Leadership, Trauma, United Pentecostal Church

Sabrina Marie’s Open Letter To Pastor Roy Grant

Roy, I do not know if you remember me as I was not in the church for very long. When I was there your father was the main pastor. I cannot look back and say that my own time in the UPC was completely unhelpful in my life. What I can say is that in recent years I have realized that so much was hidden from me and none of it was good.

When you were not the pastor, I loved the down to earth family life you seemed to have. You would throw a pig roast every year, you would talk to other men no matter how involved in the church they were. It didn’t matter if they wore sneakers instead of dress shoes and you even took the time to teach my husband a quick way to tie his tie. I appreciated you and your family. I looked up to your father and I loved and cared about all of you. Even after leaving the church, I always thought your Dad was one of the closest people to God there was. Later hearing you had become a minister yourself as many wanted to see you do, I was happy about it. I occasionally heard snippets of you talking about spiritual warfare and I really appreciated that you were fighting spiritually for the good of the world, the light of the world.

In the past three years, I have heard fact-based truth about things that have occurred not only within the UPCI but many from within your own church. I realize that a lot of them occurred when you were not even ordained yet. I understand that. But at the same time, I’m learning these disturbing things and realizing that the entire Acts 2:38 message by the UPC is cherry-picked from the Bible. That and knowing that you have participated in what has really become narcissistic, controlling, and even cult-like behaviors leaves me feeling disturbed and betrayed.

Imagine if you will for a minute, that at some point in your life you looked up to someone as the ideal, and you trusted everyone in the organization under that person. You believed they were safe and healthy for your family and that they wouldn’t dare tell a lie or cover up something that would continue to hurt others. Then imagine that you found out what you thought might be just idle gossip but then more and more truth came forward with more and more fact, and then your clean, clear vision of that person became fogged, broken, and dirty.

I imagine that you might be reading this and assume that because I have left the church that I can no longer see clearly. You might believe I have been tempted by Satan or that I have just lost my mind to opinions. That is okay what you think of me because it is irrelevant. You were raised in the church and you know exactly what the Bible says. You know exactly what has been right in front of you this entire time. I believe that in your experience there are things you know you should not be dismissing and you know those things are not in alignment with the spiritual warfare, the call of God, or what Jesus would do.

As others and I have requested in these letters, please take a stand for the survivors. Please stop hiding or standing with those who you know are not telling the truth. If you truly care about getting people saved, save their families like mine from being found a fool and from being hurt, deceived, and shamed. Be the one who puts his foot down and says enough is enough.

Please start listening to what is being told to you by human beings, not robots or demons. It is important, it is still happening, and people are still suffering. Your congregation is not safe if you are not willing to step from the podium and confess what you know to those whom you say are faithful servants of God. Finally, if at this moment, as you read this you feel absolutely nothing, I simply have one more question. Is that what he whom you call Jesus would do? Feel nothing? Be blind? He stood up when no one else would did he not? So, forget who I am, and decide who you are.

Thank you,

Sabrina Reynolds

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C-PTSD, Compassion, Crime, Justice, Leadership, Sexual Abuse, Trauma, Uncategorized, United Pentecostal Church

An Open Letter To Pastor Roy Grant

Roy, it has been a long long time since we have spoken or really had any contact with each other. I have thought about reaching out to you many times but something has always stopped me. I know instinctively that any interaction between us will be painful because neither of us is who we were when we knew each other.

When I was a child I looked up to you as a big brother. You were an adult but just barely and at the time I believed that you understood me. As the youth leader and school monitor, you kept us within the lines without seeming authoritarian. I felt like you understood how oppressive it could all be and so you tried to bring the fun with you when you could. For a long time, you gave me rides to school along with as many kids as you could fit into your old Blazer. I’m sure my mother almost never gave you gas money. It makes me smile now to think of how Norman and Tim would have to hoist me into the truck because I was so tiny and it was so high up. My childhood was a dark dark place and the times when I was having fun with you shine bright in the midst of it all. Even now it makes me smile to remember watching Star Trek in your basement after church and doing donuts in the empty parking lot. I was so scared we would crash and you and the boys would laugh at me. Silly kids stuff but when your home life is so bad things like this make life bearable. When I won a place on the honor roll field trip and my shoes developed a hole I told my mom I would just skip it. She called you and you called around until you found a pair of shoes for me. We never talked about it but you came through for me and it was a big deal in my little life.

