Shepherdess without a Flock Ch. 03bytangentjoker©
All of the characters in this work of fiction who engage in sexual activity or the consumption of alcohol are over the age of 21.
This chapter contains depictions of heterosexual sex and masturbation.
In the previous chapters, Dani Van Cleef, a newly ordained Presbyterian pastor, agreed to fly out to the home of Frank Melar, a rich heir, after meeting him once. The two had passionate sex but realized they would not be able to maintain a long distance relationship. Dani returned to work at her church. She found herself at odds with several of the Church Elders. One of her confirmation students accused her of being a whore. Sort of. Oh, and there were a bunch more crappy and poorly lit drawings that did little to help illustrate things.
Votes and polite comments are always appreciated.
Special thanks to my Beta Reader, FangsAnarchy, for her help and encouragement.
Dani looked at Jimmy and reminded herself that he was a child. She would not scream at him in anger in front of the other confirmands no matter how much she wanted to. The only person at church Dani had ever mentioned the details of her trip to was Melissa Masters. Melissa had, no doubt, told Dave Amoroso who was apparently just as good at keeping secrets as Melissa.
"Jimmy, it's incredibly rude to discuss someone's personal life in public. However, we're going to use this as a teachable moment. You confirmands are all growing up. You are going to learn that everyone has their own way of grieving. No one way is definitively better than any other way. Some people cry and pray. It's certainly wonderful that people pray when they grieve. That's a very good thing. Some people turn to alcohol or other drugs. That's never a good decision. That just paves the way to a mountain of bad choices and regret. Some people find someone to talk to.
"That's a very good thing to do. I want you all to know that I'm always available if you guys need someone to talk to. You are very important. I'm never too busy. Ok. So, there are some people who face their grief by doing physical things. They run. They box. There is a lot of good that can come out of that. In my case, I chose to have sex. Now, it is none of your business that I did, but we're talking about the things adults do. You will soon be considered adults in the church. I'll leave the details about sex for your parents to discuss with you.
"What I will tell you is that when a woman has sex, it does not make her a whore anymore than having sex turns a man into a gigolo. A gigolo is a male whore. If you think you need to shame a woman for having sex, it only proves your own immaturity. We don't want to be immature, guys. We want to be adults for the church. I'm not talking about the building when I say 'church'. I'm talking about our community. We need to be mature to serve our community.
"There are consequences to everything we do. After sex, there are a lot of possible outcomes. There could be pregnancy, disease, hurt feelings, immature people calling you mean names. You have to be very mature and decide you are ready for the possible results before making a decision like that.
"Are you ready to make that decision? Of course not. You all live with your parents. Those of you who have jobs only work part time. You're all in school. You wouldn't be able to support a child if you were pregnant or if you impregnated a woman. You'd be embarrassed if you had to deal with a disease. You're not ready for the ramifications, so the mature thing is to wait until you are ready. As for me, I live alone in a large house. I have a full time job. I have health insurance. I was ready to make that choice and I made it. I had sex with someone I love. That's very important. I did not get pregnant. I did not get a disease. I talked to this man, this friend, that I love so that our feelings did not get hurt. We were mature.
"I am an adult and this was my choice and my choice alone. If people think less of me because I chose to have sex, they need to get over themselves. I wear a pastoral robe on Sundays but I am still a human being. Grown up human beings who are ready to face the aftermath of the act occasionally have sex. If they didn't, none of us would be here right now.
"Getting back to maturity, let me talk about how rude and immature it is to pass judgment on other people's personal lives. Remember Chapter 7 of the Gospel According to Matthew: 'Judge not lest you be judged.' It's God's job to be our judge, so mind your own business. You don't want God's job."
"Pastor Dani," one of the girls of the group spoke out, "what if you really, really, love a boy? Is it ok to have sex then?"
