Confessions of an Ex-Minister: My Story (Part One)

by Brian Worley

For years’ people have wanted to know what makes me “tick?” What “ticked me off” enough to start a website for Ex-ministers? While this website has solicited, and shared the experiences of many former ministers; my own story has been conspicuously absent.

Certain things about my life’s story torment me. The question is what exactly do I hope to accomplish if I choose to tell my story? I’ve had deep meditations upon how best to tell my experiences and ultimately “at the end of the day” will you the reader come away with a reaction or will you question with me if doing the same old thing and expecting different results are insane?  

Skipping past the evolution/abiogenesis origin of life questions, we are born into a family that hopefully is trying hard to figure out what is the right thing to do and how best to get to where they want to be? The family unit we are born into makes choices of a behavioral science template; usually this is aligned with a religion or perhaps it is unbound (secular). My great temptation is to write a “tell all” and express how ticked off I am at the tormenting aspects of the betrayal of family, friends and spiritual leaders of people that I have known. Isn’t this what the “skeptical movement” is about? A reaction and rebellion against people holding a “religious blueprint” that have told us the way we should live and our reaction against those that don’t practice what they preach? My feeling is that this is an endless vicious cycle; this is why in the last paragraph that I questioned if we aren’t engaging insanity with our approach?  

Our reaction to the faith we abandon is a choice that matters. If properly channeled, anger can be a great motivator for constructive endeavors but if undisciplined that anger can be a rebellion which gratifies the disenchanted but ultimately serves to weaken institutions and society. If religion is indeed important (this writer thinks it is), what disappoints me is that people with the ability to make a difference don’t have the vision to channel or influence the post-Christian departures from faith in a positive constructive manner. It’s basically been “open season” upon Christianity. Something can be done about it—doesn’t the scriptures say, “where there is no vision, the people perish?”  

As I tell my story, I hope with the telling that you will realize that it isn’t religion that “ticks me off” but rather that religion doesn’t work well enough on many of its subjects! The starting line isn’t equal in life. The nature/nurture questions, the family unit or breakdown of the same matter in the development of the human soul. Yes, I said soul! As I tell my very personal story, you will find people whose Christianity greatly helped them and others that are so untenable that they will claim the faith and not allow its principles to penetrate their heart, soul or behavior. The scriptures refer to this as the distinction between what is genuine and what isn’t: sheep vs goats or tares vs. wheat. Christianity has proven that it can’t disciple these types of individuals. If having the “Spirit of God” within a Christian’s soul cannot positively influence that man’s behavior—what hope is left? What does this say about that god? To whom shall we ascribe blame? Did the clergy fail to guide and inspire the individual? Is it the parents fault? Is it as simple as the untenable individual being so depraved and deluded that they have difficulty grasping consciousness and spirituality?  

As a 100% secular being that believes in God (Deist). Could it be that the unfolding of each of our individual life stories are the ongoing process of evolutionary biology-psychology? While this is one way to look at it, it is a bit too impersonal for my tastes and subdues human responsibility by de-humanizing man. Fate is equally depressing and unsatisfactory as an explanation. We have a say in how we respond to the disappointments we comprehend. This writer feels that religion has “maxed out” with its subjects, that it isn’t for everyone. It is even less effective if it is engaged with secular battles because it is distracted. That being said, Christianity is one very advanced and effective route in the development of ethical systems—but what about those it doesn’t reach or is ineffective with? The first of my confessions is that the world is much better off with Christianity that makes disciples and a non-combative secularism that can offer man essential building blocks, anchor, principles to help organize and structure society. Christianity is already in place, this type of secularism hasn’t yet been born.  

The previous paragraphs were introductory, now, I will begin to tell my story of what has influenced me.

Early memories of Childhood  

One of the earliest memories of childhood that I can remember is walking in on one hellacious fight between my parents. It was loud, there was plenty of shouting, screaming, and a lot of glass was being thrown at each other; I walked into an intense situation. Broken glass was everywhere. I was about five years old at the time and had just came in from playing outside on a cold winter’s day in Maryland.  

