Just as I was finally becoming stable in all areas of my life, my past caught up with me and everything came crashing down once again. In attempting to keep Sandra happy during the last years of the marriage, I’d over claimed on my expenses from the church and used the additional money to fund family trips and holidays. Had I been in the right frame of mind at that time I would never have even contemplated such action. I was summoned to the diocese offices and asked about a couple of cheques I had written a few years beforehand. I was completely dumbstruck when confronted with the evidence. I had blocked out my behaviour and could not offer any reasonable explanation. The bishop advised me that whatever the outcome ‘the Integrity of the Church will not be compromised.’
This was a phrase I’d heard ten years previously from a former Bishop who used it on that occasion when an investigation into church activities was taking place. I suspect that it is a line given to Bishops to pass on in disciplinary scenarios. On both instances when I heard it, I interpreted it as a thinly-veiled threat that if I was guilty in any way or shape or form I was on my own.
On the first occasion, I was involved in an investigation against a volunteer worker within the church. When arrested, the volunteer made counter accusations which were quickly disregarded as being without any substance. This was a deeply harrowing time. Many people were affected by the allegations and I could not explain what was happening for fear of compromising the investigation. When I tried to speak to Sandra in the privacy of our home about the situation, she did not want to know and so I had to carry this great burden alone. Once the church was satisfied that they had not been implicated as an organisation, they withdrew all forms of support. No one ever spoke to me afterwards about the impact this distressing case had on me. I am convinced though that had I been involved, I would have been completely ostracised.
However the second time I was informed about the integrity of the church being protected, I was guilty. I admitted that I had used church funds without permission and while questions were being asked of my conduct, I was also told that I would be given some time off work. However as this was the week leading up to Easter, the decision was delayed until afterwards so that the church leadership did not have to find a replacement to cover my services.
I approached the Easter Sunday service knowing full well that it could be the last church service I conducted. The Christian message of Easter concerns forgiveness and I recall making some mention of forgiveness during the service. During the week that followed, I was interviewed and questioned about the events of a few years before by a senior churchman. This man wasn’t even at my Easter Sunday Service and yet in his interrogation of me actually referred to me speaking about forgiveness. I was absolutely shocked, talk about Big Brother watching you. Moreover, I was horrified about my past deeds and decided I only had one course of action and that was to resign as a church minister.