Leaving Church

by | Nov 8, 2012 | Uncategorized

For the next six weeks, we’ll be exploring the question, “How do we walk out our faith in the midst of pain, suffering, disappointment, and loneliness,” with a book club discussion on Thursdays about Leaving Church by Barbara Brown Taylor. We’re starting today with the Introduction and Chapter 1. Join the conversation in the comments and on the closed Facebook page at Redemptions Beauty Book Club if you aren’t comfortable with sharing thoughts here. (And you can join at both places.)

I voted twice this week. Once on Monday. Once on Tuesday. Monday’s vote had nothing to do with a political election but the impact was greater for me.

My church took a vote and the outcome divided the people. I left my church the same day I started this new series. The irony is not lost on me.

When I was a child, I had two recurring dreams. In one of them, I am seated next to my mother who is driving the car. I look at her once and she is there. A second time and she vanishes, leaving me alone to drive a car as an adolescent. In the other dream, my mother and father swing me by my arms and legs in the backyard of my grandparent’s home, throw me up in the air, and I never come back down.

My parents divorced when I was three. My father remarried shortly after, while my mother raised me as a single parent, struggling with alcoholism and financial instability. Fear of abandonment plagued much of my life.

And that decision the church made on Monday, its why going to church lately feels like returning to my unstable childhood. It feels personal, even though I know it isn’t, just like my parents divorce.

Early memories of church sit between my grandparents on wooden pews inhaling the smell of the Old English my grandmother and I wiped on them with dust clothes the day before. At four-thirty mass on Saturday, the priest stands on the red carpet where my grandmother pushed vacuum tracks. Late afternoon sun pours through the stain glass windows captivating me, just like watching people filter into lines for communion.

And when my grandparents couldn’t drive two hours to pick me up to sleep over on the weekend, I climbed on the Baptist church bus with my friends. I wanted to go to church. Jesus was the only stable thing in my life. I counted on him every day to save me. I still do.

I don’t go to church because it is the right thing, the good thing, the social thing, or because I am a pastor’s wife. I go because I need to be in His presence, feel His peace, commune with the Saints, thank Him for breathe, hear His voice, remember my place is at His feet and hold on to the frayed end of hope.

Faith isn’t a destination, it’s a journey. Now I’m on the path that leads to the sheep tipped over and strewn on the hillsides of decision. Pulling them up one lamb at a time and following his footprints back home.

I’m more certain than ever, that He is with me.


  1. In the Introduction Taylor says, “I guess you could say that my losses have been chiefly in the area of faith, and specifically in the area of being certain who God is, what God wants of me, and what it means to be Christian in a world where religion often seems to do more harm than good.” Can you relate to this? What parts of your faith do you find the most confidence? What parts have become less certain?
  2. How does the place where you live impact your faith?

For the Book Club

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  1. Judy

    I think it is common for the pain one feels over loss, even as an adult, to be intensified when there has been a huge childhood loss like the one you experienced. Of course, I do not know anything of the particular circumstances of your church situation and decisions, but can encourage you to know you are right – God is with you.
    The result of a decision made outside of our own community of Anglican believers who were standing faithful to God and His Word, was the loss of our beautiful sanctuary and other buildings, a year ago. Yes, there has been lament and mourning (I still long for the ways in which that space spoke to me of His beauty and light), but there is no loss of His presence – I am certain He is with us – and with you. Be of good courage…

    • Redemption's Beauty

      Dare I ask Judy, where are you from, what church? I am also an Anglican so I know this grief well. And He is with us in all of it. The good and the seemingly bad, its all with His purpose. I just want to hear Him and follow, despite the circumstances.

      • Judy

        Yes, Shelly. I live in Vancouver, Canada, and if you know this grief, you likely know, maybe have even prayed for us, at St John’s. Unlike some other Anglican communities , though there has been sorrow in the journey, we have been blessed by close to unanimous unity within the local church community which I know, makes an enormous difference for those who lead the ministry.
        Let me know if your particular loss lies in this area – I would be honoured to pray for you. in it.

