One of America's most renowned and beloved preachers tells the moving story of how she searched for her own authentic way of keeping faith—even when it meant giving up her pulpit.
A moving, powerful book The author was an Episcopalian Priest who walked away from a very strong identity to her church and it rattled her to the foundations of her faith. Anyone who has left a church, regardless of the religion, can relate to the universal truth about feeling betrayed and dislocated without something so pivotal as to how we connect with God.
Like so many of us who bring our idealistic notions into church with high expectations of both serving God and experiencing God, a popped church balloon can send us plummeting to the ground. The ground is very hard and for many of us we end up splattered everywhere and it takes a long time to put Humpty Dumpty back together again--and then we're not the same--what with those cracks all over!
When I left my church, I had no idea that others had left. I had know idea that Christians had similar "exit" experiences of betrayal, hurt and grief when leaving their churches. The damages done when leaving a church does not seem to be about religion, but more about leaving a conviction in God. We feel betrayed by God. We question how it was even possible to be led down this path? Is it God's fault? Is it our fault?
For the author, she literally had to decide what to do the day "after" she left her clergy position with her church, whereas for some the realization they've left might take a long time.
Barbara Brown Taylor went through actual physical withdrawals, finding herself on the floor with horrible headaches. It seemed she started pulling herself together by remembering the Sabbath and making time for a personal relationship with God, rather than all the doing for everyone else. Her healing came through nature and by opening her mind to other religions, weighing them against her own, and finding peace somewhere in the middle.
The author found it hard to go to other churches, and her the transition from leader to follower was unsettling. For me, just attending a Christian church felt like betrayal on the highest order! I'd jumped off the jet and onto the bullcart! Oh what we can do to our spiritual lives.
Like the author, I couldn't find spiritual or emotional support. Local Christian Pastors had no experience to counsel me, and for Barbara she'd been the counselor!
Our differences part here, as Barbara went off looking for the meaning behind other religions and embraced them, while I had been down those "many roads," and had settled onto the Road to Damascus.
She wrote a moving story of her father's decline and death from cancer, another subject that I'm very familiar with, and she made this astute observation while watching him die and wondering about his relationship with God: "All I found out was how helpless love can be, with nothing left to do but suffer alongside with the beloved."
I highly recommend this book to affirm that the loss of a church can be devastating but the return to spiritual health entirely possible....more info
Touching Mind and Heart... Acclaimed Episcopal priest, Barbara Brown Taylor, finds herself after twenty years of pastoring "burnt out" and in need of spiritual reflection. She decides rather abruptly to leave, with the permission of the Bishop, and to take time to explore the "edges" of Christianity and spirituality, after years of explaining and proclaiming the "center."
Her journey is personal, yet universal, a time of searching and seeking, rethinking old assumptions and beliefs and exploring the very foundations of life. No one can read this book without finding nuggets of thought, of challenges to one's own life, of questions and explorations of our own faith journey.
Some have found her thinking infected by "New Age" philosophy and other uncommon spiritual approaches leading her away from the central truths of Christianity. I found her thinking profound and provocative, a strengthening of faith rather than the opposite. The book is especially recommended to church members and officials because in some telling passages she relates how difficult it is to relate to church members on a casual basis in that many believe they have to assume a mantle of religious thought and themes, rather than just be themselves, when talking to clergypersons.
She is a fine writer, sometimes poetic, never tiresome nor pedantic. Highly recommended for the permanent bookshelf of books to pick up now and then when your batteries are low.
Changing Perception Of MInistry This memoir by Barbara Taylor was quite insightful of the role of clergy in today's world. Her message of ministering to mankind are refreshing. Serving God and others does not have to take place in a church but can be done where ever we go. As disciples of Christ we need to serve each other in our homes,communities and our world. I read this book to prepare for a visit of the author to our church. I was pleasantly surprised at how much I enjoyed the book. I look forward to meeting and hearing Barbara Taylor in person. Christians of any denomination would enjoy this book....more info
A Personal Schism Barbara Brown Taylor's "Leaving Church" is a vivid memoir describing her journey from being an Episcopal priest to living in Nature. Taylor, ironically, is still teaching about religion, though she is no longer a religious. She has been laicized. Her departure from the ordained ministry reflects the current divisions within the Episcopal Church (USA).
