This summer I have read quite a number of lovely books and really wish to do abbreviated book reports. I should probably be in a book club, but time and circumstance truly do prevent it. So the blogosphere allows me the time to spew my random collection of thoughts about books without the penalty of challenge by a club. Relax Dear Readers, it won’t be a diatribe. Here we go…Book Report #1
Leaving Church by Barbara Brown Taylor
I have been wanting to read this memoir by master preacher Barbara Brown Taylor for a long time. In this book she weaves the tale of her life in the collar specifically focusing on her experiences as a country preacher in small town Georgia. Her love of the EC, its liturgy, its history are so very apparent. As is her type A devotion to her congregation. She speaks openly about not only the pleasure of “the cloth” but its responsibilities and truly, burdens.
As most Type A’s do, she comes to place where she recognizes her time to separate from her parish. But beyond that, she also finds her need goes deeper and she chooses to gracefully leave the church completely. In my reading of her memoir, her exit from parish leadership was not scandalous, but rather a natural parting when the time was appropriate. I could feel the heart-wrenching experiences in both her work and her exit. I find myself deeply relating to her constant need to serve her congregation and community many times to a fault.
What I find so refreshing is her embrace of the God of everything. She does not see malice in stepping away from her congregation and her regular pulpit. She does not see herself as less a spiritual or practicing Christian woman because on some Sundays (more rather than less) her sabbath is spent in true communion with God’s creation. Her true observance of the sabbath as it was laid out for us, as a day of REST, is inspirational. The community she experiences is different now, but honest, balanced, almost free it seems.
I have spent a lot of years in and out of church, almost always the church of my childhood, The Episcopal Church. I have never toyed with the fundamental belief about God and Christ not to an extent that I would wish to negate my religion. But the ins and outs of church practice and community have given me an array of struggles, particularly in my 20’s and now 30’s. I’m such a traditionalist in terms of liturgical practice and fairly pragmatic in my hope of preaching but rarely do the two collide (my one experience with this was my short-lived time with St. Paul’s Cathedral, San Diego where great music and relevant, inspired preaching connect every Sunday.) My consistent participation in one congregation is two years, at best. Then I find myself restless, even if I haven’t truly given my all to the congregation. (As is the case in my current congregation.)
On a flip side, I have spent several years toying with the idea of joining the band. I wonder if the abilities and skills that God his laid out for me are a good fit for ministry? I am daunted by the process of which I have been carefully warned. But the idea sits naggingly upon my ear, scratching from time to time when I take a moment to ponder my future.
This is where I find myself at a crux. Shouldn’t someone who is pondering a lifetime of ministry of some kind actually be an active part of their congregation? (Easy answer: yes.) I am not interested in cataloguing the faults of my beloved denomination but suffice to say it is difficult to be an unmarried, childless 20-30 something in the average parish. (There are, of course, exceptions to the rule, usually in larger cities or larger, wealthier parishes than I have been a part of.) How do I find peace with both the beauties and the beasts of any given congregation and embrace its community for both?
I have no resolution. But it was in the reading of Mrs. Taylor’s (as she is referred to upon leaving her parish post and accepting her collegiate position) memoir that I found such a comfort in the recognition that one’s spiritual path or “Christian-ness” does not merely receive credit within the stone walls of the red doored building. While for me, it provides a sense of home. It is not the place I have to go to experience God or feel a part of His church.
My direction, I know not. Her inspiration, of that I’m confident. Thank you Mrs. Taylor.