Sam Pascoe's Story: A Fall From Grace. A Life Redeemed
My name is Sam Pascoe. In the spring of 2007, David Virtue--whom I consider a friend and colleague--ran the story of my resignation and inhibition from ministry in the Anglican Church.
Now, 16 months later, I humbly offer the rest of the story in hope that it may bring some insight, warning, or encouragement.
In February of 2007, I confessed to my Lord, my wife, and my bishop, that I had been involved in an inappropriate relationship with an adult woman. I immediately resigned from the post I had held for over 20 years as rector of Grace Church in Orange Park Florida.
I foolishly put myself in a place where a "Joseph moment" was virtually inevitable. When it came, I did not have the moral courage to do the right thing. I am still sorting out why I failed so miserably and so massively. It was not a tough call. It was wrong and I knew it was wrong. I simply failed to live into my high calling as a redeemed follower of Jesus. I chose to live beneath the power and privilege that were mine in Him and in the Holy Spirit.
One of the marks of a true Church is its ability and willingness to exercise discipline over its ministers (lay and ordained). I had left the Episcopal Church, and encouraged others to do so, for its failure to exercise biblical discipline and enforce biblical morality. The irony (some would say hypocrisy) was that now--because of my own moral failure--I found myself in need of The Church's discipline.
I resigned immediately as rector of Grace Church, Orange Park, and submitted myself to the discipline on the church.
While I believe it is important to be honest and disclosing, I know it is also easy to fall into the trap St. Paul warned about in his letter to the Philippians when he spoke of people whose "glory is their shame." I, and others with whom I have consulted, have struggled to find language that neither obfuscates nor titillates--words that honestly address honest questions but do not cross the boundaries of decency. Sadly, in this format (written words transmitted through the internet) there are none.
What I will say is that my actual sinful acts were far less than one might imagine but the consequences, pain, and harm which I caused were far greater than any nightmare one can conjure.
The wages of sin really is death. Through an act of thoughtless, faithless, and cowardly selfishness, I had murdered the life which my family and I had worked so hard to build and I did grievous harm to the church I had served for over 20 years. Like St. Paul, I found myself dead in my sin, crying out "Who will deliver me from this body of death?"
Like Paul, I look to God in Christ alone, for He alone can raise the dead and give new life. My wife and I together, and I singularly, entered into an extended period of intense counseling and study. I joined one accountability group and created another. My wife and I worked hard on our marriage. Honesty--often brutal honestly--was the rule and she and I had many important, tough-love things to say to each other. We worked hard to speak the truth and we worked hard to speak it in love.
During this last year I immersed myself in three parts of the scriptures: Psalm 51, the words of Jesus to those caught in sin, and the Book of Numbers (as my family and I wandered in our own wilderness).
And Henri Nouwen's little book "Return of the Prodigal" meant a great deal to me. I read it several times, both on my own and in a group of men. The book represents Nouwen's reflections on Rembrandt's painting dedicated to the same theme. In Rembrandt's masterpiece, the prodigal is worn and haggard. He is shoeless and his head shaven--in mourning, or shame, or both. He clings to his father, broken by the choices he has made and leaning on the one person who still loves him. Until this happened, I always pictured myself as the arrogant, apparently righteous older son--the one who played the role of the good boy--even as he resented it, as his actions and words later showed. In the painting, he looked down on his prodigal brother with both resentment and envy. I am ashamed to admit how much of him there was (and sadly still is) in me.
I could not find work of any kind in our home town of Jacksonville, Florida. After several months, an old and dear friend offered me work in his painting company in Virginia. I also found part-time work in a hardware store. In an act of great and courageous love, my wife, a psycho-therapist, gave up a thriving private practice in Jacksonville and took a job at the V.A. Hospital in Martinsburg, W.V. She was, and still is, our family's major bread-winner and her hard work still largely supports our family.
When I first moved to Virginia, I moved in with my mom, into the same bedroom I had slept in as a boy, except I was a 56 year-old man. Once my family moved up to join me in the summer of 2007, we moved into spare bedrooms in my brother and sister-in-law's house. Both of my and my wife's families were more than gracious and supportive throughout this ordeal, but it was still humiliating beyond description.
Even after we got a place of our own, there was a nagging conviction that we needed to move back to Jacksonville, to the only home my boys had ever known. In March of this year I got a job teaching special education at a high school in Jacksonville. My family and I are moving back in stages (my wife still maintains her job in West Virginia even as she looks for one here in Florida) and we hope to be reunited as a family by July.
Today, my wife and I have a new marriage, forged on a foundation of honesty and forgiveness. In May we celebrated what we both agreed was the best anniversary of our 26-year marriage. I love and cherish her more than I can express.
Amazingly, out of our pain has come transformation and a new freedom in Christ. That should not surprise us, for it was Jesus' promise to those who seek to live in His Truth. But there is an intermediate step many of us forget..... My wife has a poster in her office which says, "The truth will set you free but first it will make you miserable." My family and I were Les Miserables, but because we have walked through the valley, we are well on our way to being free.
My wife and I entered a period of intense counseling and accountability. In worldly terms, we lost everything... jobs, careers, home, friends, reputations, and even Christian fellowship.
As that great gymnast of a hymnist, Janis Joplin, said; "Freedom's just another word for nothing left to lose." My wife and I have found that freedom. Paraphrasing Polycarp, we have found that the world cannot take our possessions for everything we own belongs to Jesus anyway. The world cannot take our reputations because our names are forever written in the Lamb's book of life. The world cannot take our freedom for we are Christ's slave. The world cannot take our lives for our lives are hidden with Christ in God.