"Again, this is a discussion to have with your parents, Sierra, but if you really, really, love a boy and he really, really, loves you then that love should be strong enough to sustain you until you're mentally, physically, financially and morally ready to face the repercussions of having sex. You aren't ready. This is a huge thing. Please. All of you, talk to your parents. They know you so much better than I do. Talk to them and discuss this. Together, you'll get a better idea of when you will be ready.
Paul, the boy sitting between Sierra and Jimmy, asked, "Pastor Dani, so you're saying that girls who have sex aren't whores?"
"Paul, do you know what a whore is?" Dani asked.
"It's a woman who has sex for money," he said.
"Close," Dani said. "It's person who has sold their body into sexual slavery. As I said, there are male whores. If a person has sex for payment, they are making themselves sexual slaves. Is that payment always money? No. Sometimes, it's the promise of love. Sometimes it's material goods. Some people are whores and don't even know it. But Paul, if we call a woman a whore because she had sex, do you know what that makes us?"
Paul asked in answer, "Immature?"
"Misogynists. It is an act of hatred to shame women for doing things we would praise men for doing. If you would think a guy was so great because he had sex, why would that same act make the woman a dirty slut? You need to be mature about this, guys. If we use words like 'whore', 'skank', 'slut' and all those other horrible terms to shame women for doing the things men do without being judged, then we need to grow the hell up. Men and women have to be treated equally in all things. God made both genders, after all. Well, it's seven and I already see some parents through the door. Grab your stuff and I'll see you all at worship on Sunday."
The kids filed out of the meeting room and Dani used the door that connected to the secretary's office to get back to her office. She gathered some notes and was about to turn out the light when there was a knock on her office door.
"It's open," Dani called through the door.
Roger Masters, Melissa's husband, entered. Roger was the Church's Treasurer. Dani was constantly vexed that every single Elder at this church, except for Tom McNulty, was or was married to a person with a position in the church. The Musical Director was an Elder. Dave Amoroso's wife, Helen, was the chair of the Education Team. This was a huge conflict of interest and would never be tolerated at a larger church. As all of these positions were voted on by the congregation long before she got there, however, there was nothing Dani could do to correct it until each person completed their term of office. Roger was an accountant and well suited to his position. Despite how much she disliked Melissa, Dani usually got along with him.
"Hi, Roger. Is there something I can do for you?" Dani asked.
"I don't know how to tell you this, Pastor," Roger said, "but we can't afford to pay you. That grant money we were counting on hasn't come in and your salary and the electric bills have drained our savings."
"Ok," said Dani. "So we'll turn on the lights in the sanctuary ten minutes before service and turn them off right after the attendance sheets are collected. We put the heat on thirty minutes before service. When service starts, we'll close all the doors and we'll turn the heat off thirty minutes in. Would that do any good?"
"A little," said Roger, "but it won't stop the bleeding. It'll just slow it down a little."
"Huh," said Dani. "I guess I could go to three-quarter time for a few months. I'll take off Mondays, Tuesdays and Thursdays. If a funeral happens on one of those days, I'll take another day off that week. We'll take twenty-five percent off my salary. I would just like to keep my benefits as they are."
"Well, that would certainly buy us some more time, Pastor. Thank you," Roger said.
"You're welcome. Oh, Roger, do you have the number of the company bestowing the grant? It might not be too late to call them tonight."
Dani called and put the phone on speaker. After finding their account, the phone representative was able to tell them that the grant for that year was not awarded because the church failed to submit their renewal form. Dani made arrangements for a new form to be sent out. They would not get any money for this year, but they would be reconsidered for the grant when the grants were issued again in June. Dani thanked the representative and hung up.
She asked Roger, "If we cut everything to the bone and I worked at three-quarters, would we be able to limp on until June?"
"If the offerings from the congregation stay consistent, we might. It'll be really close, though."
On Sunday, after worship, a congregational meeting was called to explain the situation to the church members. Many of the members were concerned. There were quite a few members who liked Pastor Dani. She spoke honestly. She knew the Bible very well. She was a real person. Dani was not another starched collar pastor. Many members enjoyed the weekly fellowship. It gave them a chance to talk to some people they only saw once a week.
