I remember hearing that Barbara Brown Taylor, one of my preaching and writing heroes wrote a book entitled, “Leaving Church.” It is on my to-be-read list, but that list is always SO much longer than what I’m able to tackle. So I haven’t read it, but the title came into my mind as I thought about writing this post.
My blog has always been an exercise in my own faith – I love that it helps others, but most of the time, I’m writing for myself. I write in order to process experiences, spend time in God’s word, and to keep track of what I was thinking and feeling in a certain season.
Today I want to write about leaving congregational ministry after 15 years. I feel a little like I’m blowing up my life, but the reality is that the last two years have been horrible. Between my own struggles with anxiety and depression (thanks, Covid), the realities of having to pivot several times from in-person worship to online and back again, and the burden of caring for a congregation during these uncertain and painful days, it has all been too much.
I had two choices: keep going until it killed me (it’s already come close a few times), or find a different path. Though I grieved the reality, I knew I couldn’t keep going until it killed me. There are too many people I love in this world, too many experiences I still wish to have, and too much good to be done, for me to be ready to leave at this point in my life.
So the only choice was to find a different path. I admit to you, I toyed with the idea of leaving my faith entirely. Of just giving up faith all together – no more church, no more prayer, no more scripture, no more sacred singing.
But I quickly realized that was my hurt and anger (and, no doubt, the enemy) whispering in my ear. That’s not the Voice I want to listen to. And at the end of the day – I can’t see a sunset without whispering a prayer of thanks; in my darkest nights, I sing the songs of my faith to find my way through the darkness; the scriptures still have the power to reach off the page and wring my heart with their beauty; and though I have been hurt by it, I still wish to serve the church that Jesus died to save.
And the thing is – God isn’t done with me yet. Thank God!
Instead, he quietly laid a path in front of me. For the next couple of years, I will be retraining in order to become a Christian psychotherapist and spiritual director. And it no longer feels like blowing up my life. Instead it feels like hearing the whisper of the Holy Spirit – it feels like listening to the voice I WANT to listen to, the voice of the triune God who loves me.
The pastoral tie with my congregation has been dissolved. I’ve been moved to the appendix to the role in my Presbytery. I have applied to Knox College for the MPS (Masters of Pastoral Studies) program.
I’m other words, I’ve begun taking steps forward. There are still many steps ahead.
My hope is to blog through this process – for myself, of course. But I also invite you to join me on the journey. May God use my experiences to bless and encourage others.
7 thoughts on “Leaving Church”
I am so sorry to hear that Rebekah, I always enjoyed your blogs during Covid, I wish you every success with your future plans.I guess in God we trust. 🙏🏼🙏🏼🙏🏼
It takes courage to leave behind something that has been so all consuming and identity shaping for two decades. But you will carry all these experiences with you and do great things.
Congratulations Rebekah on making a tough decision AND taking a step forward in your journey. There are many ways to minister, Congregational ministry is only one. Praying that you will find this new direction rewarding and enriching.
Regards, Mary (Molly) Harvey
So proud of you and your journey, all your struggles and how you have overcome them!
I Pray that your new journey will be as rewarding and fulfilling as your ministry has been to so many of us.
Lots of Love,
Oh Rebekah I’m so sorry to hear ,but you know that with God anything is possible we always loved your company and our Bible studies at the manse call us anytime we would love to go for lunch when you are ready let us know Good luck in your next journey and please keep in touch
You and I have both been experiencing leaving, saying goodbye: you to your role as a congregational pastor and me to a congregation that has been my faith home since I came to Durham. Both involve hurt, both involve change and both involve hope. That I was called to Durham to serve, to demonstrate my faith to my students. There is little doubt in my mind. That you have been called to serve in this new position, there is no doubt in my mind. We have new roles, new places to share our faith, new places to serve God. Blessings on you for having the courage to listen. Know that you have more love and support and respect than you know. Blessings and peace, Shari Nelson
I’ve seen a lot of people struggling these past two years. I hope your transition back to school goes well and know you will be the best you, no matter where the path leads. May God continue to heal you, inspire you and bless you.