This is a living story. Every time I tell this story, a new chapter is added. I will start with the first time I told it…
Chapter 2 God Isn’t Finished (With Chapter 1 tucked inside.)
My church was growing like crazy because the area around us was growing like crazy. Our new members were mostly church transfers who moved into one of the surrounding new subdivisions. While there is nothing wrong with that, our church was alive and real and relevant– and wanted to reach un-churched and church-is-not-for-me families. But we were a white building with a steeple and UMC on the sign- which carries a very traditional feel and that can be a turn off if you are not comfortable with church. So we created Java, Jeans, and Jesus: a contemporary, casual worship service on Saturday nights with a band, a coffee bar and a speaker who is NOT a pastor. This was my night.
After Chapel Road finished playing, I perched on a stool on the platform stage and held a microphone to tell my story to a room full of coffee drinkers seated at round tables with white cloths. The centerpieces that night were big denim squares, white pillar candles in glass hurricanes, and river rocks scattered around the glass. I know because the table decorations were my job at each Java, Jeans, and Jesus.
The story goes like this: I was 27 years old. I had been divorced from my high school sweetheart for a little over a year- a relationship that had lasted ten years. I had moved away after the divorce and was teaching high school. I found Pierce Chapel, UMC and found my place in the children’s ministry. I loved those children and they loved me. I was friends with their parents. I baby sat for many of them. It was a good fit.
Outside of church, I had met a man and we began what became a very worldly relationship. Society doesn’t bat an eye when two adults are having consensual sex. But society feels very differently about an unwed pregnant woman. And that’s what I was. A series of events made me know marriage was not a solution. So I was a single, pregnant, high school teacher with lots of decisions to make.
And then there was church.
I made an appointment with Howard, my pastor, and Lynn, his wife. Howard was calm and kind. Innocently and brutally honest. A thinker. A teacher. A rock. Lynn was an ordained minister with a position in the church. She was also my friend. Talented and loving. Intuitive and brilliant. Passionate. A heart for Jesus. We sat in their living room and I told them. Howard said “I think you should go in front of the church.” I wanted to hurl. Lynn was indignant and spoke to Howard as if I was not there. “Why does she have to go in front of the church to confess her sins when nobody else does!?” Howard replied in calm truth,
“Because she can’t hide this.”
Silence. He was right. Lynn looked at my face and said “Genia, I don’t know if I could do it if I were you. But if you decide to do it, I will stand with you.” My friend.
Remember the children? I didn’t just ATTEND church on Sundays. I was INVOLVED. Involved with the children in church and in their lives outside of church. I told Howard and Lynn I wanted to speak personally with some families first. If they were uncomfortable with me being around their children, I would go somewhere else. And I certainly wouldn’t blame them. I am putting these parents in a position to explain things to their children that they otherwise wouldn’t have to know. I could imagine them asking, “How is there a baby without a daddy?” Things that children shouldn’t have to know when they are so little.
Family number one hugged me and loved me. Family number two hugged me and loved me and gave me maternity clothes. I was staying.
Now on to the rest of the church.
The Sunday was chosen for Howard to make the announcement. It was decided that I didn’t need to actually stand in the front. The Friday and Saturday before was the annual women’s retreat. Lynn told the group of women about her sister getting pregnant in high school and giving the baby up for adoption. Then she told them about me. They stood in line to hug me.
At Java, Jeans, and Jesus I asked everyone to choose a stone from the centerpiece. One that fit nicely in their palm. I asked them to hold this stone as I told the next part of my story.
That Sunday morning I sat in the pew, sobbing. Humiliated. Ashamed. Howard announced from the pulpit that I was pregnant, not planning on getting married, and he was adding my name to the expectant mother’s list to be prayed for. To my left, a man raised his hand and spoke out “Excuse, me Pastor.”
My fear was becoming a reality. My heart was in my throat. John 8:3-5 NCV says “The teachers of the law and the Pharisees brought a woman who had been caught in adultery. They forced her to stand before the people. They said to Jesus, “Teacher, this woman was caught having sexual relations with a man who is not her husband. The law of Moses commands that we stone to death every woman who does this….””
“I cannot speak for the rest of the church, but my wife and I ….
To be continued.