Dani began to explain what steps they were planning to take. She explained the reasons for conserving electricity and let people know how long the church would need to do this.
"I won't lie to you, folks. We're in crisis mode. The easiest thing to do right now would be to point fingers. We don't have that luxury. I don't know exactly how we got here but we're here. We need each other. We need to work together until June. If you can think of ways for us to save money or to raise money, don't keep it to yourselves. There are no stupid ideas."
Members of the congregation asked questions and Dani did her best to answer them. When they reached the point where the same questions were being asked with slightly different wording, Dani had Melissa end the meeting. The rest of Sunday was relatively quiet.
Monday evening was the Session meeting. The financial crisis was not on the agenda but was certain to be brought up during New Business. Dani checked off each item of the agenda and waited for them to reach that line. She wondered what insights the elders might have about their situation.
Dani straightened herself up in her seat when they reached New Business. Melissa turned towards Dani and Dani smiled. She was ready with a list of things the church could do to survive.
Melissa said, "Pastor Dani, a number of parishioners have come up to me with some grave concerns. Did you tell the confirmation class that it was ok to have premarital sex?"
All eyes turned to Dani as she pushed aside her list and said, "I told them that they needed to talk to their parents about sex and that it was rude to discuss the details of someone else's personal life in public."
"I see," Melissa said. "Pastor Dani, do you feel it's fair to spend church money on a weekly fellowship that the congregation did not vote on?"
"No," Dani replied, "but I'm not using church money. I am using my salary."
"Pastor Dani, that money comes from the church," Melissa said in what she felt was not an overly patronizing way.
"Yes, of course it does. However, once it reaches my bank account it is no longer church money. Surely you wouldn't let your job dictate how you spend your paycheck."
"We're not talking about my job, Pastor Dani. We are talking about your responsibilities to our church." Melissa remained calm as she spoke. She would not allow this whore in front of her to convince her fellow elders that she was a religious leader. She would break this tramp and get a qualified minister in the pulpit.
"Yes," said Dani. "One of my responsibilities as pastor is to sow the seeds of good will. People are getting to know each other and I'm certainly getting to know people here."
"Very well," said Melissa, changing tactics. "I have heard from several families that they are troubled by some of the subject matter in your sermons, Pastor Dani. The Pattersons, the Weiblys and the McDermotts have all left our church today. I took the liberty of calling Pastor Tressler. He was our supply preacher and the members of the church adored him. He said he would be more than happy to give you lessons on appropriate subject matter for sermons. In the meantime, he could even write some sermons for you."
"It's very nice of you to go to all that effort on my behalf, Mrs. Masters," Dani said as calmly as she could. "I would be more than happy to speak to those families and find out what their concerns are. I can, then, better tailor my sermons to the specific needs of this church. I would hate to drag Pastor Tressler out here to teach me something I got straight As in at seminary. I think it would be more appropriate if I visited all of the families and found out what they find objectionable." A slip of paper slid in front of Dani and she stopped to read it. The note informed her that the Pattersons, Weiblys and McDermotts were the most consistent and generous contributors to the church and the loss of their weekly offerings would be substantial. She looked over to the side of the table the note came from and met the eyes of Roger Masters. He had warned her that keeping the offerings where they were was important to the church's ability to make it to June. "I will make sure these families are heard. We need to know what caused them to leave our church without them giving me any indications they were not satisfied here."
"That's very good of you, Pastor Dani," said Melissa. "Now then, we should talk about steps we need to take to keep the church solvent or at least not irretrievably indebted during our crisis. Pastor Dani, we accept your proposal to go from a full time employee of the church to three-quarters time and take a 25 percent decrease in salary. I would suggest you go to part time, take a 50 percent decrease and give up your insurance benefits. That would help our church greatly."
"I'm sure it would but I'm a little concerned about not having health insurance and not being able to afford any medical care I might need in the future." Dani considered looking into the Affordable Care Act but wasn't ready to offer that as a possibility at that point. "Is there any other source of revenue we can use? What about the stipend from St. John's Cemetery?"
