It was three days before Christmas 1998. The sun had just set, and festive lights were blinking on the front of the house in Griswold. A wreath hung on the door, and the familys presents were under the tree.
As he talked on the telephone, Robert D. Mirkin had no inkling his holiday plans and his life were about to be turned upside down.
The operator broke in for an emergency call. It was his wife, Linda. She told him that she and the couples 10-year-old son, Joel, were at Logan Airport in Boston. Pastor John V. Monahan Jr. the best man at the couples wedding had driven them there. The church leaders, she explained, had told her she should spend Christmas in England.
I couldnt believe what I was hearing, said Mirkin, 47. I said, Youre doing what? But they said go and she was going. That was it.
The couples other child, 16-year-old Naomi, had already been in England for a week and had planned to stay for the holiday. The churchs leaders, however, were not happy with her behavior and were threatening to send her home. That would have been a major embarrassment in the church, says Mirkin. Without consulting him, he says, the decision was apparently made to send his wife over to be with her.
Mirkin, known as Robbie, says the incident was the last straw. Hed had doubts for years about many church practices. He talked to Pastor Sam J. Wibberley. The pastor called him selfish, he says.
When Linda returned in mid-January, she told him she wanted a separation, Mirkin says.
She talked briefly to a reporter during a break in a child-custody hearing and said the breakup of the marriage is not tied to the church. She declined to elaborate.
Although Mirkin left the parish when his wife went to England, he has not given up hope that the leadership will help him. He has asked them to help in mending the marriage. Since Lindas return, she and the children have lived with another Kings Chapel family in Jewett City.
Mirkin says the leaders probably feel they are doing the right thing, but they have become too judgmental. He thinks theyre looking for the evil in people rather than ministering to the good.
Mercy over judgment, Mirkin said. Thats what the Bible says.
Only with a court order has Mirkin been able to spend time with his son. He sees him on weekends and one day a week. His daughter does not want to see him, he says.
The couple, married 19 years, met in the church.
Born a Jew, Mirkin says he accepted Jesus as his savior in 1972. He was running his own storefront church in the late 1970s in Norwich, seeking converts to Christ, when he was attracted to The Kings Chapel. Monahan, whom he had grown up with in Norwich, suggested that he visit.
Mirkin wants his marriage back. Outside his home on a recent spring day, the Christmas wreath and lights still hung in place.
Im not bitter, he said. I love my family, and I still keep hope it will all work out. Im an incurable optimist.