I don’t think you singled me out and to most people, these things might not seem like much. Speaking from my child self they were important to me. You just never know how a small act of kindness will impact a child. I always try to remember to smile at kids because I recognize that my smile might be the only adult smile they see that day. Once you stepped back some and John Seidl took over youth group and Sunday school things became harder. He was much sterner and I never felt like I could not let my guard down around him. I’m sure you were not perfect but I always felt like you wanted everyone to feel included. When you were not around school or the youth group as much I felt like there was no adult I could turn to who wouldn’t immediately judge me. Sympathy and compassion were impossible to come by.

This brings us to now. I know that I am probably not your favorite person due to the things I have exposed within my blog. I am sure that you and I disagree on most things. I know that this will probably not bring about the change that I and so many others wish to see but I feel compelled to try. I’m sure it has felt like I’m attacking the church and your family. It has never been my wish to attack anyone. I have only been trying to shed light on my experiences in order to help others and maybe get a little bit of justice for myself. If I thought your father would listen I would be directing this towards him. You are the pastor now and so I’m directing this towards you. I’m writing this to plead with you and Calvary Gospel to change. I’m asking you to acknowledge how bad things were handled with regards to Steve Dahl and countless other abusers. I’m asking you and the church to apologize to all of the people who have been hurt by policies that go a long way towards protecting the church but leave in their path, countless victims. I’m asking you to develop church policies that include going to the police first when a victim comes forward because this is the only way the community at large can be protected from predators and physically abusive people. Lastly, I’m asking that the church no longer tolerate older men dating underage women. It is one of those things that everyone knows about but no one does anything about. By acknowledging the church’s role in the pain of so many survivors you could help bring a tiny bit of healing to my community. We could all rest easier knowing that you are committed to reporting abuse and protecting children. We could all rest easier knowing that another Becky or Debbie is not being groomed within the walls of the church.

I know how hard this kind of change would be and I understand that my posting this publically is going to make things even harder. I’m posting it publically because I don’t believe the church or you will respond any other way. I am also concerned about my words being twisted and this way it is all out in the light for anyone to read. I’m going to sign off for now and I hope that you will be the hero this situation needs. To the other pastoral staff, I’m sure you will see this and I hope you will also be a part of bringing some healing into the lives of so many who have been devestated by Calvary Gospel.

Book, Childhood, Family, Rapture, Trauma, United Pentecostal Church

The Uncomfortable Confessions of a Preacher’s Kid

Yesterday I finally finished Ronna Russell’s memoir! I posted a review on Goodreads.

“This book was not an easy read. I grew up in a UPC church as well and at times it all hits too close to home. The author is so brave in her telling of her story! This is a wonderful read for anyone who is interested in learning more about the Christian denominations that exist on the fringe. The author’s vulnerability allows us into a world that many people never see filled with rapture anxiety, purity culture, and the pressure to be good enough. Beyond the church and the damage, it caused is a story of hope, self-acceptance, and self-love. She touches on religion, family, love, lost love, and finding and accepting oneself. I’m grateful she shared her happy ending because it gives hope to all of us raised in that atmosphere. I can’t wait to read what she writes next!”

 

I love memoir’s and this one is even more special because I can relate to it so strongly. It is not often that I have the opportunity to read about another woman’s experience within the UPC. When I talk with other survivors their stories always share common threads. For many, the fear of the rapture and hell is very real and then there is the sense of never measuring up. Normal sexual milestones tend to be suppressed and twisted leaving women feeling wrong and dirty. Secrets are everywhere and there is a knowing that comes with that. They are only secrets because they are not openly expressed but that is not the same as no one knowing or suspecting.

