Leaving Church – A Memoir of Faith
On October 19, 2010 At 5:00 am
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By now I expected to be a seasoned parish minister, wearing black clergy shirts grown gray from frequent washing. I expected to love the children who hung on my legs after Sunday morning services until they grew up and had children of their own. I even expected to be buried wearing the same red vestments in which I was ordained.
Today those vestments are hanging in the sacristy of an Anglican church in Kenya, my church pension is frozen, and I am as likely to spend Sunday mornings with friendly Quakers, Presbyterians, or Congregationalists as I am with the Episcopalians who remain my closest kin. Some-times I even keep the Sabbath with a cup of steaming Assam tea on my front porch, watching towhees vie for the highest perch in the poplar tree while God watches me. These days I earn my living teaching school, not leading worship, and while I still dream of opening a small restaurant in Clarkesville or volunteering at an eye clinic in Nepal, there is no guarantee that I will not run off with the circus before I am through. This is not the life I planned, or the life I recommend to others. But it is the life that has turned out to be mine, and the central revelation in it for me — that the call to serve God is first and last the call to be fully human — seems important enough to witness to on paper. This book is my attempt to do that.
After nine years serving on the staff of a big urban church in Atlanta, Barbara Brown Taylor arrives in rural Clarkesville, Georgia (population 1,500), following her dream to become the pastor of her own small congregation. The adjustment from city life to country dweller is something of a shock — Taylor is one of the only professional women in the community — but small-town life offers many of its own unique joys. Taylor has five successful years that see significant growth in the church she serves, but ultimately she finds herself experiencing "compassion fatigue" and wonders what exactly God has called her to do. She realizes that in order to keep her faith she may have to leave.
Taylor describes a rich spiritual journey in which God has given her more questions than answers. As she becomes part of the flock instead of the shepherd, she describes her poignant and sincere struggle to regain her footing in the world without her defining collar. Taylor's realization that this may in fact be God's surprising path for her leads her to a refreshing search to find Him in new places. Leaving Church will remind even the most skeptical among us that life is about both disappointment and hope — and ultimately, renewal.
User Ratings and Reviews
5 Stars A joy to read!
I loved reading this book! I did not want to put it down. Ms. Brown-Taylor writes so beautifully about her experience, using non-traditional narrative to explain her thoughts and ideas. I could connect with her with her experiences of over commitment and spiritual exhaustion in wanting to live out a purposeful life as one of God's faithful disciples and what that actually meant for her. And what it might also mean for me. She "lets go" of life as she expected it to go, somewhat painfully, and in the process finds her life, finds the path that God intends for her. She ends the book with her continued, more peaceful and even more joyful, quest for a closer purposeful communion with God.
5 Stars Plunging from the pulpit
I once heard Barbara Brown Taylor at a preaching conference in Atlanta, GA. She carried herself with such poise and spoke so elegantly, we were all knocked out. Every preacher I know wants to preach like Barbara Brown Taylor, and all her books are wildly popular. To top it all off, Taylor has been named as one of the "Top Ten Preachers in the English language," so her reputation is stellar.
In her book, "Leaving Church", however, Taylor has shocked us. She tells the story of how she decided to leave the pulpit for academia. She resigned her position as rector of a church and now teaches religion and philosophy at Clark College in Georgia. One of the brute facts that preachers face these days is that many pew-sitters are "leaving church" and not coming back. So it seems hard to accept that our champion preacher has herself left the church.
Taylor details the circumstances that brought her to become the rector of Grace Episcopal Church in Clarksville, Georgia. She fell in love with the building on her first visit. "Simply to stand in the presence of that building was to rest. Peace poured off the white boards and caught me in its wake."
By virtue of her preaching and her pastoral presence, the church grew rapidly, and she soon had to increase from three Sunday services to four. The demands on her time mounted and she began to feel burned out. Her old back troubles returned and she fell into depression. "I saw my tiresome perfectionism, my resentment of those who did not try as hard as me, and my huge appetite for approval."
This is a familiar story to those of us in ministry. Overwork leads to burnout which leads to physical and mental breakdown. Taylor's romantic dream of the country parson didn't come true. Looking back, she writes, "My desire to be as near to God as I could had backfired on me somehow. Drawn to care for things, I had ended up with compassion fatigue."
It ain't easy being a minister today. The conflicting demands wring you out, and if you're not careful, you end up "leaving church", like Barbara Brown Taylor. We're fortunate, though, that she left this pungent memoir of her plunge from the pulpit. She's still preaching occasionally and writing her luminous books. It's just that they'll be a little more remote from our lives now that she's not in the pulpit every Sunday with us.
5 Stars A Book I was Told I Must Read
A former minister of my church sent me an email a few weeks ago suggesting that I read LEAVING CHURCH. After 22 years with us, all of a sudden he ups and resigns – this while I was Board chairman. The book evidently brought back a lot of memories for him and suggested that there were others who had experienced similar thoughts about the church they had been pastors of. It did not take me long to see why he had this reaction. I could relate. The book also delved into spirituality, and I have found it to be a most worth-while read. Have even suggested it to a Bible study group who selects their own topics. This book was purchased through Amazon for a very reasonable price and was received most promptly,much sooner than publicized.
5 Stars Inspiration
What an amazing author Barbara is! I read her books over and over. She has a fresh, "real" look at the call to ministry and ministry itself. Her writing inspires me to not conform to the image of what society thinks a minister should be but instead to be real to myself and to God by being first and foremost myself. Thank you.
4 Stars Leaving Church, Keeping the Faith
Barbara Brown Taylor's ministry memoir will resonate with people who have been given a change of direction by God. Taylor was an associate pastor in a large Atlanta area parish, but she falls in love with a little church building in a small town and determines to someday pastor that church, and she does. But after a while, she is ready for a change, and she answers the call of academia. She has always loved theology and God and questioning things,and this new assignment fits her well.
The book is about how you can leave church and still find and experience faith, hope, and love. Barbara Brown Taylor is a terrific writer and a great preacher, but I wonder if she went to that small church for the best reasons. It seems that she was more motivated by her love for the church building than she was by a love for the church people.
Yet the Lord is blessing her writing and teaching ministry, and we may not have all these wonderful books if she had not answered the call to Piedmont College.