Church Grief: A letter opened


Walking with Jesus / Wednesday, January 19th, 2022

Welcome to my space.

Can I be really honest with you for a second?

Oh thanks. I appreciate that.

Those of you who have been reading for a while know that my husband confessed to habits of pornography and deception in mid-2020, and was removed from church leadership for a minimum of one year. He has not been reinstated to that position, and he offered this letter to our church at the end of 2021. I am sharing it with you, with his permission, because he is better at words these days than I am.

It matters to me that our family walks with honesty and integrity before the people in our lives. That is, that the online people don’t get the sunny all-is-good version while the local people think, Why are they not talking about the big stuff?

So here’s a window in.


To my brothers and sisters at Meadville Mennonite Chapel –

I respectfully ask to be released from my ordination as an assistant pastor.

I shattered your trust first through my sin and deception. Then my critical spirit toward the pastors during my time of discipline further eroded their confidence in me. They have accepted my sorrow and repentance for that criticism, and extended forgiveness toward me. But rebuilding trust takes reliable behavior over time, including a change from the patterns that broke trust. I cannot rejoin the team and lead effectively anytime soon.

I am grateful for the grace that has guided this journey. The path has been excruciating at times. My original offense was pornography, but repentance laid bare my misplaced identity, my desire to control, my fragmented relationships, my faulty communication, and my neglected soul. I know less and have less to say than I did, but I know more about who I am—that I am the beloved son of my Father.

Thank you for your love and kindness toward us over the time of my discipline. Thank you for your patience with me as I grew in honesty and spiritual maturity. That journey goes on. I hope to continue my recovery, nurture my family, and build relationships as a brother in the church.

I am open to preaching in turn as the non-ordained brothers are sometimes asked. I do not intend to accept a nomination in the upcoming ordination. I am laying down any expectation of being restored to leadership at some point.

I am deeply grateful for my wife’s presence and support. Through no fault of her own, she has shared in my shame and my discipline, and her commitment to me and her faith in the good hand of God are both remarkable.

We believe in God and His work in the world. That work goes on in His church, and our hope is in Him.

– Ryan Zook

Deep breath.

I objected to the paragraph about his wife, particularly the “no fault of her own,” since God knows she has plenty of faults, but he told me with firm love that it was his written statement, not mine.

I am not sharing this letter to ask for your pity, censure, or validation, but to acknowledge where our family is at. It’s been hard not to acknowledge in this space the process as it unfolded, but the story belonged to more people than me, and I chose to protect their honor and privacy. (Also, I didn’t know where it was going.) Also, full disclosure, I was protecting myself from saying it badly and getting in trouble. Truth.

Sometimes it’s a relief to have biblical precedent for choosing silence.

It’s a copout, too.

But also a relief.

I think you’re old enough to know that church stresses take a toll, for all involved, and eighteen months of not functioning on the leadership team made it clear that the path back was going to cost too much, for everyone.

Our story, and especially this semi-ending, has raised lots of questions for us. What is God up to? What about his call on my husband’s life? How will our children do with all of this? Who has the authority to write the narrative as the facts unfold? Are we the good guys or the bad guys? Where do we fit at church? And what’s next?

My husband pastored for fourteen of our eighteen years of marriage. I still feel like a pastor’s wife. I am now a former pastor’s wife. I still feel like he’s my pastor, and in our home he is.

Rewriting an identity will take time. Even talking about loss will take time, as we uncover more layers. Meanwhile we love Jesus and the people in our church, and they love us, and we go on. God is never done working with us.

Thanks for listening. In the old-fashioned words, which I always loved mocking, we covet your prayers.

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43 Comments
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Mom Coblentz
8 months ago

♥️♥️♥️😢😢😢

Wendy
8 months ago

We love you all!

