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My Christian life: One woman’s gratitude for being excommunicated

A woman shares how church discipline saved her life.

If you had told Cherry Simpson 40 years ago that she’d eventually be back at Trinity, Crete, Ill.—the WELS congregation from which she was excommunicated—she probably wouldn’t have believed it.

But now she is back, and she says the discipline she received from the church saved her life.

Sin permeates everything

Cherry got married young and had three children. Raised WELS, Cherry and her family were members at Trinity, and her children went to the WELS elementary school in town. Cherry’s husband, however, rarely attended church, and she didn’t know if he even believed in God. They started having serious marital problems, and at one point there was physical violence. “I didn’t tell anyone; I didn’t want anyone to know,” Cherry remembers.

Soon she began having an affair with a married man, Larry, and eventually moved in with him. Even though she truly loved Larry, who would later become her husband, “I knew what I did was terribly wrong,” says Cherry.

People in town knew about the affair, and word got back to her pastor, H. Curtis Lyon. He talked to Cherry and congregation leaders reached out to her many times, but she didn’t respond to the calls for repentance. After many months, the congregation finally voted to excommunicate her from the church.

“I felt sad and humiliated at that moment,” she remembers. “It cut my conscience. I had committed terrible sins, and I was caught. Excommunication was like being cast out.”

Cherry says this was a particularly hard part of her life. “I felt bad about myself, and I didn’t have any self-esteem. I just felt terrible.” To make matters worse, when she was divorcing her first husband, she agreed to give him custody of their children—but she immediately regretted it. “As soon as I said those words, I wanted to take them back,” says Cherry. “I was young, and it was a big stupid mistake I made.”

Cherry’s children got to stay with her on holidays and for six weeks each year. They were still attending the WELS elementary school in Crete, and they often encouraged Cherry to come to church with them. “So I’d go, for my children, but it was obvious that people were not approving . . . and in my eyes I had done such evil that I should not be forgiven.”

Cherry and Larry got married, and they moved to Texas. During this time, Cherry was still having complicated feelings about church. “I wasn’t fulfilled, and I felt this tug to go to church,” she says. So she tried going to a local church in town. “The kids called it the ‘Love you, baby’ church, because that’s what the pastor always said,” Cherry remembers. “The kids told me I should go to a WELS church instead, but the closest one was hours away.”

My christian life Cherry and Larry Simpson
Cherry and Larry Simpson. Middle photo: Cherry at the Lutheran Women’s Missionary Society convention in 2000. Featured image above: Cherry by the “Welcome Home” sign at Trinity, Crete, Ill., where she currently is a member.

Saving grace

Cherry and Larry moved again—this time to Alabama—and Cherry was happy when she discovered there was a WELS church in town. “I told Larry that I’m going back to church, and he kept saying ‘Are you sure?’ ” says Cherry. She was sure—and she brought him to church too. Cherry and Larry both went through Bible information class, and before becoming members, Cherry wrote a letter to the congregation in Crete to repent for what she’d done wrong all those years ago and to express gratitude for what they did. The members of Trinity were happy to receive her letter and lifted the excommunication.

“Life was just so good, knowing Jesus had died for my sins and I was forgiven,” says Cherry. “Like the prodigal son, I was so happy that I could come back.”

The following Christmas, Cherry went back to Crete to visit her family, and they all went to Trinity for the Christmas Eve service. “When I got there, Pastor Lyon was standing by the doors with his arms out, and he said, ‘Welcome home,’ and he hugged me. And it just felt so good, it made me so happy,” says Cherry. “It was a great Christmas gift.”

It also made a big impact on Lyon. “That particular event was definitely a high point in my ministry,” he says. “I’m so glad when I get to see God working in someone’s life.”

Lyon says church discipline is hard and it’s complicated, but ultimately it’s an act of love. “It never feels good to talk to people about their sin,” he says. “It’s not an easy thing to do and sometimes it hurts.” But he also says that shouldn’t stop us from having these conversations with the people we care about—because when we love others, it’s not about us. It’s about doing what’s best for them. “The greatest and most perfect act of love took place when Jesus was on the cross—and that certainly didn’t feel good for him,” says Lyon.

Basking in the afterglow

Cherry says she’s grateful for everything that happened and views it as God’s way of calling her back. “God answered my prayers better than I ever asked, and he rescued me, a terrible sinner. What a wonderful feeling!” she says. It affected her life in many ways. “When I went back to church, I really felt lighter. My attitude changed; I was so happy. I looked at the world differently. I was nicer to people and loved others more,” she says. “It’s because I am in God’s Word every week. I love reading my Bible and serving in church.”

Cherry has taught Sunday school, designed logos for WELS churches, and served as a reporter for the Lutheran Women’s Missionary Society. “The opportunities God has given me have been so rewarding; they helped me to grow in my faith in a different way,” says Cherry. “God allowed me to use the gifts he has given me with so much thankfulness. It is truly humbling.”

Cherry has also been trying to reach out to others and share her faith whenever possible—starting with her family. She is thankful that she is able to help her grandchildren learn to pray as well as teach them about God’s commandments—and also about consequences for actions. When her grandkids were little and they did something bad, she remembers sitting them down on a chair so they could think about what they had done and what their punishment would be. But “I would always give them a hug and tell them that they are forgiven,” she says.

Reflecting on her journey, Cherry says she hopes the church never stops preaching both the law and the gospel and calling on people to repent of their sins—especially in today’s culture, which encourages people to prioritize personal happiness above everything else. “In Matthew, it says if your brother sins, you should go to him. If he doesn’t listen, go with others, and finally tell it to the church. That is meant to be like a lifeline, a way to bring the people back. That’s what it did for me, and I’m glad for it,” Cherry says. “It saved my life.”

Author: Alicia Neumann
Volume 110, Number 9
Issue: September 2023

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This entry is part 1 of 53 in the series my christian life

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