Taylor's "Leaving Church" illuminates,like a medieval manuscript,the life of an ordained woman within ECUSA,as well as in a part of the country where female pastors aren't that much accepted. ECUSA has ordained women for three decades, but there are still dioceses--and people--that resist. It's fascinating to see the women's ordination issue from a woman's firsthand perspective. The description of her ordination is powerful. She briefly mentions the LGBT issues within ECUSA as well, reflecting that the pastors who mentored her might very well have been gay. Unfortunately,she is far too brief in describing the debates within her parish.
"Leaving Church" ends with Taylor,no longer an ordained priest,living as a priestess within Nature. No longer governed by the liturgical cycle, she lives by Nature's cycles. "Leaving Faith" leaves the reader hungry for more....more info
Helped me on my spiritual journey I'm one of those "great generation" representatives who fell away from the organized Christian church in my young adulthood after an excellent religious and theological grounding in my youth. I never found a way or reason to return, although I remained very spiritual. This book, which I have read twice now, was very much like being with a fellow traveler although our needs and experiences were different. I strongly recommend that anyone on the religious spectrum read it for an honest spiritual path that is not quite the norm but still on the path....more info
Will the real Jesus please stand up? Barbara Brown Taylor has beautifully written an autobiography of her walk into and out of the Episcopal priesthood. She writes of her eventual burn-out in the day-to-day needs of parish work, and her search for God in and out of the priesthood. She eventually leaves the active priestly role in favour of teaching in a nearby college. I admire her intense committment to her spiritual walk, but at the end, I felt that she had somehow missed Jesus in the depth of her life. She wonders if He is found in a spiritual experience in an Indian sweat lodge, or on a Lakota vision quest. "...Cleto took Ed to the Rosebud Indian Reservation in South Dakota, where a Lakota Sun Dance chief named Elmer Running took everything away from Ed but one wool blanket and sat him out on a hill to pray for two days without food or water. When I met Ed at the Atlanta airport, I had a hard time recognizing him. He had shaved his beard for one thing. His eyes were like small suns in the middle of his s un burned face... On the way home he said many things, but the one that stuck with me was, 'You make church too easy.'... Ed was deeply involved in Lakota ways. Since these are the ways of prayer, he was able to remain Episcopal as well, or perhaps I should say that he was only able to remain Episcopal because of these ways, which offered him concrete means of practising his faith that teaching Sunday school and singing in the choir did not." Well, I agree with Ed, that we certainly do make church too easy. But love of the liturgical experience does not remove the onus on each Christian to individually find Jesus within the parameters that Jesus Himself has set for us. Ms. Taylor's faith over time becomes polluted with New Age thinking, which she doesn't seem to recognise for what it is: a moving away from the absolutes of the Christian faith: Jesus said, "I am the way, the Truth and the Life. No one comes to the Father except by Me."
I loved the book for it's honesty, it's exploration of a committed Christian's walk, and the beautiful quality of the writing. I would recommend it without reservation.
J. Durkin, Colorado Springs...more info
Leaving Church Veru Helpful I saw myself at times in the book. Instead of a career change, I decided to study for myself once a week....more info
LEAVING CHURCH follows her spiritual journey, providing in the course of the trip many insights Barbara Brown Taylor's LEAVING CHURCH: A MEMOIR OF FAITH tells of the author's dream of becoming the pastor of her own small congregation after nine years serving on the staff of a large Atlanta church - a dream which was to lead to her realization that she might have to leave the church to serve more effectively. LEAVING CHURCH follows her spiritual journey, providing in the course of the trip many insights on the pressures on spiritual leaders.
Leaving Church: A Memoir of Faith by Barbara Brown Taylor I have read virtually everything Barbara Brown Taylor has written. This is her story, one that many of us pastors experience in our ministry. It's a must read for those of us in parish ministry....more info
a very freeing book For those who no longer "fit" in church, this book offers freedom from the guilt that may accompany one's choice to leave the church. Taylor writes from her own experience, with open-hearted vulnerability. I highly recommend this book....more info
Burnout When I saw the author, Barbara Brown Taylor, interviewed on TV, I was so impressed by her clarity, beauty, and honesty, and her essential love of Christ, that I had to buy the book and find out why she left the church.
