I met my fiance Diane at a Charismatic Episcopal Church about seven years ago. In case you aren’t familiar with the CEC (most people aren’t), imagine smooshing together an Assembly of God congregation with a Catholic church that rejects the Pope and wants it’s male priests to be able to marry. If you can do that, you’ll have a pretty good idea of what it’s like. The CEC features liturgical services; a patriarchal, socially conservative structure with no ordination of women and governance by an all-male Rector’s Council; contemporary worship music; and prayer in tongues. Incense burns, bells ring, prophecies are spoken, and occasionally a worshiper falls to the ground, slain.
It’s a cafeteria tray full of carefully selected Christian tidbits.
I helped found the church from the rubble of a fractured Presbyterian congregation. I spent hundreds of hours searching for space and preparing it for holy use, developing printed material for the services and for marketing, building a website, writing newsletters, teaching classes, leading Bible studies, participating in strategic visioning and planning, and assisting the Rector’s Council. I was so deeply involved in so many things that we eventually made up a title for my role.
I loved and served that church and it’s people with my whole heart.
Throughout those years the priest grew to be my best friend. In my eyes he could do no wrong and I worked hard to further his goals and those of the Rector’s Council. We met often as friends and as co-laborers.
I attended church alone, having come to my faith solo at age 38. My husband didn’t understand the seismic shift which picked up pace as the years passed, morphing me from a broken and unhappy near-alcoholic to a bustling, smoldering brand, consumed with a love that didn’t include him (by his choice.) Our marriage had always been rocky, and while the shift improved many things as I strove to be the Proverbs 31 wife, it introduced new problems and left old ones unresolved. We’d built a foundation on infidelity, substance abuse, and mutual distrust, and it couldn’t hold up under the pressure of change.
But God was working, even as our life together turned increasingly brittle.
During this time frame I met Diane. Her family was new to the area, and she came to our church ready to plunge in. She attended all the extra curricular events, participated in all the women’s Bible study groups, and volunteered for any work that needed doing. Over time, she also began stepping into leadership.
Our friendship grew as her own marriage floundered and failed after many years of sorrow and struggle. By the time the final detonation of my marriage sounded, Diane’s husband had already moved out, and I moved in. The timing was orchestrated so perfectly that we could hear the strings tuning even through the tortured screaming of marital collapse.
Our poor church didn’t know what to do with us. Divorce was verboten under the most straight-forward of circumstances, so they had no clue how to manage the scandalous questions about our relationship that were carried on the humid breeze of murmuring. My sycophantic, disordered relationship with my beloved priest disintegrated, creating an additional untethering that felt naked and painful.
The result was scandal. So much so that we were asked to stop coming even to the poorly attended Wednesday night Eucharistic service.
In addition to being heartbroken, Diane and I were ourselves scandalized by the shift from friendship to one-ness. I was extremely Catholic in theology and had been writing about the sacredness of sexuality for years. Diane was a solidly trained Baptist girl who believed that homosexuals were doomed to hell. We didn’t understand, but we knew that we knew that we knew our coming together was divinely ordained and divinely orchestrated.
In the four years that have passed since those tumultuous days I have prayed often for forgiveness about the scandal that resulted, asking God what I should do about it. A new priest leads the church now. He was in training when it all happened, and recently began to engage in dialog with us. His reaching out resulted in my praying the same prayer anew.
And when I did, I received a revelation:
God works through scandal.
Think about that for a minute.
The biblical history of God and His people is rife with the stuff. Consider Joshua’s men being saved by the prostitute Rahab: scandalous. Consider Mary’s pregnancy out of wedlock: scandalous. Consider Jesus’ repeated violation of law, a reality so scandalous most Christians won’t admit it even happened. Consider Jesus’ shocking demand that we eat His body and drink His blood, a scandal which caused many of His followers to desert Him.
And these are just a few examples.
Our God works through scandal. He is the very God of scandal, uprooting social norms and throwing over tablefulls of accepted behaviors. He brings about miraculous change and growth through it.
In the week that has passed since this realization, I’ve been able to relax in a way I’d not been able to do since my marriage took its final, shuddering breaths. My conscience can rest, knowing that the great God of all gods has worked through the very scandal He and Diane and I co-created. He is doing amazing work now. I don’t have to try to repair it. In fact, I’m not supposed to.
Perhaps Diane and I will be called to visit that church some day, to attend a funeral, or to speak about the magnificent, confounding, scandalous workings of He who is Love. If that day comes, I’ll find the courage to do what I am called to do.
But for now I know that all I have to do is wait for that call.
He is doing the rest.
SUZANNE MARIE DEWITT is a writer, dreamer, apologist, pretend librarian, cookbookophile, and mystagogue. She lives in Haverhill, MA, and is the author of the children’s book, Rumplepimple!, and a series of LGBTQ Devotionals.