My story is about spiritual (pastoral/psychological/narcissistic) abuses in the Church. I’m done writing these posts in an effort to get the Church to take appropriate action here. I mean, it’s been over four years, and I’ve seen little change in the right direction.

And when I take the empathetic listening, knowledge, and advice I’ve received from three priests who are very dear to me over the last few years and stir it all together, I hear, Rise up.

When I read the words and life stories of the Saints, I hear, Rise up.

When I discern the messages in signs from the Angels, I hear, Rise up.

When I pray the Rosary, sing the Magnificat, or listen to the whispers of Blessed Mother Mary, I hear, Rise up.

When I turn around and recognize Jesus, the One in whose arms I’ve been supported all along; when I feel His influence in my mind, His love in my heart, and His soul entwined with mine forever and ever, I hear, Rise up and speak out. But this time, speak to the right audience – speak to your fellow laity.

Right. So, my story takes place in the Episcopal Church but can be applied to any Church. In the Episcopal Church, the head minister/pastor/reverend/priest is referred to as the “rector.” My journey of recognition of and recovery from spiritual abuse is long and has many individual nuances and aha moments. Let me explain. No there is too much. Let me sum up:

If you consider your rector to be your spiritual father and seek his encouragement and approval in your spiritual works, but he pretends your professional writing connections within the Episcopal Church don’t exist; you are being spiritually abused.

If you are a conscientious, dedicated church volunteer and your rector rarely, if ever, expresses any form of praise or gratitude; you are being spiritually abused.

If you ask your spiritual father a theological question, and he implies the subject is too difficult for your stay-at-home mom brain to comprehend; you are being spiritually abused.

If, despite the above, because your rector is theologically knowledgeable, a good preacher, excels in healing prayers, sparked your love of the Saints, and represents/channels Jesus every time he serves the Eucharist/Communion, after a dozen years or so, you grow to love him as a spiritual father and indicate this love with gifts of soup when he’s sick or such like; and he responses by indicating that not only is your love for him inappropriate and unprofessional, it’s also shameful; you are being spiritually abused. Because, if you own priest won’t love you, how in the name of God are you ever going to feel worthy of Jesus’s love for you? How are you ever going to believe that Jesus is standing right there next to you loving you for all He’s worth?

I completely understand this to be tricky communication and Safe Church practices are valid. However, preachers can express their love of their parishioners from the pulpit, “I love all y’all.” It’s really not that difficult. Even a beloved musician can do it.

Despite the above, if your growing spirituality inspires you to take on volunteer leadership roles at your church, and some fellow female volunteers become threatened by your leadership and say mean things to you and about you, so you communicate this situation to your rector, and he responds by preaching a sermon about how we cannot truly be Christians unless we are prepared to meet Jesus in the center of the Cross by suffering abuses inflicted on us by others; you are being spiritually abused. BIG TIME.

Weirdly, this is also a way the patriarchy maintains its control. By not critiquing female employees or volunteers who need professional guidance, women in church positions cannot make appropriate changes which would enable them to grow into quality leaders who will eventually take over men’s positions. It’s a way for the patriarchy to say, “See?! I told you woman can’t handle leadership!”

If, after many months, you tell your rector you are still upset about being rejected from a leadership group at church, and he continues to refuse to set up a conflict resolution meeting with them because, “They are doing a good job, so what they did to you doesn’t matter;” you are being spiritually abused. Because you do matter.

If, in this same conversation, you spiritual father tells you that you are practicing laity healing prayers wrong during the healing service because the phrases you say like, “if this doesn’t resonate with you, let it pass,” are above the understanding level of your fellow parishioners, so you should read out of the prayer book instead; you are being spiritually abused. Because laity healing prayers are supposed to be ad lib.

If, after that in this same conversation, you tell him that via the sign of your house keys entangling with your rosary beads in your pocket, you discerned the message of Blessed Mother Mary calling you home to your identity within her, and he says, “In time, you will see that that is not so;” you are being spiritually abused. Further, you are strongly encouraged to say back to him OUT LOUD, “In time, you’ll drop dead, and I’ll come to your funeral in a red dress!” before you storm out of the church ne’er to return.

Look. I understand that priests are allowed to be wrong. By our very nature, humans are fallible. And, priests are human. But, if your spiritual leader delivers his BS opinion about you in the voice of a patriarchal, condescending, male chauvinistic horse’s ass; you are being spiritually abused.

Abusive spiritual leaders can also be female, by the way. Just saying.