Obviously, this was very upsetting to me, as was my siblings standing around as spectators watching a fight without trying to stop it! Seeking to inject consciousness into the situation, I somewhat stepped forward and gave my parents “the look” while shaking my head, I then glanced at my two older sisters and younger brother.  

My father, oblivious to my uneasiness locked eyeballs with me and asks, “What are you looking at?”  

I didn’t have an answer.  

My father wouldn’t let it go, “WHAT ARE YOU LOOKING AT?”  

I was scared and intimidated…too stunned to know how to respond to such an intense question.  

My father’s next retort was “PICK IT UP!”  

I sensed his wrath was being diverted from mom and now to me. I froze.  

Next thing I knew was that my dad started taking off his belt. I knew what was coming next. He turned up the decimals, “PICK IT UP…NOW!”  

Evidentially, I was too slow to respond to my father’s demand. I hadn’t even taken my gloves off yet.  

The belt was raised high and he struck it like a whip to my left and then to my right side, just missing me. Clearly, the intent was to press the urgency of the order. I recall wishing I were anywhere but there at the scene witnessing all of this unfold.  

My slightly older sister, Kathy, sensing the intensity, knew that I needed to start picking up the broken chards of glass or else that belt would start connecting upon me soon. She took my gloves off because such small chards are even difficult for an adult to pick up with gloves on. We didn’t even have the time to find a trash can for the broken glass, so I picked up in one bare hand and collected the chards in the palm of the other.  

A “FASTER” demand followed and a few more strokes of the belt cracked like lightning from the sky. At this point I was crying, making it more difficult to see and slowing my efforts. A five-year old’s finger dexterity wasn’t well suited for the task. My fingers were bleeding and the blood was now staining the carpet. Suddenly, my mom had re-emerged unto the scene. The belt went away, the screaming stopped and Kathy, my only conscientious sibling, was concerned about the blood on my hands.  

My mom went away for some time after this fight, my sisters became my de-facto “mother” for a time. There were four kids in the household, I was the third of four kids. My sister, bless her heart, did the best she could do as an eight-year-old child to stop the bleeding and get the glass out of the wound to prevent infection. Mom wasn’t there.  

Do you know who also wasn’t there? My maternal grandfather, Joseph Cericola McCall. He was the spiritual mentor of the family and irreplaceable. He died before I had turned two. My grandfather was Italian, purportedly involved with the mafia but later turned to faith with a spectacular conversion and an honest living working for Bethlehem Steel at Sparrows Point. What I’ve been told is that he actually lived his faith! Having a mentor, someone that watches and observes behavior and one that will hold you accountable is a very important person and a difference maker in families and society.  

My paternal grandfather, George, was a despicable man. My memories include his killing our beloved dog by placing poison and broken glass into its dog food. Why did he do this? Who really knows but he was a mean unprincipled man, he brutally beat my father as he was growing up and died as an alcoholic with cirrhosis of the liver. My last memory was being chosen as one of his pallbearers. In summary, I had a secular and a Christian grandfather one was anchored to an ethical system with Christianity while it wouldn’t bother me at all if Hell were a real place for my secular grandfather. My secular grandfather wasn’t evidentially intimidated by the thought of going to Hell, he was buried in a Christian church graveyard but he was one of those souls that the church couldn’t disciple. Frankly, it hurts missing out on a loving grandfather in life. I wish that someone could have gotten to George, I don’t have any good memories, it is he who taught my own father that beating one’s own kids isn’t abnormal. Again, I will ask the question…where are morals and ethics learned if the family unit is broken down and there is no effective outside organization such as a church group? It is not “nature” that bestows these, this is something that is taught or learned…usually through nurture. Mentoring is very important, my father learned George’s ways, growing up I always had to fear my father’s bad moods, brutal beatings and cruelty. I had a very tough, cold upbringing for much of my childhood. These are the memories that torment me and were what I believe spurred me to eventually succumb to be a minister and make a difference…the pain and agony of my upbringing.  

My family lived in a Baltimore suburb, Essex, Maryland through my third-grade year. We were a secular family now that my grandfather wasn’t around. I had a wonderful neighbor (3 houses down) that was a minister, the Wilson family. His son Greg was a good kid and we played a lot of sports together almost always at their home…it kept me somewhat out of harm’s way should my dad come home drinking. I had a wonderful aunt Elizabeth that always sought to bring us to church…occasionally we went, I just don’t recall our parents ever going with us.  

