The “Dones”? Maybe stick a fork in us…

Last month, a Facebook friend shared this blog post on my page, and asked my opinion.  A few days ago, the same post was reblogged on Lay Anglicana; I copied and pasted my Facebook response in the comments. Today, yet another friend shared the original post about the “Dones” with me, and asked my opinion–at least in part, I’m sure, because of my earlier invitation for people to share their stories about leaving church.

This seems to be popping up too often, and people wanting my thoughts on the subject, for me to ignore.  So I suppose my first “big” blog post since damaging myself a couple of months ago should be about my responses to Tom Schultz’s interesting piece on those who have left the church. He is right that it’s important to attend to the fact that people whose commitment to the institutional church was high, have left, and are unlikely to return (although it can’t be entirely ruled out). He’s probably correct that a number of people are tired of what he calls “plop, pay, pray” participation in the church.  He has some good questions for pastors to ask longtime committed congregants if it appears that they might be getting restless and dissatisfied.

But all of this is from the viewpoint of the pastor–it does not appear to me that any of the “dones” have had their opinions heard and accounted for in this.  This is clear when he says that “The very people on whom a church relies for lay leadership, service, and financial support are going away.”  That’s a description of the consequences the pastor–and the congregation that has been left–might notice.

It’s about what the church has gotten from these people in the past, and what it is likely to have trouble getting in the future. It says nothing about what the church has failed to provide to the peole who leave. And thus, the essay provides a description of a problem (from one point of view–that of the pastor and “left” congregation)–but not an insightful explanation of why leaving was the most attractive option available.

I don’t consider myself “done”.  I consider myself what Leslie Francis and Philip Richter referred to as “open de-churched”. For now, I am not attending church or participaing in the activities of organized religion–but I don’t rule out the possibility of doing so again in the future. I just burned out on church, or my life with the church burned me out, and then kind of threw me out.

I may be a little different from some, because my education is so specifically church oriented that there aren’t many uses for the talents I developed (with the encouragement of my church leaders).  And now that there seems to be no desire (but a great deal of need that I can see) for what I am able to give, the church is not “there” for me in any way that I need. And since I can’t give what I don’t have–which seems to be what the church wants–we have to take a break from each other.  At least for a while.

It’s not quite time to stick a fork in me. I don’t consider myself “done”.  I hope Schultz is wrong, and that a lot of people he (citing the work of Josh Packard) have left the possibility of returning open.

But the only way I think I (and possibly many others) can return is if the church changes.  The biggest change may be to see the church as having a door that goes both ways–people come in, and leave, as they need–rather than a sort of spiritual black hole of once in, never again out.

But there are other changes that will be needed as well.  For myself, the church would have to realize that there is a need for high level theological thinking that does not come from the ordained. The nonsense of the 1980s-90s “ministry of the baptized” had me convinced that a gift for theology separate from a call to ordination would find its place in the church.  After having invested years in developing talents (and spending a lot of money to do so) I no longer trust the words “ministry of the baptized”, “baptismal gifts”, or “lay ministry”. Early in my journey, there was a lot of encouragement.  When things got tough and finding a place to use these talents well, the church was not there for me.  Rather, it was a case of too-bad-so-sad.

When the church is not there for me, why should I be there for the church? The exact circumstances may differ for others who have left, but the base question may be a connecting thread.

So, until and unless the church expresses a desire for me to give it what I am authentically able to give, we must part ways. Until the church gives to me some of what I need, I will not invest my time and energy with it.

There’s a lot of talk about always giving to the church, never asking it to give in return.  And that is nonsense.  In no other relationship freely entered into would we expect that–and increasingly, religious affiliation is voluntary.  And what is voluntarily chosen can be voluntarily un-chosen as well.  Churches need to understand that much better than they do.

So, although it might not be absolutely coherent, and perhaps more information that was asked for or expected, those are my own thoughts about why I am not part of a church “community” at the moment, but why I also don’t quite consider myself “done”.

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11 thoughts on “The “Dones”? Maybe stick a fork in us…

  1. Wendy, it’s been a while since I’ve checked in with you and your blog. I’ve been very busy getting another credential on my way to ordination. Those with whom I am pursuing this additional certification join me in labeling it – “Anglican Studies Certificate Program – when one (or two) degrees from seminary is not enough!”

    Long ago, when I discovered that theology was the path to which I had been called, I looked around me and saw that if I wanted a career along this path it would require ordination or a PhD. “Ministry of the baptized” means that acquiring these degrees (and obtaining extra certification) does not separate me from anyone else in God’s eyes – except that I have chosen to make myself available to God as an instrument through which the Holy Spirit is invited to work, especially in regard to sacramental rites.

