Archive for January, 2018

PTSD in Everyday Life: Brian

Saturday, January 13th, 2018

A while back I wrote about PTSD in everyday life. There I
talked about my own wounds. Next I want to tell about a
wound to my friend Brian. I was also wounded in the process
but Brian’s wound was deeper.

Brian and I were both fervent Anglo-Catholic Episcopalians.
While I was away at college Brian had discovered a nearby
parish that was extremely Catholic for an Episcopal parish,
St Paul’s in East St Louis Illinois. The priest there was Fr
Lahey. He was an ex-Marine, perhaps a drill instructor or a
DI wannabee. He conducted his life and ministry that way.
Brian and I became acolytes. The liturgy was very
“Catholic.” This was in the old days, before the Prayer book
Revisions and before the influence of Vatican II on our
Roman Catholic siblings. It was glorious if stretched thin;
it was quite a small parish. We used the same ceremonial as
the Romans, Celebrant, Deacon, and Subdeacon. Brian and I
became Subdeacons. The choir, such as it was, sang
plainsong. I was in liturgical heaven. Or so I thought.

I was only there in the summers when I was in college. The
parish and priest in the parish there was Anglo-Catholic but not extreme. He was sane and level-headed and a good pastor. There I
developed a vocation to priesthood. But I would have to go
through the discernment process where I actually lived. So
St Paul’s and Lahey. After college I was there a lot of
the time. The summer before I graduated, I had taught in a
Vacation Bible School. I also worked doing a neighborhood
survey for the Diocese to see what kind of urban work could
be done there.

In the meantime Lahey had recruited a disciple. Lahey was a
member of the Third Order Episcopal Franciscans. Dorothy
also became a Tertiary. She told me later that it was all
fine as long as she was a Postulant but when she became a
Novice, he treated her like a medieval Novice Master. Lahey ordered her around. Once, he told her to take out the trash and was the garbage cans. She complained that she was tired. He replied that she was Novice and he was her Novice Master and that for her to disobey was a mortal sin and she would go to Hell. So she
did it. He also gave her the Altar Guild and flower work.
She was alone in this. To teach her poverty, she had to go round the local funerals homes and beg flowers for Sunday‚Äôs altar. She didn’t like this. The Third Order had a full religious habit to be worn at Third Order meetings. Lahey encouraged her to wear it at home to do housework and whatever. Her husband didn’t like this. Lahey also encouraged scruples. She had to confess every time she drove
over the speed limit; she had to confess every time she
drove barefoot. I heard him berate her in the confessional,
shouting “You did what?”

I learned later that one Saturday Dorothy, after setting up the altar and flowers, was found lying on the Sanctuary floor, kicking and screaming and was taken to the psych ward. Soon after that her husband retired from the Air Force and they moved to Florida. After that Lahey found another position and resigned. Then he found he hadn’t got the position, but the Vestry wouldn’t let him take back his position. The Bishop advised them that he was married with a family, and asked them to take him back for six months and six months only, so he could find another position. Eventually he found a position in a church in Florida near where Dorothy had moved to.

Later we heard she had committed suicide. Stalker much? To my mind, he had as good as killed her with Spiritual Direction. And when I eventually heard that his Florida church had burnt, I said to God, “Well, you finally got him back.”

Lahey had a family, a wife and two boys. They looked like their clothes came from the cheapest most worn bin at a thrift store. Holy Poverty, and he dressed in the same way. His wife, whose name sadly I don’t remember, looked mousy and was timid to the degree that she was barely noticed. The boys looked the same and seemed similarly cowed. Today, knowing what I know now, I would suspect real psychological abuse, maybe even physical.

Lahey could be abusive in his ministry. He said in sermons that you were going to Hell if you had pre-marital sex, and likewise Hell-bound if you didn’t vote for Barry Goldwater. One Sunday he preached about sin. His examples came from people’s confessions. Everyone recognized their own sins from specific details he gave.

He also said to Brian and I in the sacristy unvesting after Mass that he thought all these boys with long hair were homosexuals. I replied, “Father, I wouldn’t say that if I were standing there wearing a dress.” Some while later, Brian, a fan of the Beatles and other new rock, began to grow out his hair. Lahey told him if he had long hair he could not serve at the altar. At the next acolyte meeting, Brian was absent. I then resigned as an acolyte and told the boys, if he could do this to Brian, he could do this to anyone and we should all quit. Brian later told me that he had gone to Lahey to ask for help because he thought he was a homosexual, and Lahey and Lahey had said, “Hogwash, you just need to go out with girls more.”