Turns out that she left only a part of the Episcopal Church, in which she had been ordained. After serving as associate pastor in a large Atlanta church, she and her husband decided to leave the city for a small rural church. Here she experienced, and describes with compassion and wit life in a small town and the rewards and tribulations of a small church parish priest. As a former resident for many years of a small town (under 700 population) I can attest that this part rings true. I also now know well two Episcopal parish priests, one in a small church and one in a large one, and they are now going through the same stress and dissention as well as rewards of being a parish priest. As Ms. Taylor says, and as I see in the priests I know, ministering to others bewcomes so all consuming that the priest has no time for him or her self or family. This fiinally led Ms. Taylor to resign as a parish priest, but luckily she was able to continue her service to the Lord as a teacher, as Jesus was. This book is very well worth a read by anyone interested in church or religion. ...more info
Mixed Feelings For a long time, any new collection of Barbara Brown Taylor's sermons was "must reading" for me. Her gift for storytelling, combined with an ability to get down to one gem in sometimes complex texts, provided fertile ground for meditation.
Then came a long stretch where I no longer snapped up her books -- until this recent "memoir of faith." It is clear that Barbara Brown Taylor has changed, and she shares those changes in this elegantly written book.
As she took this reader through her own journey from large urban parish to teaching (with a stop in a small country parish), she examines her interior life and her need for control. In a very moving passage, she describes her first Sunday in the pew instead of leading worship. Her candor in describing her desire to still be at the center of attention is something that speaks to anyone who has surrendered the spotlight, whether voluntarily or involuntarily.
Yet, as I read the section dealing with her life in her small country parish, I couldn't help but experience a disconnect. Her descriptions of feeling overburdened and of overcompensation leave out a very key part of why that might have happened. At the same time that she is pastoring this church, she is also spending a lot of time elsewhere as a guest preacher, member of the College of Preachers, and retreat leader. Yet there is no mention of the possibility that steady travel and multiple responsibilities might have played a role in both her feelings of burnout and some difficult relationships with parishioners. Memoir, by its very name, is naturally selective, and a memoirist has the right to pick and choose what to leave in and what to leave out. But the gloss over that aspect of her life seemed to be rather disingenuous and, in the end, cast a pall over my response to her story.
Barbara Brown Taylor has indeed changed, and is still a woman of faith. I'm grateful for that and for her writing. I only wish that she had addressed, even in small part, the public aspect to her ministry that surely played a role in changing her feelings about the meaning of ordination for her. After all, if she did not have a national reputation, what are the odds that this story would find any outlet?...more info
Engrossing, Frustrating I have been nourished in my faith by Barbara Brown Taylor's writings and presentations over the years. This book is no different. Once I began reading it, I was engrossed in her images and descriptions and connections, as she described her spiritual and professional journey. In many passages, she writes moving descriptions of the grace that happens in congregational life. I highly recommend this as an example of intellectually honest and deeply rooted faith. I have been thinking about it a great deal in the months since I read it.
I give the book four stars, though, because of frustrations I felt while reading it! I have been a Lutheran parish pastor for 27 years, which is an experience very similar to being an Episcopal parish priest. I was frustrated to read Barbara Brown Taylor describing her over-functioning, which led to her burn-out in both congregations she served. I was frustrated to read passages in which she recognized instances of grace in congregational life only in retrospect, after leaving parish ministry. What a shame! If a pastor/priest insists on overfunctioning, congregation members will let him/her! But, in any healthy congregation, members are ready to help the pastor/priest set and maintain boundaries, so that, for instance, s/he is not overwhelmed by the few in the congregation who are neurotically needy, so that s/he is not consumed by draining administrative duties. Members of a congregation want their clergy person to be nourished by prayer and study. That is extremely time-consuming. But, in that time, God gives great energy to the pastor/priest, and increases his/her compassion and the depth of his/her preaching and teaching. That's what congregation members look for. I think that's what Barbara Brown Taylor was also looking for! My frustration is that she did not have to leave the parish ministry to find it.
Perhaps the book does deserve five stars because it is so provocative! Indeed, it would serve as a fine study for clergy and parishioners who are open to talking about these issues of congregational life....more info
Cathartic, Even for Me Barbara Brown Taylor never claims that her approach to the ministry was typical, nor does she advocate that other people follow her footsteps in leaving the church (although she does have some interesting suggestions for empowering churchgoers and the faithful in general). Her story of "finding, losing, and keeping," is merely one personal narrative that successfully avoids the pretense that everyone shares the same dramas and should therefore listen to her wisdom. She is not selling anything. Her book is rather an intimate, articulate self-revelation about her path in the world.