8 months ago

We love you Shari and your family though we have never met.😭❤❤❤

Barb
8 months ago

Thanks for your absolute honesty. Nobody should judge or cast a stone. We are all broken people in one way or another. Gods loves humility and honesty so I think you and your husband are especially loved! Blessings on your journey

Joanna Yoder
8 months ago

So much love to you all. I have often wondered how hard it must have been for you to write here w/o mentioning the behind-the-scenes difficulties that you were facing. “You have a right to remain silent…” Out of context, perhaps, but the perfect “cop-out” at times!😉

If there is one thing I have learned about our Father, it is that He delights in using the hardest, most broken & painful pieces of our stories to fashion beauty in our lives that only His artistic vision could imagine. I believe that we will see Him unfolding a breathtakingly beautiful chapter in your story in the coming years. May the glory always be His alone.

Osiah Horst
8 months ago

Yes, Barb, being a parent hurts. When our children were small, we did our best to help heal their hurts. After they become adults, we can only attempt to walk with them and pray with and for them, but it still hurts. We would just love to take them on our lap and wrap our arms around them and hold them till the hurt goes away. But we need to be there, close by, ready to help as we are allowed.

Shari and Ryan, God go with you as you find your place.

Cynthia
8 months ago

Praying that the peace of God, which surpasses all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus. Beautiful, hard, healing, restorative letter by both of you.

Lisa
8 months ago

❤️

Judy Roth
8 months ago

By the end of Ryan’s letter, during which I think I held my breath, I had tears and a good feeling, for what that’s worth. You will all find your way and your place. You already have/are. We desperately need people in our lives who are modelling how to walk a hard road well. That is one of your ‘places’ for now. If that’s your main ‘contribution’, that’s big enough, in my mind. Your story makes me think Gordon and Gail McDonald. Ryan’s reference to ‘a neglected soul’ sounds Gordon McDonald-ish.

Shaunda Stoltzfus
8 months ago

With our love and hope in Jesus we walk on together. xoxox

Kim
8 months ago

With many tears, and few words….
Much respect.
Prayers for love and healing as you journey on.

8 months ago

💔 Thanks for your honesty. Prayers ❤️

A daughter of the King
8 months ago

Your post and his letter brought tears. Your honesty was refreshing. But how it must be confusing and painful!
If only all church leaders (or past leaders) would be willing to be transparent and humble enough to admit their brokenness and need of Jesus. I know less and have less to say than I did, but I know more about who I am—that I am the beloved son of my Father. Simply beautiful!

Mim
8 months ago

Your honesty is inspiring. May God be with you and bless you with His grace and courage!

Travis
8 months ago

“I still feel like he’s my pastor, and in our home he is.”

Beautifully said.

Your family has all of our support.

8 months ago

Thank you for opening up and sharing that letter. I admire much of what was said and the way it was said; but I think what I admire most of all is his (and yours) willingness to stay under the authority that is correcting.

I, too, know the uncomfortableness of brotherhood discipline and that relationships can be strained and awkward. But I truly believe the protection you face from the devil and his attacks is so much greater when one chooses to submit to authority who are also trying to live Godly lives.

Cheering for you, Ryan, and the broken- but-redeemed Body of Christ.

Lovina
8 months ago

The last five paragraphs… I have lived it. We are living in it. You have our love, our prayers, and understanding.❤️

Liz Martin
8 months ago

Prayers indeed… from us to you and from you to us…

Am I right in thinking that a part of the nebulous feeling comes from your loss of identity? I know a little about that. It feels like a tightrope – where am I? Where am I heading? Who am I? It has helped me to realize that there is a lot of folks out there that understand that in various ways: widows/widowers, those newly ordained, widows of church leaders, the childless, the single… There are a lot of tight ropes crossing and crisscrossing in our world. If we can tie knots where they cross we have a safety net all ready for us when we fall. Thank God for those who touch our lives.

Anonymous
8 months ago

So many things I could say, but on this public space all I will say is this: God bless you both abundantly for the courage and honesty to make such a hard, brave, humble decision.

Anonymous
8 months ago
Reply to  Anonymous

And wise. I forgot to add that word.

R H
8 months ago

I appreciate the tone of the comments you’re getting from the people who know you in real life.

And. Proverbs 31:28; there’s nothing wrong with that.