  2. Jennifer Camp

    My church has been such a blessing to me and to my family. It is the place where our community is rooted–but it has only become most alive, most restorative, for me since I became awake to the personal, one-on-one relationship that the Father wants to have with me. I grew up having head knowledge about God, but not experiencing His love {and that love was realized when I hit my bottom and saw the truth of how broken I truly am without Him}. I need church to be a place where pride is shed and where love comes from vulnerability married with truth and hope. His words speak to me now, and I am able to appreciate community, because I finally realize how desperate I am for it. I am desperate for Him, and I am desperate for His true, loving arms–brothers and sisters who know me and love me still–around me.

    I am excited for this new blessing of yours, Shelly, the discovery of the Father, as you journey with Him, in brand new ways. The unknown is so hard. . .but I love that, too–that, in the unknown, there is such freedom, too. For only then can we just look to Him, knowing He knows the way, and we never know the path without watching His feet ahead of us, walking on it, anyway.

    • Redemption's Beauty

      I am nodding my head and smiling Jennifer, about the discovery that comes on the heels of pain. I am so excited and expectant about the future despite the circumstances. It’s why I know God is in it. And I’m so glad you have a community like the one you describe, that is truly a gift. It’s so good to hear about churches being the church.

  3. simplystriving

    I didn’t comment about your week over on Facebook, but I still wanted to. Shelly, I know this decision you had to make has been covered in prayer. I’m so sorry it had to be that way but am rejoicing in you clinging to Him. it’s your heart He’s after. not the pews. {HUGS}

    • Redemption's Beauty

      Me too Nikki, sorry it had to be this way. But I’m really hopeful and so excited about the future. God is good, all the time.

  4. Amy

    I live overseas (and have for many years) — one thing that many of us who have been here for a significant time have experienced is our home church leaving us. The church we have come from is no longer the church that it is. This can be due to many, many reasons. A leadership change, significant growth or decline, turn over in attenders, and other such things. It can be very disorienting to leave church; it can be equally disorienting to have church leave you.

    (Understanding that Church, capital C, hasn’t left, but church, small c, lived out locally are similar, yet distinct).

    • Redemption's Beauty

      We had that happen in a different scenario Amy. When my husband was in seminary, as part of his internship, we joined Youth With a Mission and the church, who had helped us with the cost of seminary, told us they would no longer be paying his tuition. It is a weird feeling to have the church “leave” you in that way. I’m sorry that has happened to you. I hope you are finding support in other places/ways.

  5. Lynn Morrissey

    Shelly, you’ve been so candid in discussing the pain of your childhood, and now, you are again in telling about a painful break from your church family. It’s personal, perhaps, in the sense that we become part of the Body of Christ at a particular church, and when we leave, there is a tearing apart of that family. I am so very sorry. I don’t think one ever does that lightly. I know this pain. It hurts. We left a church which we loved, because ultimately with new clergy this church tolerated immorality (homosexual leadership, a choir director who’d had an affair with a soprano in his choir, got a divorce, and then they both came to church together as if nothing had happened, while his ex-wife still played the organ, and there was another pastor who had numerous affairs–I could go on). Still, we loved that little congregation–the people themselves, who had become our famiily, and leaving was painful–a ripping of hearts. So there are reasons to “leave church.” But as you have discovered, God, our faithful Father, never leaves us. Christ never abandons the Church, for whom He gave up His life. To answer your question, my faith is most bolstered when I trust the Lord and not people and when I cling to HIm even when sometimes Biblical interpretations or traditions which I thought for years were correct, I am suddenly seeing in a paradigm shift–same words, but I am understanding them differently. Does this mean I have abandoned my faith? No. But it can be an unstable feeling to think you knew something, and realize you never really understood it. I’m less certain about people who think they know all there is to know about faith and leave no room for humility or their own human frailty and sinfulness. I’m unsure of the meaning of your 2nd question…..does where I live mean my family, my church, my community–all of the above? I think it is easier to function when people believe the way you do, but perhaps we don’t grow that way. Again, I am just so sorry for what you have gone through, Shelly. Thank you for sharing.

    • Redemption's Beauty

      It is hard, the tearing of your spiritual family. And in many ways, my spiritual family stands in the gap where my real family leaves a gaping hole. So perhaps that is why I feel it even deeper. I suppose we never stop learning do we? Or at least I hope not. And discovering our ways of thinking were all wrong is quite a humbling experience. I grew up thinking people who didn’t worship the way I did were not going to heaven.

