Wednesday, December 21, 2011

Leaving Church: A Memoir of Faith by Barbara Brown Taylor

 This is the story of Barbara Taylor's desire to wear the clerical garb, to be ordained as an Episcopal priest, of desiring to preach and pastor in a church and her eventual leave taking of pastoring for a position teaching religion. This is not the story of someone who loses their faith nor their belief in the church.As a child she felt God's presence most intensely when she was out in a natural setting—whether it was in a field, walking in the woods, or on a hill or mountain.

She wasn't raised in a church and therefore didn't know how to describe what it was that she experienced when in a natural setting. Later on she attributes those transcendent moments to an encounter with God's creation and thus with God.

She majors in religion while in college and then goes onto the seminary where she is not yet attached to a particular Christian sect. Eventually she chooses the Episcopalian faith. Her first church is in urban Atlanta, Georgia.

In time she feels the need to leave the urban environment and find a rural church. A church in Clarkesville, Georgia is in need of a pastor and she applies for that position. She and her husband move to that area and in time buy a plot of land and build a house.

Her ministry is quite successful—despite initial qualms some congregants had regarding a female pastor. The church grows in size—in part due to Barbara Taylor's preaching. As her ministry grows she is confronted with increasing demands on her time which gives her less time for the spiritual health and growth she needs and receives from quiet time and time in nature.

When her congregation discusses homosexuality she takes a neutral position intent on listening, but she finds herself disturbed by the narrow definition of God's circle of inclusion. She finds that some Christians have made an idol of the Written Word. She perceives that one great issue facing her and the church is how to hold together disparate groups—which she refers to as the center and the edge. At one point she says that , "dumbfoundedness is what all Christians have most in common." Synonyms for dumbfounded include—awed, awestruck, wonderstruck.After five years she receives a call from a local college offering her a position teaching religion.

That call is not out of the blue—she has gained a national reputation for both her preaching and her writing. The offer is accepted and she sets out on a different path. That path energizes her Christian faith and her closeness to God.

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