Jim Cates is a clinical psychologist who does counseling work with clients, both Amish and English, in northern Indiana. In today’s post he shares the story of an Amish bishop who played a special role for one of his clients–and later faced trials of his own.

A Little Rain Must Fall

Into each life a little rain must fall,
Some days must be dark and dreary.
Henry Wadsworth Longfellow

When we consider the virtues that lift the Amish to high ground, few of us would include a bishop who spent time in prison among their moral leaders. I do. The details of his story are shared carefully, in order to give him as much anonymity as possible. And yet there is meaning and purpose to his life that is worth telling, if for no other reason than to balance the hoopla of Amish “reality shows” that purport to rip away the cultural cover and offer a slice of humanity.

I was counseling a young man who was, ultimately, very Amish. By that I mean he was willing to talk and share with me, but his heart, mind, and soul were in his community. It rapidly became clear that my support and counsel carried only so far. He needed a broader support system than I could provide on my own. And yet he was loath to share his struggles with his immediate family. Who was available to offer hope?

My discrete inquiries led to a bishop well-known to many, but unknown to me. He was a vibrant, charismatic man who was much-loved by those he served, and was sought by a broader circle for his empathy and insights. More than simply a leader of his church, he understood the difficulties that arise in life, and responded with a blend of scripture, discipline, and support that many found a light in their darkness. True, he had battled his own demons over the years and been called to account, but these battles left him with an awareness of how dark the nights of the soul could be, and merely deepened his own reservoir of compassion.

And so it came to be that on a sultry afternoon, as clouds hung low and threatened rain, the young man I was counseling met this bishop for the first time. I attended as well, for my client was still hesitant that others within the community could understand his struggle, or provide him with hope, despite his desperate desire to believe it might be so. The bishop’s wife met us at the door with a kind word and a smile and excused herself. The three of us talked for a time, and then I excused myself as well, sitting on the porch, watching the rain move in from the west.

And as the first drops began to splash into the yard, the bishop asked me to rejoin them. My client sat quietly, at peace, and said that the talk had been good. They were kindred spirits, and he felt a connection on which he could draw in the future. I felt a new respect for this Amish clergy whose innate skills in the counseling realm were clearly well-honed. And yet as we pulled away I glanced back and saw the bishop watching us from a window of his home. And in that moment, his face showed the vulnerability and pain with which he lived as well.

Time passed quickly, as it too often does, and while the bishop and I were now acquaintances, our paths did not cross often enough to make us friends. Still, whenever we met there was a bond that I wished could deepen. I would commit myself to meet him more frequently, only to become distracted by other tasks once again.

And then came the news, from another source, that the bishop had been arrested. He had confessed immediately to his church, been placed under the short ban (six weeks of excommunication), and was waiting to be restored to fellowship. However, the justice system recognized no such forgiveness. Moving in its slow, implacable course, imprisonment seemed likely.

The bishop called me, and after consulting, I testified at his sentencing hearing. There was no need for preliminaries. He had confessed readily and quickly to the charges against him, just as he had confessed to his church and his victim, asking forgiveness for the wrong he had done. With no attempt to deny the legal charges the judge, a grim harbinger of justice, gave a prison sentence from the bench that shocked those of us present. He was led from the courtroom, a paradoxical picture in plain clothes and handcuffs, to await transfer to the Department of Corrections from the county jail.

In due time he was moved to prison to serve his sentence. I had been working with another Amish client who was already serving time in the same prison, a much longer sentence for more severe crimes. He was despondent at his status, helpless and hopeless at the path his life was taking. And then he met the bishop. Still shocked and adjusting to the turmoil in his own life, the compassion and empathy that marked his ministry continued while incarcerated. The bishop ministered, supported, and prayed for this fellow Amishman, as for many of his fellow inmates, offering solace in the grim environment they shared. And in their time together the bishop offered hope that would otherwise have been lacking.

Upon his release he returned to his church, and resumed his duties. He looks older, without question, and the vulnerability and pain I had glimpsed so long ago now accompany him much more frequently. And yet there is an even greater depth to his compassion, and strength in his resolve to minister to those in need than was true prior to his arrest. He remains a testimony to the willingness to shoulder responsibility for one’s actions, to courageously accept the fate we are given, and to embrace and be embraced by a community that stands ready to forgive.

Jim Cates is the author of Serving the Amish: A Cultural Guide for Professionals. He can be contacted through this blog or his website at servingtheamish.net.

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