Monday, March 26, 2007

Leaving Church: a book discussion from RevGals


Many of you who will read this are from churches much less structured and hierarchical than The Episcopal Church.



  • However, I wonder, to what extent do these problems face all churches?

  • What are you and your churches doing to carry out the Gospel in its true sense?

  • I am also interested in the wisdom and experience you bring to your reading of this book with regard to self-care and renewal for clergy and laity.

A couple of thoughts:


I have not yet read this book, although it has sat on my bookshelf since last fall. I have read lots of BBT books and looked forward to this one. After reading only a few pages I had to put it down. It was hitting too close to home for me. I am a priest in a small struggling Episcopal church and over the last three and half years we have faced all these issues head on. It has been exhausting for me in part because I think the Holy Spirit just might be in on all this. I think that if we as church just continue doing our ministries of caring for one another, caring for ourselves, and caring for this world, then it will all work out. I don't think we need to take tough stands for the TRUTH and RIGHT BELIEF, especially if that means meddling in the affairs of other churches or judging others.


So small church where I work, for whom many of the people were deeply torn by these concerns, has learned a lot oveor these years about love of neighbor. We are not the most active group, nor do we have a some powerful ministry through which we live out the Gospel. We spend a lot of time talking about it. Mostly these folks just want to come to church on Sunday and have a "nice" worship experience, a cup of coffee, and go home...

True, some folks at small church are looking for what that dynamice Gospel ministry might be for us. But it can't take up too much time or require too much work or cost too much...Small church has just worn me out with their complacency.


Regarding the book and clergy self care: many of my colleagues have read it and liked it (all of us being Episcopal priests and clergy women). But many felt that BBT's decision to take the job at the small church was discerned using the wrong criteria. She choose that small church because of it's location and appeal, she did not choose it for the people. So, she made a good decision in terms of where she needed to live, but it was not the best discerning moment for vocation. Those of us, my colleagues and me, who are discerning a new call are actively trying to consider this time from a deeper level than the book portrays (or so I've heard, since I haven't read the book). Diana Butler Bass, in her book, Christianity for the Rest of Us (RevGals next book discussion) says this about discerning on page 91: "Discernment serves as a kind of spiritual compass, helping us negotiate the unfamiliar territory of our truest selves as we seek to find meaning in God's call." Bass means this to be true for individuals and communities of faith.

We are all seeking meaning in our call., lay and ordained. I think BBT found hers, just not exactly where she thought it would be when she bought that house and land - it did eventually lead to teaching and having that home, both of which feed her soul. The parish was just a step in the process. Perhaps a better title would be "Finding Home," instead of leaving church....


I guess I think that my small church experience is also just a step in the process of me finding meaning in my call to ordained ministry. I know that ordained ministry in the parish is my calling, now it's just about finding the community I need to serve with. People who are also excited about their Christian faith, who want to engage in life long learning, who want to address and learn about the global world and the concerns we all face regarding issues of inequality in gender, sexuality, health care, finances, education, etc. I am looking for a people who really want to explore faith and practice the ancient disciplines of the Christian tradition in new ways that transform us. - And that is about self care for me - finding a place and a people that share my passion for mission and ministry. I am not concerned with the exact way we do this, ie the poor etc. rather that we find an exciting way to live out the Gospel, a way where our passions as community meet the world's deepest need.

2 comments:

revabi said...

I agree with you about the title of it should have been Finding Home. I think she went stumbling in the dark and sometimes we all do. You can do the best job and still run into objects. Clergy self care is a big topic isn't it. I am still finding my way through that one.

Hope you discern the community you can do your ministry in.

Serena said...

Just reading this now, and have no idea if you'll find this comment.

I read this book as I was "leaving church" for "home," and feel like it was a gift from God to get me through the process. All I wanted in the churches I served was what you want ....

"to serve with people who really want to explore faith and practice the ancient disciplines of the Christian tradition in new ways that transform us. - And that is about self care for me - finding a place and a people that share my passion for mission and ministry. I am not concerned with the exact way we do this, ie the poor etc. rather that we find an exciting way to live out the Gospel, a way where our passions as community meet the world's deepest need."

...and I believe that's what BBT wanted ... I know she was drawn by the geography ... maybe she, like me, felt after not finding above circumstances in other churches when she thought that's what she had found, it was time to at least be in a place where she could experience God in her surroundings, and receive enough nurture to not have to give up on her call.

I pray you find that unique congregation with people who want more than comfortable sunday country club ... who really want to explore faith and be engaged in relevant ministry.

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