Lahey had killed Brian’s love of church and sacraments.

There was another Episcopal priest there, Larry, who had served as Deacon at St Paul’s, but once ordained as a priest, he went off on his own. He had been sent there to do urban ministry and community organization, so he had no connection to the parish. I went to his apartment, where he would celebrate the Eucharist. Sometimes Brian came along. Then Larry moved away and we were lost. I decided to leave the church myself. I didn’t go to church for months.

Eventually I realized I missed worship and the Eucharist. My faith, cut back to the roots, had not died. I visited a parish in St Louis, Trinity, that I had heard good things about. I decided Trinity was my last stand in the institutional church. In years to come I became deeply involved there, but that’s another story.

In the meantime, Brian developed a lightshow for a local rock place which failed, leaving us with the equipment, and Brian marketed us to producers of rock groups that came to St Louis.
We did well with that. We even did four Eucharists at Trinity and to a degree that brought Brian back to the fold. Later he and others of the lightshow and rock circle would come to church on special occasions.

I later heard that Brian would go to the local Episcopal church, but by then I had gone off to join the monastery and lost contact with Brian. He died several years ago. I wish that I had been in contact because there were lots of things I wish I could have told him.

I think looking back that Brian’s experience with Lahey had given him PTSD vis a vis the Church. Me too, to a lesser degree, but miraculously I survived. I grieved through it with the help of a psychiatrist and the tolerance of my brothers in the monastery. My vocation to priesthood which I denied, Lahey made me never want to be a priest, ever, ever, emerged from deep within, painfully breaking through the hard ground of my heart.

So here I am. Give the glory to God.

An addendum from Brian’s brother about Brian after I lost touch:
Hey. Interesting read, for sure. There’s certainly nothing in there that I’d object to in any way. I’m not really sure about whether dealing with Fr. Lahey resulted in Brian having PTSD, but then I don’t have any real experience or expertise. It seems to me that Bill Lahey did some damage to almost everybody who relied on him for pastoral care in one form or another, so it wouldn’t surprise me. Once Brian came back to St. George’s as an active parishioner I think he really found a church home in a lot of ways, although the relationship was complex and, I think, his relationship to the Church overall was complicated in a lot of ways. The Episcopal Church of that time, and the Diocese of Springfield longer and more than many, wasn’t welcoming when it came to sexuality and gender roles. I don’t need to tell you that. As extreme a case as Bill Lahey was, the Church’s institutional homophobia was a lot deeper than just a few crazed priests. You’d probably know better than I, but I’ve always believed that Brian’s real heartbreak in that respect was the fact he didn’t see any chance of himself entering the priesthood in the climate in which he’d grown up. Change in the Church came too late in that respect. He was never clear with me that he’d really felt called to the priesthood, so I can’t say for sure. For all of that, by the time he died Brian was a stalwart at St. George’s. He was blessed with clergy he knew and liked and who knew and liked him, and I don’t think it’s an overstatement to say he was widely seen as a significant (albeit informal) leader in the parish. To this day some of my favorite memories of him were his last couple of Good Friday mornings, when the parish counted on the two of us to come in early, take over the kitchen, and produce huge vats of vegetarian soup together for the community meal they offered the neighborhood after their annual Way of the Cross that went through the streets around the church. All that said, I think your piece is fine. It offers the perspective of one of his most beloved friends who knew him better at that time than I did. It’s kind of an enduring regret to me that you two didn’t have a chance to know each other over the years. Thanks for sharing it with me.

The Saddest Man

Thursday, January 11th, 2018

I was working at a filling station in an arrangement with a security officer to provide security there, a former police officer. He was there one night when a police cruiser drove in and the officer got out. I noticed his name plate just as my boss said, “This is Harry Fagg. That’s with two g’s and he’s not.” Conversation ensued and Officer Fagg told his sad story. He was on patrol one night when the burglar alarm went off at a real estate office in the bottom of the Washington Hotel.This was my landlord’s office, so I knew it well. The incident that he narrated was notorious, so I had heard a bit about it. Harry responded and the burglars got the drop on him and took him hostage. Negotiations ensued and the police allowed them to take their hostage and go, with safe conduct to somewhere and release their hostage. So they took off with Harry, surrounded by police cars. After some distance the police decided to take them and free their hostage. Gunfire ensued. The only person injured was Harry Fagg. “Damn,” he said, “shot in the ass by my own men.”