Ronna’s story isn’t just about the bad times it is also about hope, determination, and self-discovery. I owe her a special thanks because she has been an encouragement to me with my own writing. Women supporting women!

D

Sexual Abuse, United Pentecostal Church

A Second Victim Steps Forward – Rebecca’s Story

Today I’m sharing a new story with you. Another victim of Calvary Gospel Church has decided to tell her story. I have always intended this blog to be a place where victims other than myself can also share their experiences. This is Rebecca’s story.

It’s my turn now. I’ve left Debbie high and dry while I’ve done a lot of processing, now it is time to tell my story. I struggle with where to start, as my story starts in the UPC when I was very young. How do I choose what to say in my first post? So please bear with me as I give the highlights and the can of worms will follow.

My parents joined Calvary Gospel United Pentecostal Church when I was in the 3rd grade. Soon after my sister and I were enrolled in the church’s school. My childhood was completely enveloped by the UPC. Parents were expected to take a backseat roll in favor of teaching whatever the church dictated. My parents questioned nothing, and allowed everything, as long as it was within the church’s walls. Needless to say, we were easy targets for anyone wanting to take advantage of vulnerable kids. If we questioned anything or any of the leaders, we were disciplined and labeled rebellious. Calvary Gospel is a tight-knit community, where any independent thought is quashed and shunning is commonplace, it can be frightening to show any independence. I witnessed parents who disowned children and teenagers forced to make public apologies in front of the congregation. It was built into all of us if the “man of god” said it, it was unquestionably true. I could say more about this but I need to move on.

So I was unlucky enough to catch the eye of one of my Sunday School teachers, who also helped out as a youth leader. Everyone knew he favored me and teased me about him constantly. I was called his “little girlfriend”. He would give me rides, leave notes in my school desk, show up at my house or my friend’s houses if he knew I was there, he came to every youth function, every service, everywhere I was.

In the eyes of Calvary Gospel Church, my predator was a great young man, a burgeoning minister. He was also 17 years older than me. I’m going to refer to him as “Ben”. I was 12 the first time he sexually assaulted me. He never even noticed or acknowledged that I never responded when he’d kiss me. I clearly wasn’t enjoying what he was doing and I resisted when he’d make me touch him. He would take my hand and force it onto his pants. This went on for years until we had full intercourse when I was 14. He was 31. I took my first pregnancy test at his job after hours when I was 15. I went on birth control shortly after.

During this time I wrote letters to a friend of mine telling some of what was happening. She told her sister and her older sister went to the pastor. One night after the evening service Ben found me and was very angry. He pushed me up against a car and told me I had to lie. He threatened me, telling me it would be my fault if he got into trouble, that he wouldn’t be able to able to become a minister. I was terrified of being caught, being humiliated, kicked out of the school, and shunned. So I lied. I told Pastor John Grant Sr. that I made it all up. Strangely, Pastor Grant accused the girl who brought him the letters of making them up herself to get attention, and he kicked her out of the choir. I felt completely responsible. It silenced me even more. Sadly this made me that much easier to manipulate, control, and abuse.

I can’t wrap my head around how all of the church adults knew we were a “couple”. How was it appropriate and acceptable for a 33-year-old man to be dating a 16-year-old girl? And of course, the sex continued. He would show up wherever I was. At my school, my job, at my friend’s houses, and my driver’s ed class. He once picked me up and took me to the duplex he shared with a few other guys. He was on top of me in his bed when he heard one of his roommates come home. He shoved me into his closet and shut the door hiding me so his roommate wouldn’t see. I don’t know how long I was in there. Maybe minutes, maybe an hour. It was long enough that he grabbed some old fast food cups and gave me one so he could tell my mom that he took me there to eat instead of where he had really taken me. All I know is, I felt so demeaned, so ashamed, so lost. I felt hopeless. He controlled my every move. I couldn’t date anyone else, I couldn’t go anywhere, I couldn’t do anything, without him. After every sexual contact, he would make me get down on my knees and read Psalm 51 out loud and repent. Thinking of it makes me sick to this day. I hated it. I never liked praying out loud. I never saw the point in wanting others to listen to me. My prayers were between me and god. But I did it, read the Psalm and begged for forgiveness. “Ben” would assure me that he forgave me too.