    I share your frustration with this fact. But when you think about it, aren’t other professions like this, too? I mean if I was called to a vocation in medicine, the career choices would be plain. And if I decided not to pursue any of those careers, I would not quit getting medical advice, going to the doctor or taking my required medicine.

    I sense that it is not the liturgy or the worship styles that you avoid by staying away from church, but I sense rather that you prefer to avoid the people who lead the church. I have been there, too! People can drive me up the wall – especially (and this is my pet peeve) when they do not do what they say they are going to do. And then, have no explanation for doing otherwise.

    But I have learned a lot about managing conflict along this path that I tread. I think honesty is important and intentional communication moving toward reconciliation is important. I think the Chinese were right on target when the two characters they assigned to create the word crisis mean “danger” and “opportunity.” There is creativity to be nurtured when conflict is managed, but there is only darkness and dread when it is buried inside.

    Bureaucracy is heinous in my mind, particularly when it is multi-layered and about as flexible as a two by four. But I don’t think there is a chance in Hell of me having an effect on it or working to change it if I am not in it. At this post-55 state of my life, I have decided to ask for God’s Holy Spirit to join me on this journey; to accompany me as i follow my perceived call. I trust the Holy Spirit to help me discern when to speak up, when to observe and when it is appropriate to suggest change.

    Thank you for your always inspiring posts!!

    1. Whatever you do, at a post-55 stage of life, do NOT get a PhD. God’s church will not thank you for it–let alone make it a financially intelligent thing to do. And God is not calling you to financial ruin.

      I am, for the moment, deeply disappointed in the leaders of the institutional church, and in those who I tried to serve. I am disgusted by the samey-samey way of doing things (which has not worked for many decades), and the endless reports (the current TREC dreck is one of them) which show us as a church that is desperately clinging to flotsam that is somehow also burning.

      A lot needs to change. I can barely begin to articulate why everything I’m seeing the church do is leading to its destruction.

      But I can see why a lot of people consider themselves Christian, but done (at least for a while) with church. I think it was Swinburne who made a distinction between Christ and his “poxy bride”…

      1. No PhD for me. I am slogging through the assignments as it is. Can’t believe I have found that for me preaching, teaching and pastoral care are the things that energize me most. Now, if only the church will let me do those things… with some pastoral authority behind it.

        Hope may just spring in my eternal. We shall see.

      2. Probably they will let you do those things, and possibly ordain you so that you do have that pastoral authority.

        But those are the ONLY things the church sees as a worthwhile use for theology. And not so much the teaching (you don’t want to know how many ordinands, and their “supporting” clergy, told me that there was no need for them to have theology to preach, teach, or do pastoral care, and how much they resented having to “jump through that hoop’). Any kind of thoughtful analysis about why the church is shooting itself in the foot–no, that is not wanted.

      3. It does seem as if the church organization and structure is arranged such that a) people with wildly appropriate skills for ministry are deterred from getting engaged (other than to be “used up” as a volunteer), b) there is so MUCH structure that there is little flexibility to pull the best people in at the best time and c) They may have to jump through hoops to learn theology and history but not so much to preach or learn how to be effective people managers.

        The church needs to learn to be able to respond and adapt reasonably quickly to changing circumstances and TREK is proving just the opposite.

      4. But I think it’s really important that those who want to say something about the “Dones” actually take our viewpoint seriously, and not assume they know what we are thinking without consulting us and making an effort to get it right.

        And that may be the real problem–we may have left because we haven’t been consulted, and nobody has made any effort to get us right. . .

    2. If you do get ordained, please please don’t use “insight” from the languages and cultures unless you’re actually a speaker of them (if you are, apologies). It’s rarely insightful or profound!!

    3. Having re-read this some while later, I’m not buying that continuing to seek medical advice if one is barred from a medical career, is a completely false equivalency to leaving the church if one’s gifts are rejected by the church.

      Church is an optional activity, and if someone decides they are “done” (or getting close), there is no real harm done to them in leaving. Sure, the Church is going to tell you you’re going to hell and all that–but the idea of rewards and punishments concerning an afterlife that may or may not exist has lost any persuasive power for me. If the Church tells me–as it has–to piss off, we’ve got no use for you, it’s an act of spiritual disobedience for me to keep hanging around.

      If there was a good temporal reason to stay, I would. But no harm is going to come to me for choosing otherwise, and unless there is a very strong reason to return, it’s unlikely I will pursue that path.

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