on the podcast? Just ask. If you'd like to financially support the podcast there's links in the show notes. To find me you can google graceful atheist. You can google deconversion you can google secular race. You can send me an email graceful firstname.lastname@example.org or you can check out the website graceful atheists.com My name is David and I am trying to be the graceful atheist join me and be graceful human beings
this has been the graceful atheist podcast
Transcribed by https://otter.ai
This week’s guest is artist Ursula Schneider. As a child, neither her charismatic church nor her unstable home were safe for her. There was a lot of mental illness at home and Ursula often felt abandoned by the church. Their family was simply “too much.”
“I look back and everything is so clear about why it went the way it went, but as a child you don’t understand…”
Ursula grew up, married young and began going to church again. As an adult, she needed something real to her. She saw that something in the women at church, so she dove right in—daily prayer, bible studies, women’s retreats, all of it.
“I guess what I believed was that, if I did enough of the things that I was being told to do, the feeling would follow…”
But Ursula kept bumping up against a certain church doctrine: women cannot teach men. She was a gifted leader and teacher but church after church kept her out of the pulpit.
“That is literally what you get told: ‘You’re listening to the doctrine of demons if you think it’s okay for you as a woman to be able to teach men.’”
At the last church she attended, Ursula faced the greatest challenge yet to her faith. Over the span of a few months, she and her husband went from being well-respected leaders to losing their entire community.
Ursula went through a depressive state and cried out to God, but no answer came. Over the next few years, Ursula would make beautiful art, write for herself and continue to question her religious beliefs.
“What happens when you start to question some of these closely held doctrines…is that things really do start to unravel.”
Since leaving, Ursula has dabbled in other faiths, wondering if any will fit her. Nothing has yet, but she is learning and growing as a whole person. She no longer has to squash part of herself or silence her own curiosity.
“…as I go through life, and I try on new ideas, each of them has something to offer me that’s valuable.”
Ursula’s art and writing empower others to exist as their whole selves in the world and to see beauty and inspiration in the world around them.
Ursula Schneider art exhibition through May 25th 2022, at D&R Art Gallery and Studio in Tucson, AZ.
My story is, I suppose, the story of a sincere seeker who, it turns out, is actually a huge threat to the organization of the church structure. Silly me, I thought the church was the place to be a seeker, but it turns out that they don’t want seekers, they want adherents. I was never a very good adherent in hindsight. But I gave my whole life to the church because I misunderstood that reality and in return, the church did its level best to silence me completely.