For example, if your rector treats you and your fellow church volunteers and parishioners like employees and two-year-olds; you are being spiritually abused.

If your rector announces that you are a failure in a passive aggressive compliment about your Communion bread baking talents during a fa-reeking SERMON; you are being spiritually abused.

If, during another sermon, your rector implies that you should be satisfied to and perhaps even bake the Communion bread every Sunday because you are so good at it, but never indicates an awareness of your professional writing connections within the Episcopal Church, or promotes your writing to your fellow parishioners, or maybe even asks you to teach a Sunday school class, or, dare I think it might ever be possible, asks you to preach a laity sermon once in a blue moon; you are being spiritually abused by way of suppressing your gifts to keep you small, quiet, and out of competition.

If, after putting in a prayer request about your difficult divorce process and communicating to your rector how frightened you are of your former’s potential for rage, she preaches a sermon that Sunday on the sanctity of marriage and how we all have to work much harder at our relationships with our spouses especially by cutting them slack for imperfections and that St. Paul wants us to treat the Church the same way; you are being spiritually abused. And, as much as you love your fellow parishioners, it’s time to leave that parish, too.

Dearworthy readers, if any of the above resonates with you from the point of view of victim, I highly recommend you seek out treatment from a psychologist trained and experienced in the area of recovery from psychological and narcissistic abuse, as well as Cognitive Behavioral Therapy.

It’s not an easy process — If you are a victim of psychological abuse, it’s almost impossible to recognize it, because it skews your perceptions. Many victims are psychologically abused to death from one stress-induced illness or another without ever recognizing why they feel so miserable.

Took me four and a quarter years of spiritual journeying including self-study of theology, psychology, and spirituality; therapy; prayer; a person who modeled empathetic friendship so I could see that there was even such a thing; and Divine Intervention to wrench myself out of the psychologically abusive relationships that were controlling my life, my take on reality, and my extremely low opinion of myself.

Done. It’s over.

And, now among other things, like writing and baking, my mission is to advise people who are suffering from the same crap I suffered from all my life and to help you see your way out, too.

Here are some definitions to get you started:

Psychological abuse and codependency – When you are conditioned to believe negative opinions about your gifts spewed forth by twisted individuals granting them the honor of establishing your value, and lack thereof, as a human being.

Recovery – The process of shifting your gaze toward the positive and recalculating your take on reality and your own worthiness.

Cognitive Behavioral Therapy – Recalibrating, over and over again, until your default programming re-fucking-boots for good.

If you are perpetrators of anything like the above examples and are responding to the words of my criticism with rage, you are probably a narcissist, and you should seek psychological counseling to adjust your behavior. For most people in the middle range of the spectrum, empathy is a muscle that can be strengthened with proper instruction and use.

Now, about the rights of laity in the church. I gotta tell ya, I’ve been going about this all wrong. I’ve been trying to communicate to church leadership that they have a serious narcissist problem among their clergy, and they should do something about it. STAT.

EPIPHANY:  It’s not for them to do. Also, why would they? Most of them are narcissists, too. It’s a simple equation — most leaders in any field are narcissists, because most empathetic people are too humble to see themselves as leaders, so they don’t go for it. And, dang, the ones who do, the ones who generally give a damn about the people in their care and on their team, shouldn’t be the blessed exception. They should be the standard, the rule, the template for church leadership to model. The guidelines need to be rewritten. An empathy class needs to be added to seminary training.

Fellow laity, it’s up to us. It’s up to us to resist, to expose, and to demand change. As it says in the Book of Common Prayer on page 855:

The ministers of the Church are lay persons, bishops, priests, and deacons.

Lay persons come first. Top dogs, as it were. We need to act like it.

Or as lay theologian, Derek Olsen put it,

We have both the right and responsibility to educate ourselves in order to know what it means to be an engaged lay person.

And so, dearworthy fellow laity, I present to you our Catechism, Outline of Episcopal Faith. Click through to read pages 844 through 862 in the Book of Common Prayer. Alternatively, purchase your own copy. Every Episcopalian should have their own copy in either paper or electronic form.

Study up on our faith, ask questions, and practice using your voice against those whom take advantage of and seek superiority over others.

Remember, suffering abuses from others is not humbleness, nor is it saintly behavior. Sometimes, we think it is because of the martyr stories, or because we’re taught by individual spiritual leaders to put ourselves last while they go first. The difference between us and biblical martyrs is that they suffered oppression. If we allow individuals in our life to oppress us, we are not martyrs for Christ, we are confused victims.