I am a non-religious person, and I am often wearied, threatened, or offended by religious perspectives and narratives that don't honor the humanity in all of us. Taylor's book did not put me off: I read it voraciously, I frequently found myself crying, and the book left me emotionally drained but satisfied. It was cathartic. I learned a lot about her particular experience as a priest, which satisfied my curiosity, but better yet, I easily followed her into deeply incisive but poetic analyses of her own behavior, reactions, expectations, needs, desires, and hopes. One of the final lessons, that some people thrive "in the wildnerness" and others thrive in the central church, and that all are needed and wanted by God, was a refreshing and reassuring view of faith.
I can see why Taylor's desires for solitude and nature, and her fortune in living on a beautiful rural ranch, might not be representative of a good priest. In fact, she herself states that she might have been better qualified as a religious hermit. I won't go away thinking that all priests think as she does; it's clear even from her book that they don't. But I was grateful to Taylor for sharing her vision of faith with me. In a sense, with this book, I think she has again achieved her priestly mission of "finding holiness and holding it up to God."...more info
Missing a Sense of Call I have enjoyed Barbara Brown Taylor's essays in The Christian Century and there is no question that she is a talented and descriptive writer. This book is a pleasant (and quick) read largely because her prose flows so beautifully.
On the other hand, I had some issues with this book. As someone who is also ordained (United Methodist), I know firsthand the pressures that one faces in parish ministry. There's never enough time, there's always a need, and "compassion fatigue," as Taylor puts it, is a real-world possibility. For me, however, ministry is first and foremost about calling--that God is somehow involved in choosing us for this work. That doesn't make us special or spiritually pedestal-worthy (as one of my seminary professors once put it, "When God calls you to ministry, he isn't doing you a favor."). Taylor's story as I read it seems to involve more of a drift toward ministry as a helping profession where baby birds and wounded souls can be healed by clergy touch. I'm not always sure that that's a healthy vision of ministry, especially when its the only one. The call to lead, to be prophetic, to teach, to handle the tough stuff, and to be the called out representative of God is hard work and being faithful to the task is less about being a "helper" and more about being an "equipper." Setting healthy boundaries and revisiting our call frequently are two of the essential tasks of clergy if we're going to stick with God's call on us for the long haul. Ultimately, ministry isn't about us--it's about what God does through us.
The other thing that I had in the back of mind as I read was the fact that Barbara could leave parish ministry with minimal disruption to her life. She was able to stay in the house that she and her husband built, live in the same community, take a job teaching at a nearby college, etc. For most clergy who are thinking about "leaving church," the decision carries far greater consequences. That's not to justify staying in a position that is draining life from you, but it does mean that when most of us are called it's a full commitment of our resources and lives to a particular place for a particular time. Simply stopping work for a time is not a live option. If you're called, though, you tend to not be looking at other options anyway and learn to work through the rough stuff.
On the positive side, her embracing of Sabbath is something I want to pursue for myself and her reflections on what she misses about serving a parish (offering the sacraments, for example) remind me of what I like best about what I do.
This would be a great book for a clergy group or parish council to read together and discuss. The issues of what ministry is today and how clergy might best fulfill their calling is worth some serious discussion....more info
Leaving Church For many years I have started reading a book, then departed at about the second chapter with intentions to return, but never did. Early yesterday morning I started reading "Leaving Church" and could not stop to get ready for Sunday School. This morning I was able to finish. Thank you, Barbara Brown Taylor, for sharing with me and others all these wonderful words.
The book has deepened my faith considerably. I have marked the paragraph at the bottom of page 216. I have read it over and over just to absorb the final words: " . . . the Bible (is) its own kind of miracle, but I hope to never put the book ahead of the people whom the book calls me to love and serve."
A fine book A surprising work by a gifted writer. Mrs. Taylor here acknowledges something that may be true for many clergymen and clergywomen: the need to be in the center, in the spotlight, the focus of attention: the need to be loved and appreciated.
Between the lines of this book is an account of a needy, almost obsessive-compulsive person, frantic to get every detail right in her small country parish. She finally falls apart, or comes close to it. She is led to wonder why it--her vocation--hasn't worked for her.
It's a good question. Why have others managed to keep going for 40, 50 years without a sabbatical? She seems to have felt as if she couldn't be herself, couldn't be present when an off-color joke is told, while in clericals. But this hasn't stopped many other Episcopal clergy I have known--perhaps saintly, not in their perfection but in their imperfection, their desire not to serve/be served but simply to do the best they could and leave the rest to God. Perhaps we're in a different era, in which community validation is not what it used to be. But I doubt that that's the whole story.
