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The Pastor
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The Pastor

The Pastor

The Pastor
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Rebecca is the daughter of an evangelical pastor. But this isn't a story about losing or gaining faith. It's a story about what happened when her father received a mysterious phone call.

GLYNN WASHINGTON, HOST:

Rebecca grew up in a conservative evangelical family, the daughter of a pastor. But this is not a story about losing faith or gaining faith. It's a story about what happened one night with a mysterious phone call.

REBECCA: I was 23, I was sitting with my mom and dad in the living room in the parsonage. The parsonage is the house that the church owns that a preacher lives in with his or her family. He'd been their pastor for 12 years, it's something he just loves. He's really, really good at. It comes completely organically to him. He can work a hundred hours a week and not feel it, like he just loves it.

The church phone rang and my dad answered it, then there were these long silences. This often happened like during the dinner hour. Mom would try to guess what was happening on the other end of the line - it was always catastrophe, you know, Sue is pretty sick, I wonder if she died. Bless her heart. She was always like killing people off in phone conversations.

He said very little and he hung up without - it seemed like saying goodbye to whoever he was talking to. And then he said, Bec, I need to talk to mom alone. I went into my room and I can't remember how long they talked, I mean, an hour or two. I knew something serious had happened and so I finally went back into the living room and said, I need to go to bed and I just want to know if everything's OK. And my mom said, you know, do you want to talk to her alone? My dad said, yes, and I sat down with him on the sofa in our living room.

What had happened was that for a couple of years, dad had been having an affair with a woman at the church. Dad told me that they'd had an inappropriate relationship. And I actually asked him, I said, but you weren't - I think I might have thrown down the word lover, which I don't approve of ever in any setting. I don't know if he used the word sexual, but he told me that they were more than friends. Her husband had found an e-mail from dad and so she called dad because her husband asked her to. And I got very, very quiet and very still until he said, can I ask what you're thinking - which I think was pretty bold. And I said, well, this was your gift and you shot yourself in the foot. And he said, I know, Bec, I know.

This other couple thought that we could just deal with it privately, like the two couples. My mother thought that was like patently absurd and unchristian. You don't hide something like that, you deal with it up front. Somehow, dad with the lay leaders of the church decided that dad definitely needed to resign and that the way to do that would be to talk on Sunday to the whole congregation - so to stand up in front of the church and to say that he was leaving and to say why. The fact that dad was going to publicly tell the whole church what had happened just intuitively made sense to me. I don't know how else he would do it. I mean, I think if he had said he was going to write a letter and just disappear, I would've thought that was weird.

Sunday morning it was quiet and the congregation was singing. They were singing the hymn right before my dad was going to talk and it was "Come, Thou Fount Of Every Blessing."

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG "COME, THOU FOUNT OF EVERY BLESSING")

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG "COME, THOU FOUNT OF EVERY BLESSING")

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG "COME, THOU FOUNT OF EVERY BLESSING")

REBECCA: It's actually one of my favorite songs, but I felt like I had never heard it before then and now I feel like I've heard it at every single church service since then.

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG "COME, THOU FOUNT OF EVERY BLESSING")

REBECCA: It's really gorgeous and the lyrics are like, "O to grace how great a debtor, daily I'm constrained to be! Let thy goodness, like a fetter, bind my wandering heart to thee." Even at the time, I was like, who chose this song? Like, was it - the deacons were like, let's really stick it to him. Like, come thou fount of every blessing.

The congregation is singing it and we're walking up the side aisle. I didn't think anybody knew what was going on, like I thought people were just like, what's this about? My brother told me later that he was sort of thumping his chest like Yom Kippur style. We sat in the very front row. My dad was sitting next to me and he put his hand on my back as he got up. My mother went up with him. She sat down behind him on one of those big old preacher thrones. And the first thing he said was, beloved, I stand before you today for the last time as your pastor. I've broken my marriage vows. He said he had lied to us, to our family, he had lied to the church. But then in this kind of strange pastoral move, he was like, but I didn't lie about the good news. That was going to be it, he was going to walk away and then he kind of like snagged and he turned back to the pulpit and to the microphone and his face was all scrunched up and kind of blotched and he said into the microphone, I'm just so sorry, and kind of lost it. And then he and my mother walked off of the steps and my brother and I lined up behind them and we walked out the front doors of the church. I remember thinking, I feel like a Kennedy. I leaned against my brother and we had no idea what was next.

I don't know about the way it affected my faith, it certainly affected my ecclesiology, like my understanding of how the church should work. I mean, I think dad was back in the pulpit by the time I decided to go to divinity school. When I got to divinity school, we were taught your congregation, they're not your friends, they're your vocation, they're your call. You love them, you know them well, but there's this boundary and that was such a huge relief to me. I mean, of course, don't [bleep] the flock is sort of a standard ethical boundary.

WASHINGTON: Rebecca herself is a practicing evangelical minister and her parents are still together today. That story was produced by our own Nick Van der Kolk. When SNAP JUDGMENT returns, someone finds out more than they wanted to about someone special. Someone else starts acting very strange over a very common human condition, for real when SNAP JUDGMENT, the "Suspicious Behavior" episode continues. Stay tuned.

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