God does not want us nor anyone to suffer abuses perpetrated by others, whether in the Church or out in the “real” world. We’ve got work to do, folks. Start with yourselves and what you need to do to be safe, and then begin rippling your individual goodness out there. Make your positive mark on people and situations — anoint them with your thumb to their forehead in the name of the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit and ad lib prayers to your heart’s content.

Or, maybe you could give people Eucharist in the form of:


PC: Heather Nealey Hall

A word on jam. There are plenty of lovely jams available at any grocery store. You seriously don’t have to make your own jam. Just so we’re clear. Having said that, I’ve recently discovered how fun and easy it is to make jam, and I made A LOT of jam last Sunday. Some for this bake, some for future bakes, and some to give away in plastic containers for the refrigerator. Another option is to buy jars, sterilize them, pour in the hot jam and seal them properly. That way your stored jam jars don’t need refrigeration.

After watching every episode of The Great British Baking Show available on Netflix, I’m practicing those bakes that appealed to me. Doing so is keeping me sane while I wait for my divorce process to be completed. Check out this article on the practice of sanity bakes. Look at how close the word “sanity” is to “saintly.”

All this time I was following and sharing recipes for saintly living, I was really baby stepping my way through recovery from psychological abuse. I mean!

Homemade Jam

1-pound berries (any combination of fresh strawberries, raspberries, blackberries, and/or blueberries)

¾ pound sugar

About 1 TBS lemon juice

Place three small plates in freezer for later doneness testing.

Wash and partially dry berries. Hull strawberries, slice or quarter.

Splash some lemon juice in bottom of medium or large pot. Berries don’t need to be completely dry. If they are wet ish, you can skip the lemon juice at the bottom.

Add sugar and cook over low heat, stirring now and then until sugar is dissolved. Don’t let it melt and stick to the bottom of the pot. (That’s why we start with low heat and stir to mash up berries somewhat.)

Once sugar is dissolved, turn heat up to medium. Cook for about 15 minutes, stirring occasionally. Then stand by to stir more often. Once groups of tiny bubbles appear and continue bubbling even when you stir, you can begin to check for doneness. You could use a jelly thermometer to cook until mixture reaches 214 degrees F. Or you can go by feel and eye. When you think it’s thickening up, remove from heat.

Pour a spoonful of jam onto plate from freezer. Return plate to freezer for one minute. Remove. Run your finger down the middle of the jam. If the jam acts like the Red Sea protecting Moses and his people, it’s ready. If the jam acts like the Red Sea thinking about drowning Pharaoh’s army, it’s not done. Return to medium heat, stir, and try again. (That’s why we freeze three plates.)

Once it’s set or done, pour into a bowl to cool on counter. Then, cover and place in refrigerator to chill and store. Or, pour into sterilized jam jars.

Troubleshooting:  If your jam is not cooked until it sets, it will be runny and more like sauce than actual jam. If you overcook the jam, it will be rubbery and won’t spread. Both versions of not getting it right can be used in different types of sauces and other recipes to recover your ingredients. If you overcook the mixture to the point of scorching and it smells and tastes burnt, throw it away.

Warning: It’s extremely easy to get carried away and make too much jam. That’s why it’s probably a good idea to purchase a set of jars, sterilize them, and have them standing by for pouring of hot jam into. Which I didn’t do. But I still had fun.

Thumbprint Cookies

2 Sticks (1/2-pound butter), room temperature

1 ½ cups sugar

2 eggs, room temperature

1 teaspoon vanilla

2 tablespoons milk

2 ½ cups all-purpose flour

¼ teaspoon salt

1 teaspoon baking POWDER

About ½ cup berry jam

Preheat oven to 365 degrees F.

With an electric mixer, cream the butter, then gradually add the sugar, beating until light and fluffy.

Add the eggs, vanilla, milk, and mix thoroughly.

In another bowl, combine flour, salt, and baking powder. Add to liquid ingredients and mix well. Refrigerate for at least ½ hour.

Roll teaspoon-sized balls of dough and place on parchment-covered cookie sheet about 1 inch apart. Dip thumb in flour then press thumb into middle of each cookie.

Fill each reservoir with jam. Try not to overfill to avoid spillage.

Bake for about 12 minutes or until edges and bottoms are slightly golden. (I really had to play around with my oven to get this right. You’ll have to do the same as ovens vary so much.)

Place on wire rack for cooling.

Bonus material

Check out this read aloud of JAMBERRY by Bruce Degan. It’s one of my favorite children’s books.


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