Magazine article The Christian Century

Tender Ministry: Response to a Betrayal

Magazine article The Christian Century

Tender Ministry: Response to a Betrayal

Article excerpt

I SAW HIM in the parking lot with her. I think he wanted to get caught."

My mom's hushed voice bled with betrayal. Unlike most gossip, this phone conversation didn't have the quality of a listener hungry for salacious trivialities. It was more like being entangled in a highway wreck, not wanting to know the devastation but having to face it anyway. As I sat in the adjoining room, straining to hear, the whole house felt on edge.

I was 15 years old. I had missed church that Sunday morning but was catching up with what happened in the service by listening to my mom's side of her phone conversations. Dressed in T-shirt and shorts, she walked back and forth with bare feet on the cork kitchen tile, reciting assorted facts and collecting others. The instant Mom hung up the phone, it would ring again.

The pieces came together. Our pastor confessed in his sermon that he'd been having an affair. He stood up and let the gathered members know that he had been tempted--just like Jesus in the wilderness--but he was ready to "just move on."

The shocked congregation was not so ready to move on. They wanted details. They demanded to know exactly what had happened, with whom and for how long. The elders and the pastor scheduled a meeting to take place that evening. As the sun went down, my father left for the gathering of leaders, and my mother hung up the phone.

Mom paced the kitchen a few more times, but she didn't pick up the receiver again. Instead, she took a large basin and placed our nicest guest towels inside of it. Then she yelled out to the quiet house, "Carol! Let's go!"

The warm Florida night swelled with the sound of crickets singing and waves crashing. We drove for half an hour, from the beach to the mainland, till we got to our pastor's home. When we pulled up to the driveway, the house was dark. It seemed empty, but this did not deter my mom. She gathered the basin and towels and rang the doorbell.

I don't remember anyone letting us in the door, but somehow we entered. There was Margaret, the pastor's wife, sitting on a chair in her living room. She remained motionless in the dark room, staring at her lavish white carpet, breathing deeply.

Years earlier, when I saw their house for the first time, I couldn't imagine that anyone could take care of white carpeting. When I got to know Margaret, I realized that she was the type of person who could. She had a gracious perfection that made us admire her, though without feeling ashamed of our own flaws.

My mother took the basin, walked into her friend's kitchen and filled it with warm water. …

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