      And yes, I meant all those things. Place means all of those words you mention. Thank you for your prayers Lynn. It’s been a hard week of navigating relationships who really had no idea how much they hurt me through all this. We’ve had a group of clergy in town and they have renewed my hope and dreams again.

  6. Anne

    My husband and I are also leaving a church. We were confirmed there 35 years ago. I am focusing on the going to but know I need to face the truth about the pain of leaving. Just not there yet. So I find myself in the middle of leaving pain and going excitement. The decision has been made now the action begins. My husband who was on staff will now get up for his first Sunday morning with a new agenda. Excited that I will sit with him in worship in a new place. Sad that many I so love no longer speak to me. My prayer is Lord help me with these emotions. Let me be completely dependent on you as I walk this new road. As my earthly identity shifts I know my identity in given by God alone but my routine will be vastly different. As the autumn leaves change with the fall folding slowly into winter I am reminded the greatest colors come this season The reds and golds bounce the brilliant light, the marsh turns golden and the sky is clear and crisp. My favorite time of year. God’s creations screams a time of rest is coming. Winter is that time. Oh how I love how God speaks of his love in the seasons just when you need his loving touch. A time of rest is coming. The sap of emotions will slowly recede. Knowing the hope of spring is always around the corner. Everyday is a gift and every breath a wonder. The little things are profound and thanksgiving is coming. Lots to rejoice in as we take each new day in a new way. Oh thank you Lord for this book and the timing. You timing is always perfect.

    • Redemption's Beauty

      I’m hearing hope in your words Anne, the more you write the more beauty unfolds. And we’re walking into some lovely pastures ahead aren’t we?

  7. Jillie

    Hi Shelly…very good post today, despite the fact that you write about leaving your church. How timely this Book Club topic is for you, personally then. But you’re right…God is in it and God is with you. He will guide and direct you for your future. Big change can be exciting too, waiting on Him for the next thing He has for you.
    I found your comments about your fears of abandonment from childhood experience, interesting. I too, have these same fears. Coming from a broken home, abandoned by our Dad when he found someone new to love, broke our hearts. My mother was devastated, and died shortly thereafter…I believe of a broken heart. But, before that, she filled my mind with all manner of thoughts about ‘men’—that they ALL do this and they ALL leave eventually, and NO man is completely faithful to his wife…on and on. It has taken years to quiet these ‘beliefs’ instilled by my mother. I still do battle with them from time to time. It’s a long road.
    As far as ‘leaving church’…I’m a bit ashamed to say that I have not been in regular attendance in my church for close to 4 years now. Our nearest town has maybe 5 or 6 churches of my denominational preference—only trouble is, there is a lot of ‘sheep shifting’ from one to another, so that no matter where you go, there are others you know from one of the other churches. A lot of talk circulates of ‘why’ this one left that one, etc. and it all drives me a tad crazy. I did not make any ‘soul connections’ with any other woman in ‘my’ church, until I left it. That was when I found one woman who longed for her own ‘soul connection’ in that same church, but had never found one either. ‘Our’ church is very clique-y. And ‘economical-classes’ driven…breaks the heart.
    Today, at present, I find my ‘community’ here, amongst you wonderful Spirit-filled bloggers. And I am grateful for this,

    • Redemption's Beauty

      This is where I find community too Jillie. And it’s been a sanctuary for me as we’ve navigated some unpleasant spiritual weather in my community. I’m so grateful. We’ve been having some rich conversation over on the Facebook page. Are you on FB? I would love you to join the conversation.

      • Jillie

        Hello again Shelly…No, I am not on FB. I tried to sign up for it yesterday, JUST so I could read all that will be appearing re: The Book Club. I got all messed up in the process, and gave up for now. (My husband hates everything about the whole concept of FB and thinks it is for the young. He would probably give me ‘that look’ if he knew I was trying to get in on it, even for a book club). 🙂

  8. Penny

    I believe this is my first time commenting here. But, I have been reading for a while now. I can’t tell you how many times your post has spoken to my soul. Please know that God is using this blog to speak to others.