Now I see the absurdity of it, forgive me for what?! Being a temptation when I was 12?! But in the Calvary Gospel culture, it was my fault. Men were never held accountable for their actions. I saw younger girls that were also preyed on by older men and watched how the men would be sheltered and protected while their victims the young girls would pay the price. It was reinforced again and again that the adults around me knew and would do nothing. Once when I told Pastor Grant what had happened, when I actually built up the courage, he told me not to “rock the boat” because it would “make the church look bad”. I knew I was being eaten alive by this system. I was hopeless, but like any good UPC’er, I made it look good.

I should wrap this up for now. It’s like a plate of spaghetti, one thought/memory leads to another and another…It’s difficult to stay on one path when I have so many stories and details to add. But I want to add my voice to Debbie’s, and many others, that were and probably still are being victimized by the UPC. After all of these years, I’m not the scared and depressed little girl anymore. It’s my time. I will be heard.

Childhood, Depression, Fear, Justice, Sexual Abuse, United Pentecostal Church

The Walking Wounded

I am one of the walking wounded. I have been attempting to write a book. Even though the process of writing can at times make me feel all alone I know that there are so many others like me. I just finished listening to the NPR podcast “Believed.” This podcast covers the story of Larry Nassar and his many victims. Although their story takes place in the world of competitive gymnastics there are so many similarities. Last week was an awful week for me. I battled my demons daily as I continued to write and try to unwind the story of my childhood. ITunes helpfully suggested this podcast to me and I’m so glad I took a chance on it. Now if you are like so many people in my life you might ask why would I put myself through that? Well because listening to other victims tell their story makes me feel less alone and strange in the world. The podcast was hard to listen to. I could relate to many of the women and their experiences. They inspired me to keep going and their journey gave me hope that maybe my story can have a better ending than it has had so far.

My friends and family worry about me. People tell me to take breaks and to take care of myself. They worry that telling this story might hurt me more than it helps me. I’m grateful for everyone in my life who has reached out to check in and give me advice. The thing is I cannot quit. I carried this trauma inside me for decades and now is the time to give it a voice. I cannot sit back and do nothing when I know that young people are continuing to be abused in the church I grew up in and others like it. My abuser is still out there doing god knows what. This isn’t about revenge but about justice. Justice for myself and all of the others like me.

Right now I will speak anywhere I am asked to speak and share my story anywhere I can get a platform. I am afraid because I don’t know if I have the skills to make my book a reality and I know for a fact that I am not a public speaker but the time for fear is over. Fear can be really hard to let go of, especially when you are raised on fear and it is what you know best. When you are told to keep yourself small and to go unnoticed it can be hard to step into the sunshine. So I keep going. I do it for myself and all of the survivors of Calvary Gospel and the UPC organization. Most importantly I do it for her…

Age 11

D

Justice, United Pentecostal Church

Processing

The good news is I am continuing to write. The bad news is I have spent pretty much my entire day processing. I feel like my brain has two parallel tracks. The child’s mind track and my adult mind track. They both exist at the same time but hold two very different opinions. When I seek to tell the story from the perspective of my child’s mind I see my abuser as a confused man. A man taken over by his impulses, I see him as partly sympathetic. When I allow the adult part of my mind to do the talking she has a much different story to tell. She sees him as an evil manipulator who stole my childhood and consumed it with relish. The child within seeks to understand why he would commit such acts and assumes he could not help himself. The adult sees each step of the path and how his decisions one by one added up to the crime he committed. Right now at this moment, I hate them all, all the adults who have let me down. I teeter on the edge of falling into an ocean of my own tears. There is a loneliness in all of this. There is a feeling that no one can really understand the depth of the damage that was done to me. Even though I know there are others I feel freakish and like a sideshow. My heart weeps for my 11-year-old self. How could she have been so alone and neglected that Steve looked like the best option for friendship? Where were all of the adults?