We moved to the mountains of western North Carolina to my father’s hometown of Canton for my 4th Grade year. The first couple of years were better than Maryland was. There wasn’t as much alcohol, perhaps my grandmother should be given credit for this…but the family unit wasn’t close.  

I strongly believe that love begets love. When a mother and father love each other the kids are the benefactors. My parents stayed together but I never got the sense that there was much love for each other and certainly didn’t grow up with the feeling that my parents loved and cherished us. My youngest sister “ran away” from home once, my little brother was told that he was a “mistake” and my mother told me she wished that I hadn’t been born.  

I have strong feelings about kids being wanted or they shouldn’t be brought into the world. On several occasions, an older neighborhood girl (while in MD) molested me (perhaps I was 6 or 7 years old). I couldn’t/wouldn’t dare tell my parents about it, my mother made me feel as if I were a burden to her. That girl died a few years afterwards when she inhaled an aerosol spray out of a paper bag (she was seeking to get high). Nor could I confide with my parents about the older, stronger neighbor boy that sought to sodomize me. I fought the attempt off and never wanted to “spend the night” over there again despite my parent’s encouragement. It is a damn shame that a kid can’t talk to a parent in times of need to avoid danger. There are some real strange characters up in the mountains. I had lost a 1st cousin (presumably to AIDS), whereas I fought off the pervert, perhaps that person got to my weaker cousin?  

A few years later a church in Candler, NC (Ridgeway Baptist Church) with its bus ministry came into the picture. For me, anything to get away from home for a while was good news for me. My godless parents wouldn’t go, but a few of my siblings went with me on the Sunday school bus. Church was a caring place where I got a glimpse of a normal caring family unit doing something together…something that I hadn’t seen in years since the Wilson’s in Maryland.  

“Things” started happening in our family life (especially with my dad) about this time. A freak accident where a wrench fell into a radiator fan that ricocheted off and broke my fathers leg. My father took this as a sign that God just might be trying to get his attention. I kept riding the bus and sought to be a peacemaker in family disputes between my mom and dad. Some of the worst beatings I ever got was when was I stepped in or distracted my dad’s pursuit of my mom with a belt. Sometimes mom would re-pay the favor and intervene whenever my father’s mood and belt pursued me. Keep in mind, I can’t properly tell my story without bringing these ugly events up…I’d much rather keep them to myself and probably wouldn’t had I not read sections of Jerry West’s biographical “West By West : My Charmed, Tormented Life” and his navigation of the tormented aspects of his life. What might be from afar be thought of as a typical healthy family situation can downright be unbearable to those within…and who would know? Should we just pretend that everything is ok?

The Summer of 1976  

For those that might not be aware of the strategy of the bus ministry, it starts by reaching out to kids and then hopefully that kid will be able to reach the parent…if successful, you will lose the kid on the bus but gain the family coming together with their own transportation. At first, the church usually is casual with parental invitations for church, usually somewhere along the way a contest will be raised and then the kid applies the “pressure” to bring in the adult. That’s the way it worked with me.

I had consistently asked my parents to go to church since I had started riding the Sunday School bus, but they always refused. Dad didn’t like the nagging and promised that one day he would come. To appease me, Dad promised that he would allow me to drive this heavy equipment piece after I got home from church. I had quickly changed out of my Sunday School clothes and dad followed through with the promised ride.

My father was always buying and selling outdoor equipment and machinery (kind of like a Fred Sanford character). My father had his own successful motor grading business with a front end loader, bulldozer, dumptruck, etc.  What made us different from the “several broken down cars in the yard” stereotype was that we had heavy equipment, pipes, and other matter scattered everywhere.

After church that day, we started up the old airport baggage tow cart and started driving on one of the roads that my father had graded. After about 10 minutes, dad let me drive. It wasn’t long thereafter that we approached a “hairpin” curve when I lost control of the steering wheel. We both jumped off to avoid the forthcoming crash. It happened so quickly, I was somewhat disorientated after I had hit the ground. I was horrified when I discovered that my dad was pinned beneath that heavy vehicle and lying in a pool of blood. He was moaning in pain all the while desperately gasping for enough oxygen to stay alive! 