My poor choices left many victims in its wake: my wife, my children, my mother, my family, the parish I served, The Church, the people outside the church who trusted me, and the cause of Christ.
The people I love most paid the highest price for my mistakes. That is always true--no man liveth unto himself. But, my wife and I have learned much, and many things we could not learn any other way. The timeless Good News has forged new and deep roots in the rich soil of our pain. God never wastes anything, of course, especially pain. As the Psalmist said, he has captured our tears in his bottle. And, as even rough and ready and indefatigable St. Paul was at least once driven to despair.
II Corinthians 1:8-9 We do not want you to be uninformed, brothers, about the hardships we suffered in the province of Asia. We were under great pressure, far beyond our ability to endure, so that we despaired even of life. Indeed, in our hearts we felt the sentence of death. But this happened that we might not rely on ourselves but on God, who raises the dead.
It's a theme as old as Job and it flies in the face of the naive and shallow triumphalism that marks so much of contemporary Christianity. David wrote of the valley of the shadow of death, St. John of the Cross wrote of the long, dark night of the soul. Many other Christian writers have noted that God shapes us through our sufferings, self-inflicted as well as circumstantial. As C.S. Lewis said, pain is God's megaphone.
There are two other passages of scripture for which I have a new appreciation: I Timothy 5:24 ~ St. Paul says "The sins of some men are obvious, reaching the place of judgment ahead of them; the sins of others trail behind them." Luke 12:1-3 ~ Meanwhile, when a crowd of many thousands had gathered, so that they were trampling on one another, Jesus began to speak first to his disciples, saying: "Be on your guard against the yeast of the Pharisees, which is hypocrisy. There is nothing concealed that will not be disclosed, or hidden that will not be made known. What you have said in the dark will be heard in the daylight, and what you have whispered in the ear in the inner rooms will be proclaimed from the roofs.
I have learned that those are not threats, just statements of fact. They are simply statements about the way God's world works. God is not interested in covering sins up, He is interested in bringing them to light so he can forgive them and set people free so they can live in the light. He is not interested in making people feel bad, He is interested in making people "be healed." The command, spoken by Jesus over and over, was--and still is– "Be healed." It is what is called in Greek a "passive imperative." It is a command to allow something to happen to us, not to do something for ourselves. As the old saying doesn't go, "Don't just do something, stand there!" I struggled then and I struggle now with my hypocrisy. Jesus was much more damning of hypocrites than those who knew they were sinners. I'm sure to many I do look like huge hypocrite.
I did, after all, leave the Episcopal Church, and encourage others to do so, over the issue of sexual morality. There is no justification for what I did, except that I, too, am a sinner, saved by grace. There are always explanations, reasons, and excuses and as a high school teacher, I hear them all. None of them are worth a bucket of warm spit, as my dad used to say.
The Scriptures are even more earthy when it refers to our attempts at self-justification as "filthy rags" (Isa. 64:6) or even "feces" (Phil 3:8). Nothing in my hand I bring, only to thy cross I cling.
I am fully responsible for my actions. I knew it was wrong when I did it and I did it anyway. May God have mercy on me.
As best as I can understand myself, I am a man who, through a combination of physical, emotional, and spiritual failings, did not live up to the standard I knew then, and still proclaim, to be the Truth.
C.S. Lewis rightly observed that courage is the one virtue that makes all others possible. Unless we have the courage to speak the truth, being honest will not help. Without the courage to actually so "No" to temptation, temperance and fidelity are meaningless. Without the courage to do what God is calling us to do, we stray outside His perfect plan and we open ourselves to situations in which our inherent weaknesses will be exposed and exploited.
While on the outside I may have appeared to some as a crusader, on the inside I was deeply afraid. Fear and faith battled within me. Because I was often afraid, I allowed situations to develop (both at home and in the church I served) which sapped my spiritual energy and vision and opened me to despair, depression, and isolation--vices (and "de-vices") to which--I have learned, I revert to when I allow myself to become depleted..
As we move ahead, my wife and I have two great hopes. One is that we can share these hard-won lessons with others who may feel as hopeless, helpless, ashamed and alone as we once did.
Our other prayer is that we can limp along beside others who are walking through the valley of the shadow of death. It is a long and lonely road and it helps to have a friend.
My inhibition was officially lifted on May 16 by the same Rwandan bishop who imposed it. At my request, I have been transferred from Rwandan to Ugandan oversight. I will continue to teach Special Education in the Jacksonville Public Schools and I will help out as a volunteer at Redeemer Anglican Church in Jacksonville.
Someone once said, never trust a leader who doesn't limp. My wife and are limping pretty badly but we are still walking with Jesus and each other. And we are willing to walk with you.
Together we are taking more advancing training and coaching to make us more effective spouses and more effective counselors.
If you would like, you can contact me and/or my wife through David Virtue. I'm sure he would be glad to pass on my email address and phone number to anyone who could use a friend. As the old saying goes, I am only one beggar who has found where to find food. By the Grace of a loving God, my wife and I may be just a few feet ahead of you on the trail, but we are well within earshot and happy to reach out a hand to help you along.
A personal note. I am deeply touched and moved by this public testimony of Sam. I did not solicit it nor did I pay for his story. It came unsolicited in my e-mail as many stories do. I am glad to publish it. I count Sam a friend. I am thrilled by this testimony of personal and family restoration. The truth, as we all know, is that we are all sinners. Those of us who are public and semi-public figures are held to higher standards. That is as it should be. Scripture is clear about that. May God continue to heal and restore Sam to full ministry.
David W. Virtue DD
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