After I finished writing for the day I painted my nails and watched a little television. I was trying to distract myself from the heaviness in my chest. In a few minutes, I intend to do some yoga to try to bring some calm. I’m trying to maintain some sense of balance. The reality is I think I could work on this story day and night only taking breaks to eat and go to the bathroom. It is burning a hole through me and it won’t let me be. It’s all I can think about. As I’m pounding this blog post out on my laptop justice pops into my mind. I could not get justice from the law and what if I can’t get justice from writing this book? What if I never get justice? What if I put all this down on the page and it just sits there? We have seen what has happened within the Catholic church and now the Southern Baptist church, when will it be our turn? Who will bust the story wide open for us? All of us broken souls searching for justice. Right now I feel like the UPC is laughing at us. It feels like something has got to give but it can be hard to believe that things will ever be different. When will they face justice? Let it be soon.

C-PTSD, Uncategorized, United Pentecostal Church

Fighting My Way Through Old Trauma

Hello dear readers! Although I have not been doing much writing here I have been writing. I have been attempting to hone my skills and get better at accessing the emotions that go along with telling this story. The cost of doing so has been high. The last couple of days I have been writing about my salvation experience among other things and I’ve been trying to do it from my heart rather than just telling the facts. I’ve been opening rooms long locked with yellow tape across them saying, “Do not enter, crime scene!” I am at home alone, except for my doggie companion, most days and I prefer to write when I am alone because it requires a level of solitude and quiet I can’t get at a coffee shop. That being said being alone when writing about trauma can be scary. My C-PTSD has been triggered and I have been having flashbacks and a sense of dread follows me around everywhere I go, it is very hard to shake. This is the very reason I put off this process for so long. I feel like I’m giving birth to a monster. Yesterday I had to stop and ask myself is it fair to unleash this awful story to the world, is it my job to contain the pain and suffering? I know that I have to let the story go out from me if for no other reason than it might save someone else from the same pain. My story might help another survivor, I do understand the power of that, but there is a part of me that feels guilty. Whenever I write about this topic there is a sense of relief. I feel lighter as I sit at my desk and bang away at the keys of my laptop, but once I get up and start moving around in the world that relief goes away and anxiety takes it place. It is so weird to really not believe something in your mind and I know that what they taught me is not true, but my lizard brain sure does believe it! C-PTSD is predictable as the sun coming up in the morning.

Yesterday I was writing about the Mark IV films. Really just a sentence or two in passing. To do the writing I had to look up a quote from one of the films and that was all it took. Was it seeing the DVD cover art or something else that brought that damn song into my head? If you are familiar with the films you know what I’m talking about. BTW please don’t mention the title of the film in your comments it really makes it worse for me the more I am exposed to it. All day long I was trying to get that song out of my head, once it is there it is almost impossible to remove. Then I had to fight off the cascading triggers that come after that one gets in. When I went to bed it was still there insistent that I pay attention and I had to sing other songs to myself in the dark so I could fall asleep.

All of this recent writing has made one thing very clear, it is amazing that I am as normal as I am. How can you grow and develop normally when you believe that everything about you is broken and wrong? How can you have a normal childhood and adolescence when you are afraid all the time? I have often beaten myself up in my adult life for not being as accomplished as other people, for not having a formal education, and for not having experiences that other adults see as normal and expected. I have to keep reminding myself to be fair with myself. I will never be like everyone else.

One thing I know that I need to do is some more reading about recovering from cults. I have always been interested in the stories of people who have survived cult experiences and the question has always lingered in my head, “Is the UPC a cult?” My gut says yes, but then I see people online and in person who say no, it is just a destructive church, but really what is the difference. The survivors in my life have experienced the same outcomes as people who escaped from cults. I say if it walks like a duck…One thing I know for sure is that I am done making excuses for people and I’m done with giving anyone cover.