I was a kid then. All it normally took was the sight of blood and I would faint, but not on that day! With God’s grace, I kept my composure and crawled underneath that vehicle to scrape out enough dirt to allow my dad's lungs enough room to expand and contract. I quickly ran to our home and had mother call the rescue squad. I grabbed a shovel, got some water, and a towel and ran back as quickly as I could to be with my father. When I returned, my nervous neighbor Gerald was there putting all of us in danger by lighting up a cigarette around the spilled gasoline of the overturned tow cart. My father was very fortune to have survived!

My father thought that he was going to die underneath of that vehicle after I had left to get help. He said "made a deal with God" that if his life were spared he would change his ways, get right with God and get his family into church! Dad probably cheated death that day; he had a lengthy stay in the hospital afterwards. Everyone would tell you that my actions saved his life, but who is fooling whom? God intervened that day to spare my father’s life! To this day, this event has been a pivotal, persuasive episode in my life for belief in God, that God is a reality and that sometimes God will intervene into human affairs if called upon in prayer. My second confession is this: God is a reality, whereas we don’t know much about God, it is crazy to question God’s existence or disrespect the concept of God or prayer because sometimes God intervenes into human affairs if only we are humble enough to ask.

My father survived the accident and I believe he did his best to honor his commitment he made with God while teetering upon life & death while underneath that machine. We visited a few churches but didn’t end up going to Ridgeway Baptist whose church busses his kids had been ridding upon prior to the accident. We ended up going to Center Pigeon Baptist Church. I absolutely loved that church! Family life changed for the better, I probably went for about 2 ½ years without the cruel beatings that I endured much of my life.

I have many fond memories of the people of that dear church! You got the feeling that they loved people. I had excellent Sunday School teachers, Jerry Henson and Jerry Trull and if you ask me today, when many former believers turn with vitriol against the church, I will always remember and never forget the importance and impact that a loving local church had for a couple of years in what had been up until that time a fearful, dreary and largely unpleasant childhood. My third confession is that belief and church really meet and satisfy needs for people, it did so for our family for quite some time.  

This is the paragraph where people that want to psychoanalyze me will find interesting. In an earlier (fourth) paragraph, I offer a slightly different critique by lamenting that “religion doesn’t work well enough on many of its subjects”. Discontentment entered the picture. The beloved pastor, Zeb McDaris passed away and the church sought and found a new pastor. That new pastor, Charles Lewis was a good speaker, I thought his kids were really cool but my dad with his advanced “GED” education wound up having a Calvinist argument that my father just couldn’t handle. Our family started drifting, visiting other churches and our family started to drift back towards the wrong direction. I can’t quite recall but Lewis was there for a few years and a new pastor, Bud Lance, was asked to be the new pastor. I liked Bud Lance, thought he had a great family…but it didn’t take long for my father to start problems with Bud Lance. We had just seemed like we got back in before we ended up leaving the church again to only drift in and out of other churches like nomads. My fourth confession is this: I wasn’t happy about this "nomad life", in fact this really provoked me to learn the Bible to know what it taught, what it didn’t and what was worth breaking fellowship over and what wasn’t. It taught me that a “little knowledge” can be a dangerous thing for small minds to handle, if a belief couldn’t withstand critical inquiry then the belief should be abandoned. I also learned that under educated minds “take their bat and ball” and go home if their pet beliefs aren’t adopted by others…that these weak, arrogant people find themselves to be “too spiritual” for anyone’s church and thus they stay home…I find these types backward and pathetic! Charity and liberty are important spiritual matters that abide in real Christians, as I earlier stated, there are some that Christ and the church cannot disciple…in reality, these types are the "goats" which scripture laments and they are difficult to live around.

  (this was Part One...this link will take you to Part Two )

 

                      this article was written by Brian Worley  

 

 

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Brian Worley    Ex-Minister.org  April 13, 2017   All Rights Reserved

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