He has a new friend. Well, actually, she’s an old friend, but they have a new relationship.
It’s still very tentative, neither of them are certain how it is going to go. In public they are beginning to talk about their ‘developing friendship’.
They are walking together in a country park on a still beautiful December afternoon. They are talking a lot and enjoying one another’s company.
They arrive at a spot above a bend in the small river that flows through the park. They stand a respectable distance apart, looking down on the river and drinking in the view.
Suddenly, and without warning time stands completely still. The air between them seems to be filled with crackling blue sparks and their awareness of each other becomes intense.
The moment ends. They almost flee back to the normality of the car park and the safety of the car. They talk about what they both felt and agree some boundaries for their suddenly much more developed feelings for each other.
Later, when he is alone, the man realises that it this is another Christmas Eve, but this time not one of painful revelation but one of new hope.
‘They’ have sent his student minister to see him. The student obviously feels awkward and out of his depth.
“There’s been a meeting…a small group are insisting that you stand in front of the church and tell everyone exactly why you have separated from your wife.”
(This is the group who have resented the changes he has brought to their church, who cannot cope with the new people from the neighbourhood who have started to come.)
The man knows he cannot do this. It’s not that he’s not prepared to be completely honest and vulnerable but…churches are often not the places of discretion they should be. His children do not know about the things his wife has done.
Suddenly the strain of trying to keep it all together is too much for him. He feels tired and unable to fight.
His letter of resignation is in the post by the evening…
Resignation means, although he does not know it at the time, the loss of his vocation, long periods of unemployment, having to claim benefit for the first time ever and…because of his failure to explain, being seen for many years to come as the one who broke up the marriage.
He has been very careful when telling friends and the church that he and his wife have separated. He gives no deep explanation, apportions no blame. In everything he tried hard to be neutral and fair…it seems like the right thing to do.
Robbed of the full story, people make up their own version of events.
One night the phone rings. It is a friend, a leader in another church.
“I’ve just been at a city-wide prayer meeting,” he tells, “where a member of your church felt ‘compelled to share, just for prayer, of course’, that their minister had separated with his wife and was having an affair.” Fortunately, another close friend of the man, who knew more than most about the situation, had quickly quashed the rumour and defended the man’s integrity.
But damage had been done, and the rumours continued to grow.
The man realised he had been very naïve…
It is just before Christmas. One year has passed since she first let on about her affair.
He has just finished clearing his life out of their family home, and relocating it to a small but cheerful room in a community house owned by a local Anglican church.
There is space in the house for his children, who only live a short distance away, to come for frequent stays…in fact, the house is almost equally spaced between his old home and their school.
Lying back on his bed and taking in his new space, he is surprised that amidst the sadness he is also feeling an amazing sense of release and relief. He feels safe again.
He’d better enjoy those feelings while they last…
He needs to think. A friend lends him a car and he drives north to a Christian Community’s centre. He enjoys uncomplicated companionship.
One of the staff spends a lot of time listening, just allowing him to open up and get things off his chest.
The baby growing in his wife’s womb has an Afro-Caribbean father…there will be no hiding the circumstances, even if they wanted to. It’s not just a matter of what people will say and think…has he got what it takes to carry on and go this extra mile in the already unstable relationship?
There are no words of comfort. His listening host has experience of another situation similar to his own…
“They have survived, but it’s been incredibly painful and hard, and they’re not out of the woods yet.”
Several weeks pass. He discovers that this time the lover is a member of the academic staff at the university.
One normal day he’s at his desk in his office at church when the phone rings.
It’s a mutual friend:
“I’ve got your wife with me. Would you come round, there’s something she needs to tell you.”
Normality forgotten and heart pounding he’s in the car and driving to…who knows what…
She seems sad.
“I’m really sorry…I know this is going to hurt you…I should have been more careful…I’m pregnant with my lover’s child…
The holidays are over, and she’s back at University.
One night she comes home late, and he smells someone else’s sweat on her body.
He challenges her.
It’s OK she says, this is all part of God’s plan for this man…she is introducing him to faith…
The husband is ‘gobsmacked’ by this perversion of faith.
A new affair…the horror has returned.