Leaving Church (For The Grocery Store, BBL)

EpiScope is the first blog in my RSS reader. Mostly so I can scroll through all the news reports as fast as humanly possible. Today, though, one caught my eye, and it was titled, Safe haven of church may not be good for you, minister says.

Which, of course, made me go, “Whadahuh?”

Clicking on the article, I discover it was published in Northwestern University’s college paper. Prestigious, yes, but kids, this ain’t the New York Times, and the writing style proves it. Halfway down the article, the author pretty much jumps from discussing Rev. Barbara Brown Taylor’s new book Leaving Church, to talking about churches– oh, I’m sorry, the one parish in the Diocese of Chicago that disassociated itself from the Episcopal Church. They didn’t leave church, they just took their church over to the corner so no one else could play with it, but it’s the same thing, right? Man, the press so totally doesn’t Get Religion (blog).

Anyway, done with the gristle, back to the meat. I’d heard some interviews with Rev. Brown Taylor, and had some sympathy for her situation and her need to leave. But it makes me wonder about her call to ministry.

No, I’m not saying that God didn’t call her to the priesthood. She is an excellent preacher, writer, and academic. Three skills which are pretty much useless in a parish setting. Parish priest is a uniquely broad skill set, and you know what? It’s not for everyone. The biggest trap to fall into is being so caring, wanting to help everyone, that the parish priest overloads herself, takes every failure as their own private burden. It’s a personality thing, not a bad one, but if left uncontrolled and not reined in, it’s what makes educators and teachers burn out so fast. And I applaud her for realising that and getting out.

Rev. Brown Taylor, though, says something that kind of irks me. I’ll quote from the article:

Many people attend regular services without feeling challenged by faith and many clergy are exhausted by their work, she said.

“I’ve heard from clergy, both men and women, who are living on air,” she said. “I’ve heard from laypeople relieved to think that they aren’t crazy after all for coming away from church so hungry when everyone else appears to be rubbing full bellies.”

Man, these people would never survive in the house of my ancestors. What do you do if you sit down to dinner, and nothing looks good, and your 12 cousins, 16 aunts and uncles, 4 grandparents, and assorted other filial relatives fall upon the banquet like locusts and strip a 30 pound turkey down to bones in 47 minutes flat?

You get off your butt and go to the refrigerator and rustle up something tasty, duh. You sure as spitting don’t sit there wondering why you’re hungry! And if there’s nothing in the fridge, then you gather up some adventurous cousins, steal borrow the keys to Grandpa’s truck, and make a food run. AND THEN you come home and share!

I have no problem with people leaving church. It hurts, yeah, to see someone you love take off ’cause they aren’t finding what they need. And yeah, it’s kind of scary to leave a church because you need something else. But, as Rev. Brown Taylor has discovered, statistically there are people in the pews and even pulpits who are going through what you are, who have similar needs to you.

Please, if you’re hungry, leave! Go, see what’s out there that’s tasty! Then, bring it back and share it with your parish family. Some of us may still be hungry, too.

*BBL is shorthand for ‘Be Back Later’.



Filed under light reading, meditations

3 responses to “Leaving Church (For The Grocery Store, BBL)

  1. Beautiful. Amen.

    Pax, C.

  2. You know, I agree with you most of the time. And, to a certain extent, I agree with you that people need to learn to feed themselves. But let’s switch the metaphor a minute to one of a hospital, keeping in mind our Lord’s admonition that it is the sick who need a doctor, not the well. If I Went to the hospital because I was sick, and was discharged feeling no better or maybe worse, would you tell me to go out and heal myself?

    As someone who now stand on the edge of the church, I have to say that one of my major issues is that a lot of parishes (switching back to the food metaphor) only know one recipe. They’re not open to change. They’re not dynamic, evolving, listening places. The model of top-down spiritual guidance has failed us, and no new system has been put in place that allows “subversives” like me to operate within the system. We don’t need more parish priests – we need more people who minister wherever there are people.

    I think Rev. Brown Taylor’s got the right end of this, as do Marcus Borg and many others. I’m glad the parish model continues to work for so many. But what about those of us who it simply can’t (won’t?) accomodate or abide?

  3. It’s so easy to just say “GO if you’re not happy or fulfilled or outright hungry.”

    It’s so easy to say it. What isn’t easy is hearing it and wanting so much to hear something else instead, something like “You are a person of value; what can you do and what can we do with and for you to make this a place that fills you up?” YOu can bet that if one person feels alienated in a parish or congregation there are others who feel it too but just don’t have the courage (or the wisdom — maybe the foolishness) to try the geographical cure only to find that aa change in geography isn’t the answer either.

    I’m reading Jack Good’s “The Dishonest Church.” He has some interesting ideas about why some can’t or don’t find their spiritual bellies filled in various churches these days. Perhaps a little honesty — even if it is the honesty of the priest saying “I really have worked hard and tried but it’s time for a sabbatical — I don’t know for how long.”