(Excerpt from Dot Berry’s Exit Story)
We had talked for a few years after my husband’s retirement that we should sell our place to someone within the fellowship so the convention could continue. I knew that I could not stay there. It wasn’t as though we were leaving because I felt a hypocrite for doing something I no longer believed in, but it played a big part in trying to rush the sale. It was about a year after our decision to sell that we were able to move, and all this time I was most miserable. The Sunday meeting was in our home, the special meeting was there, the convention was there, the workers were there; I felt trapped on all sides. I continued my role as First Lady of convention grounds, elder’s wife, etc. and took part in meetings right up until the day we moved. I learned a lot that year. I never had a doubt that I would not go through with my plans to move and not return to meetings. I anxiously awaited for the day when I would walk away from bondage in my newfound freedom in Christ.
THE SALE OF THE HOLY GROUND
There were four prospective couples considered for the new ownership of Mississippi Convention Grounds, and one of them was a local couple who expressed their desire to buy our place. The state senior worker encouraged them, so they put their house up for sale. An out-of-state couple and another couple who used to live in our state both declined. The couple who was the most favored by the head worker over the Southeastern states wanted to buy, but it was not within their price range. This left the local couple, who now had an offer on their house and were waiting for the “go-ahead” sign that they would be accepted by the workers to buy the convention grounds.
Then we received a telephone call from the East Coast. The head worker over the East coast would have the last word, or so we thought. He said, “You are asking too much for your property. You didn’t pay that much for it did you?” Thirty-two years had passed, property value had increased. The house now had five bathrooms and numerous other improvements. How would we be able to buy a retirement home at present-day prices, if we didn’t get market value for our home? Our asking price to the friends was less than what we could have received on the open market. The worker asked, “What if they found they couldn’t pay for the place down the road?” I replied, “then that would be a golden opportunity for all of you to pitch in and help them!” He did not reply to my comment but passed the buck to get in touch with another worker to deal with the issue.
I must explain that my husband is a very self-effacing man who doesn’t like confrontations in person much less over the phone. He was not about to call Worker No.3, and so I made the call. “I just got off the phone with (name omitted), and it seems you are the one he thinks should come and help us. We have a local couple with an offer on their house, and no one here can promise them they can have the convention if they sell their home. He replied, “I don’t know them”. It did not seem to matter that we and the local worker knew them well and considered them able for the responsibility. He did promise to come.
He arrived with the state head worker. On the way to our place they visited with a couple about forty miles from us who had offered their property to build a new convention ground, and before they left, they had made plans to build a new convention there. Then they came by to visit the couple who had the offer on their property and told them the plans for the new grounds, which meant their offer to buy was void.
When the head worker told us his plans, and that we should just put our place on open market, I just about fainted! “WHAT, put our place on open market and sell to someone who doesn’t even profess after all that these Mississippians have done to help build it? Sell to someone “outside”? Who would buy the place with all its dormitories, cookhouse and other buildings?” He said maybe it could be sold for a church camp, and that we should not be concerned how other people used the property. Then suddenly these grounds were not “Holy” anymore?
We were in total shock. I decided to stick my neck out, and with tears, I pleaded with him not to do this. I knew how physically and financially unable the friends were to begin building a new convention ground from scratch. Some of the friends were now 32 years older; some of them had died, and few, if any, had been added to the number. They had invested their time and money, sacrificially. I knew how much the convention meant to the people in our state. Why not keep the convention where it was?
What happened next was a bigger surprise than the plans for the new grounds. He actually changed his mind! He had listened to me, heard me out without one word of argument. He then stated that they would go back to the local couple and give them the approval to sell their home and buy our place, then they would go to the couple who was promised (that day) that they could start plans for the new grounds and tell them it was all off! In order for the local couple to buy our place, we agreed to a $10,000 reduction in price and to carry a second mortgage.
I don’t remember whether or not I have ever told the above paragraph of my story to anyone; if so, only a very few. I wonder if our friends who invested so faithfully in the initial building of our grounds would think any differently of me now if they knew how much I “fought” for their right to continue going there each year. They were certainly saved from a lot of hard work and expense.
Then, after 32 years in Mississippi, we began plans to move near our daughter and family in Oklahoma.
OUR MOVE TO OKLAHOMA
I would have no end to my story should I write more detail. I learned a lot, laughed a lot, cried a lot, and loved bountifully. And then, I left it all behind, after 53 years of faithful service and dedication. (I need to make it clear that my husband is still going to meeting.) In August of 1991, we moved to Edmond, Oklahoma where we had previously bought a house while visiting our children. They wanted us to move closer to them since we retired. Then to top off the family ties, Galen moved from California to Oklahoma City in December of that year. We all lived within 20 miles of each other for seven years.
We have never figured out why NO ONE came to help us move, except for our daughter, Cherie. (It was not feasible for our son, Galen, to come, as he was living in California.) Leaving her family for a week, Cherie flew down to help us pack and drove one of our cars back to Oklahoma. The brother workers were in the area and all the friends knew we were leaving, yet they didn’t offer any help at all. The couple who were buying our place were packing and moving their things into our garage. They had 5 teenage children to help them, and the workers were helping them, but not helping us. We were 67 and 71. In the month before we left, my husband, Raymond, lost 20 pounds from all the hard work getting ready to move.
We knew two brother workers passed within a quarter-mile of our place when we would be leaving next day, but they didn’t come to say “goodbye.” To this day, we have never figured that one out! We had done nothing wrong, no disgrace, had given nothing but 100% dedication up to and including the minute we left. We still ask, “why?” I still hurt for Raymond who sacrificed so much, leaving some of his equipment on the place for the “cause.” We thought they loved us. I really don’t like to come to this place in my story—it still hurts deeply. Of the thousands of people we met during our years on convention grounds, I counted on two hands the number who wrote and thanked us when we left. Only three were workers. Hundreds had slept in our beds, driven our car, and ate three meals a day for weeks at a time. However, we did receive a hand-made, friendship wall hanging signed by some of the Mississippi friends.
How many wrote and asked me why I left the meetings? Not one! They did not know why I left and even though my husband did not leave, they didn’t even keep in touch with him. They may have heard something, but they didn’t care enough to check it out with me. I really thought they loved me! Only one person still keeps in contact with us. How many cared if I perished? (That is what they think has happened to anyone who leaves.) So I ask, “who left the 90 and 9 and went to seek the lost sheep?” Not one. “Where was the love of Jesus?” I have wondered if they ever think of me; the good and tough times we went through together; and yet, they still do not care to know why I left. Or do they believe, like one sister, that “what we shared was garbage gossip?” Yes, we did some gossiping; 2x2s are noted for that. I couldn’t help but remember the times I held her close while she wet my shoulder with her tears of despair. I was always there for her, but now that was garbage? Ouch! I still love her, I am glad for every moment I shared with her.
After we settled in, Raymond got in touch with friends who directed him to a meeting not too far from us. After we moved to Oklahoma, I did not return to the meetings. It was hard for us to go our separate ways after having gone to meeting together for so long. We still miss each other at our separate church fellowship meetings. I have been asked about our “divided home”–our home is not divided! We still live in harmony and respect each other’s choices. Usually, we ask each other about our respective services, as I know some of his friends and workers and he knows my friends and pastor/teacher.
Read more of Dot Berry’s exit account.