8 months ago
Reply to  R H

I’m glad you noticed those comments. I was thinking the same thing – they mean so much to me. ❤️

Doris
8 months ago

Sometimes, it’s the shattered broken pieces that make way for new life and growth and ministry and purpose. At the very bottom, I pled with God again and again… Just get me through this mess, so that we can have a testimony for YOU again… He said, My child, you have it all wrong… I want you to have a testimony in the MIDST of the mess!

God bless you both, Ryan and Shari, for your honesty and willingness to peel back the layers, to find anew who you are in Jesus… We so relate to… “I know less, and have less to say than I did, but know more of who I am…” He is the One Who brings purpose from the pain…

Danette Martin
8 months ago

Thank you for sharing this hard and beautiful thing. My respect and admiration for both of you continues to grow. More than that, I adore the One who continues to grow us all more and more into His likeness. He is so lovely in you! ❤

Martha Byler
8 months ago

It’s excruciating. But for those of us that listen, and observe, it’s beautiful. I have nothing but admiration for you and Ryan.

8 months ago

Love, love to you. There is a time for silence, and a time for speaking. The same God that has been with you every day of the past will be with you in the future.

Jenn
8 months ago

I see two people devoted to following Jesus, whatever that may look like. Much love.

Twila Beachy
8 months ago

Dear Shari! My heart breaks for you! We’ve been going through some very difficult things in our marriage, although not the same as yours. It feels like God has been putting me on an alter with sharp rocks that have jagged edges. And while the pain is so intense & sharp, and I wonder sometimes, “Where is Jesus?”, I choose to believe He is right here, even though I might not always feel Him near, I know He will make something beautiful out of this! His plans for us are GOOD!!!

8 months ago

“Are we the good guys or the bad guys?”

Yes.

I think when we come to grips with who we are, as children of God, we realize we’re both. And it doesn’t really matter.

Hope that makes sense.

Thank you for giving us an honest picture of the good, bad life.

Linda Rose
8 months ago

I especially like this sentence: Meanwhile we love Jesus and the people in our church, and they love us, and we go on. I was afraid I was going to read that you had left your church. I was so relieved to see that you were still there, and that reconciliation was happening/had happened.

Blessings to you as you continue to process your identity questions amidst the losses. May God pour His blessings on both of you for your honesty and humility; may His kingdom be strengthened as others see beauty growing from ashes.

Deborah
8 months ago

I can’t tell you how much I respect your husband for writing that letter. Part of me was afraid it was going to be an “I-can’t-stay-in-this-church-any-longer” kind of letter. May God continue to be very very close to both of you.

Beth
7 months ago

I just think how I, as well as others, may have handled this. My first thought would be embarrassment for all of us, let down for the person I thought he was (been there, done that), and probably hiding as though this was no one else’s business but our own. Now I see how your family is handling this and it makes me feel closer to you all, and have a safety I didn’t realize, that these things can be opened up about and shared, and see who and how others are affected in a positive way by how the Lord is working in the situation. No guts, no glory. OK, that’s not biblical, but boy does it apply here–you had the guts and to God be the glory! XOXO Thank you for your and your husband’s hearts in speaking your truth.

RachelG
7 months ago

“…the path back was going to cost too much, for everyone”. Such a hard, hard reality but I love the confidence of those words. You are growing into new creatures in Christ, old things have passed away, all things are become new (2 Corinthians 5:17)

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[…] of a memoir that deals with marital conflict, depression, and crises of faith; she has also written openly about her husband’s struggle with pornography and his resulting suspension from church […]

[…] of a memoir that deals with marital conflict, depression, and crises of faith; she has also written openly about her husband’s struggle with pornography and his resulting suspension from church […]

[…] of a memoir that deals with marital conflict, depression, and crises of faith; she has also written openly about her husband’s struggle with pornography and his resulting suspension from church […]

[…] of a memoir that deals with marital conflict, depression, and crises of faith; she has also written openly about her husband’s struggle with pornography and his resulting suspension from church […]