    This post resonated with me for two reasons. The first being your mention of your parent’s divorce and your dreams. I have been separated from my husband for a little over a year now. The separation is not my idea, but his. A few weeks after he left I felt led by the LORD to not give up on my marriage. Ever since the LORD has taken me on a painful yet amazingly beautiful journey. I am at a point now where I have just turned everything, my life, my marriage, and my husband over to Him. Yes, I’ve “let go” , so all of your posts on that subject spoke to me as well. But, even so, sometimes I feel so weak that I don’t know why I keep praying for reconciliation with my husband. Then, I read this post and am reminded that one of the reasons God has asked me not to give up is for my children. They need both of their parents in the home.

    Secondly, shortly after my separation, I left my home church where I had been attending since I was a little girl. I had been feeling the need to leave for a while. But, my husband and I both held positions in the church and I felt we needed to stay. Once my world came crumbling down I didn’t feel I could get the support I needed there. I began to attend church an hour away from my home and have been blessed ever since. I walk into the building and I just feel like I’m home, that it’s where I belong. Also, prior to this experience, I did attend church because I felt obligated; like it was expected of me. Now, I attend because I go there to feel His Spirit speak to me.

    Again, thank you so much for sharing your heart and soul here. It has meant a lot to me.

    • Redemption's Beauty

      Penny, I’m so glad you’ve left this comment. It blesses me more than you can know. You know, I was really apprehensive about sharing those silly dreams and the intimate parts of my life regarding abandonment. But I felt God nudging me every time I prayed and asked. So I’m so glad to know how they spoke to you. It feels like affirmation from Him. And I am so glad you’ve found a church where your heart is at home and longs to return. Will you pray I find that as well? For me and my family.

      • Penny

        Prayers are being offered up right now. I will continue to pray that you find the right church home for you

  9. Denise J. Hughes

    I wish I could pull up a chair and hear your story.

    As far as book clubs go, I love ’em. I’m in. Especially in regards to this topic. I just bought the book on my Kindle, and I’ll get caught up on the reading this weekend. It sounds just exactly what I need right now. There is SO much for me to say on this topic. We left our church of 8 years in January. We know it was the right thing to do, and we believe that the way we left was honoring to God and everyone at the church. But our whole experience there has left me with a lot of questions. So I look forward to joining you on this journey.

    • Redemption's Beauty

      (((Denise))) I am so excited you are joining us. Yay! It would truly be a gift to me for you to pull up a chair and talk in real life. Wish that were a reality. But, we are having some really rich conversation over on the Facebook page and you don’t even need to have read yet to join in. You know how women are . . give us a question to light the match and the fire takes off all on its own. I hope you’ll engage us with some of those questions. (I’m curious how your Allume experience was btw (whole different subject.)

  10. Angie Webb

    Love this. We left our church almost 2 years ago for division and control by “certain” people. If you didn’t fit into the groups that were important, than you weren’t important. I love the idea of the study and sent a request to be a part of it. I want to get the book asap..

  11. Megan Willome

    I went through a huge faith crisis as my mom was dying. She was the perfect Christian (no, really!), and I didn’t know how to follow Christ without her. I’m glad for what I went through now, but it was excruciating at the time.

    Praying for you during your Leaving Church season.

    • Redemption's Beauty

      Megan, I can’t even imagine how hard that must’ve been to lose your mother and then find your own faith like an orphan finding their way home. Thanks for your prayers, they are appreciated.

  12. Gail

    I am new to your blog– just discovered it tonight via the Freshly Pressed page. Love it so far and can’t wait to read more! I’m in a book club through my Episcopal church and though we haven’t read Leaving Church, we did read Barbara Brown Taylor’s book, An Altar in the World. I LOVED it! I ordered her book, Leaving Church, 2 weeks ago and can’t wait to read it. Thanks for making me think…I so look forward to reading more of your blog.

    • Redemption's Beauty

      It’s nice to meet you Gail. We are enjoying Leaving Church and the discussion in the book club has been rich. You are welcome to join us on our FB page, Redemptions Beauty Book Club. I’ve heard that Altar in the World is awesome too.


  1. You Are My Girls | Weekend Community {favorite links this week} - [...] been reading Barbara Brown Taylor’s book, Leaving Church, with Shelly at the Redemption’s Beauty book club, and the combination…

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