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”.