"Absolutely not!" said Dave. "Every penny of that money is used to supply staff and maintain equipment for the upkeep of the cemetery. In fact, the gas for the mowers comes out of my pocket."
"Well then," Dani said, "once we're able to climb out of our financial crisis, we can call a special Session meeting to see about reimbursing you. At our moderator's discretion, of course."
"Of course," said Melissa. "Thank you, Pastor Dani for your input, but let us not close the books on what you can do to save our church money. I suggest it would help our church if you were to take over paying the utility bills for the manse."
"Just so we're clear," Dani said, "you want me to go down to twenty hours a week, with the subsequent loss in pay, pay my own medical expenses and all of the utilities for the manse."
"Yes, Pastor Dani," she replied. "That is correct."
"I'm sorry," Dani said. "That's just impossible. There would be almost nothing left to feed myself."
"Pastor," Dave said, "I can't believe you're not willing to compromise."
"Pastor Dani," said Melissa, "if you're not going to compromise with us, this is going to be a very long meeting."
"Well, first of all, we shouldn't be trying to have a compromise. The word implies that we're on opposite sides and one side is trying to get the other to capitulate. We don't want to compromise. Let's stop using that word altogether. What we need to do is cooperate. We need to work together and find a mutually acceptable solution. If we can't do that, this meeting is just a pointless activity."
The pointless activity carried on for another three hours.
On Tuesday morning, Dani received the new form from the company bestowing the grant. After she filled out the form, Dani jogged to the Post Office which was in the same shopping center as the Burger King. She mailed the form and jogged back to the manse. Dani was about to put the envelope the form came in into the recycling bin when she noticed the distinctive green and purple logo on the return address.
"Oh, that bitch," Dani said aloud to her empty house.
Later that day, Dani went to visit the Pattersons to find out why they left the church without warning. As was becoming her custom, Dani walked there. After she had closed the front gate behind her, but before she made it to the porch, Dani found herself staring down the barrels of a shotgun.
"That's close enough," Mrs. Patterson yelled as she aimed at Dani's face.
Dani raised her hands in the surrender posture and said, "Mrs. Patterson, I'm Pastor Van Cleef from First Presbyterian..."
"I know exactly who you are, you whore, and you cannot have my husband!"
Dani scrunched up her face and said, "I have no idea what you're talking about."
"The hell you don't! I've heard the stories of you taking men from the congregation to a private island in the tropics for sex and I know exactly how many men in the parish could afford to do that!"
"Mrs. Patterson, there's been a huge misunderstanding," Dani said as calmly as she could. "If you would just allow me to expl..."
"You get your bony ass off my property before I put a new hole in it, skank!"
Dani hurriedly got herself on the other side of the closed gate and headed home to the manse.
Dani was reasonably sure she knew who spread these rumors. "Oh, that bitch," she said aloud to the streetlamp she passed.
When she got home and poured herself a calming drink, Dani realized she had no direct proof against Melissa Masters. It was hearsay at best. Dani never actually saw that it was the grant renewal form Melissa tore up so completely. She had no evidence it was Melissa who was rumor mongering. It was essentially her word against Melissa's and she had a feeling she knew which way the church would vote if it came to that. Dani had no idea what to do, so she called the Presbytery.
She gave the factual details first. The renewal form, for whatever reasons, was not sent in. The three largest contributing families left the church. The church could not afford her and were considering cutting her to part time and taking away her health benefits. She would be little more than a supply preacher who counsels and teaches the confirmation class, except she would make less money than a supply preacher. The representative from Presbytery that she spoke to informed Dani that they would be sending members of the Committee On Ministry and that COM would investigate the situation first hand and make recommendations. Dani thanked the representative for her time.
Friday night, the church was empty except for the Pastor's office. The only sounds were of a moaning woman. With her hands holding on to the desk, she rode the man sitting in the chair.