The next three months were mentally the most difficult time of my life. I had lost my home, I missed being apart from my children, and the church in their compassion decided that withdrawing me from all aspects of church ministry was in my best interests. I could have sunk into deep depression. I had my fair share of down days that’s for sure. I had been re-located and was now living very sparsely in an unused cold manse that the church had earmarked for selling. It never felt like home, but it was a roof over my head. This meant that I was living a few miles away from my entire support network. I knew no one in that particular neighbourhood. It would have been so easy to stay in bed all day and not bother attempting to live. That’s how I felt. But I knew that my children needed their father more than ever now. For that reason alone, I faced each individual day as it arrived. I decided that I needed some form of routine, something each day that would motivate me to make an effort. Although it was winter, I decided that every day I would find somewhere different to walk. I was quite fortunate for within the local vicinity were a network of canals and several rivers. For me, I have always found walking alongside flowing water very tranquil and peaceful. My parents and friends seemed to realise that this was my coping strategy against depression and would always enquire about my journeying. Being away from all the hustle and bustle of civilisation and walking through landscapes unharmed by human kind, provided some sort of therapy.
To give my week some form of structure, I enrolled for adult swimming sessions. I had never really learnt to swim at school. This became an important part of my recovery. Learning to swim gave me a positive goal, something to work for and a real sense of achievement. The learners group was mostly retired women and they were not used to young men joining the classes. But they all welcomed me and we encouraged each other in our own personal quest. No one knew anything about me and I could just launch myself in the water and metaphorically all my troubles would be washed away. One or two men did join the group, but they didn’t stay long. I observed that some people seemed to sign up for swimming lessons prior to a holiday expecting that after a couple of lessons they would be able to swim. Of course that’s not the case and in wanting to swim, I needed great perseverance, determination, patience and discipline. Looking back now I can see that exercising these traits were not only useful for learning to swim but are needed all the more so coming to terms with my own abuse and continuing with my vocation.
The few people who know the truth wondered why I allowed the children to remain with Sandra. As I’ve already mentioned, Sandra had not shown any physical signs towards the children. My future was uncertain. I now had a roof over my head but that’s about all. I was living a very sparse and basic life. Furthermore, the children had attended a lot of primary schools and needed stability. I, myself, had attended four Secondary schools in five years which did affect the qualifications I obtained and my subsequent future. Educationally, I felt I underachieved because of the inconsistency of my schooling. Leaving the children where they were would ensure unaltered education.
School recesses always seemed to be a trigger for Sandra’s anger and the first one post our separation proved so. I had arranged to look after the children for a few days and when I collected them, the oldest child was clearly distressed. Sandra had been verbally bulling this child and there was no way I would allow this child to return back in that situation. Knowing that Sandra wasn’t at home, we returned to the house and collected some personal effects. Later that day, I returned the younger two children back to Sandra but when she enquired about the third child, I said that this particular youngster was too upset to return and was refusing to have any contact with Sandra. Sandra flew into a rage at this news demanding to speak with the youngster who at that stage wanted nothing to do with mother. I could understand this totally for I had experienced those same feelings for years.
After a couple of days, the younger two children were clearly suffering being apart from their sibling. It was most upsetting hearing their voices on the telephone asking when their sibling was returning back to them. After much heart searching, the oldest youngster decided to return for the sake of the other two, but I also believe that this child became empowered for Sandra was told in no uncertain terms that next time it happened, there would be no returning. There have been minor squabbles since but Sandra now doesn’t go too far for fear of losing her children.
The decision to grant me compassionate leave would be soon reviewed and a further decision made about my future. The church was notorious for having a ‘one size fits all’ approach for every feasible situation and was always most guarded about thinking outside of the box for fear of setting a new precedent.
When marriages among clergy broke down due to infidelity, the party guilty of infidelity would leave the church. However, when infidelity wasn’t the cause of marital separation and both parties still wished to remain in church ministry, the usual precedent was that the church would keep one party were they currently ministered and find another church in another diocese for the other person.
As Sandra was still residing in the manse and the children were settled in local schools, it didn’t take much working out who the likely candidate to move away from the diocese was. I could predict that senior church leadership would want to move me out of the area so prior to them considering my case, I submitted an appeal for myself to stay within reasonable distance to my children. I highlighted to them once again, the impact of Sandra’s volatile temperament and the impact it could have on the children, strongly expressing that I needed to be close by so that should Sandra explode against the children I was close enough to get them out to safety. The last thing I wanted was to be a couple of hours drive away which is what would happen if normal policy was adhered too. I also stressed that with Sandra unable to drive, I needed to be in the immediate vicinity so that I could transport the children to their school/church/social activities. If I was hours away, the children would struggle to attend any event away from home
Did the senior church listen and consider my request? You would hope that a church which promotes strong family values and wanted to be seen as child friendly would not want to or wish to cause further separation between a father and his children?
I was also interviewed on 10th March where I re-iterated this stance. You can imagine the mixed emotions I felt when the decision was relayed to me via a letter dated 29th March which informed me that :
‘at the conclusion of your three months ‘compassion leave,’ you are to receive a new posting OUTSIDE OF THE DICOESE.’
As per procedure, this letter was from my bishop and he was kind enough to add the following to the template letter he’d been delegated to send:
‘I am sorry to have to pass this news onto you, because I realise that this is not what you wanted and is not what I recommended to senior churchmen. However, I have been told that this is in keeping with previous decisions.’
Again, my bishop offered his support and advised that I could appeal against this decision taking it up to the next level of management: the international leadership of the church.
As far as I was concerned, I only had two options. I most definitely was going to raise an appeal and if that failed, I decided I would resign from the church. There was absolutely no way on this earth that I was going to leave the district and leave my children unprotected.