What this book reminds us is that, as my wise godfather said, everyone--absolutely everyone--has exactly the same amount of time. How we use it is our choice. Many times we allow ourselves to get tangled up in our own underwear....more info
"A Walk Around The Lake" In this abundantly accessible account of what I would describe as a life well lived, Barbara Brown Taylor gives the reader a glimpse into that life as she has sought to find the truth, both inside and outside the organized church. She has always tried to listen to the beat of her own drummer that sometimes was literally that of Native Americans. No longer a rector in the Episcopal Church but a college religion teacher, she has, as she so aptly puts it, now left the altar and pitched her tent in the yard. She says she has now learned to "prize holy ignorance" over "religious certainty." Like that great poet Emily Dickinson, she now often keeps the Sabbath staying at home.
Almost 20 years ago at All Saints Episcopal Church in Atlanta I heard Barbara Brown Taylor speak at a memorial service for persons who had died of AIDS. I had no idea who she was at the time. I only knew that her remarks both seared and comforted my heart. To this day I remember them. This priest, as she still sees herself although she is no longer a rector, is nothing if not good with words. She is less into "fireworks in the sky" than "the electricity that sparks the human heart." Taylor compares the position of a priest to that of the chief engineer in a nuclear plant. "In both cases, one needed to know how to approach great power without loosing great danger and getting fried in the process." She describes her new position at Grace-Calvary Episcopal Church after the death of the former, much loved rector: "Like the second wife of a widower, I wanted to make up for what they had lost. . .without trying to take his place." In her first day of teaching a religion class at Piedmont College, she encounters a student, a Hindu from Sri Lanka, who has "had lots of practice with pronouns snapping shut on him." The list goes on and on. How very fortunate were both those parishioners and now her students who have taken advantage of her wisdom.
One of Taylor's favorite quotations is by the poet Wallace Stevens: "Perhaps the truth depends on a walk around the lake." Those of us who have read this really wondrous memoir can be thankful of our brief but enlightening walk around the lake with her.
From religious certainty to holy ignorance Barbara Brown Taylor concludes her well written book by stating, "I have learned to prize holy ignorance more highly than religious certainty and to seek companions who have arrived at the same place. We are a motley crew, distinguished not only by our inability to explain ourselves to those who are more certain of their beliefs than we are but in many cases by our distance from the centers of our faith communities as well." Several pages later she goes on to say, "I will keep faith - in God, in God's faith in me, and in all the companions whom God has given me to help me see the world as God sees it - so that together we may find a way to realize the divine vision." I find it interesting that Ms. Taylor believes that one comes to see the world as God sees it by joining a community of like-minded, ec-centric (that is, off center) individuals. Is this not unlike conservative Christians who believe that they will only come to see the world as God sees it by embracing a faith that is true to the Bible, in spite of the fact that such a faith will certainly be offensive to the world in which they live? On the one hand, we have Ms. Taylor and her eccentric companions cobbling together a faith of their own making, while on the other hand, we have an equally dedicated community of believers seeking to embrace a faith grounded in what they believe to be the inspired, inerrant Word of God. In spite of Ms. Taylor's words to the contrary, she has done a very good job of explaining herself. I simply don't agree with her liberal-leaning (if not, liberal) conclusions. Just as, I'm sure, she would not agree with my conservative conclusions. However, Ms. Taylor gives us a glimpse of her heart for dialogue and mutual understanding with the following words, "While it is generally more pleasant for me to encounter people who support my view of reality, I am finding that people who see things otherwise tend to do me a lot more good." As one who "sees things otherwise", I appreciate Ms. Taylor's painfully honest portrait of her journey thus far and I can only hope that those who do not share her theology will receive the gift that this eccentric saint has to offer rather than running to the center of their faith community for shelter. ...more info
Highly engaging faith story. Barbara Brown Taylor's well written book is a delight to read. While she articulates beautifully her struggle to make a life-changing decision about her profession she also engages the lay person who is struggling with issues regarding church membership in the twenty-first century. I highly recommend it to anyone who is trying to find a way to remain loyal to a church that has not kept pace with his/her faith journey....more info
One of her best Paragraphs read like poetry. The touches of humor gracefully depict her humanity....more info
Enjoyable This was a pleasant, easy read that I finished over a busy weekend. So much of what Barbara had to say gave voice to my own thoughts and experiences....more info
Exceptional Barbara opens the doors of her life, her heart, and her journey of faith and invites the reader to join her in these intimate sacred spaces. Anticipating Barbara's constant authenticity and abiding humor, this work of art is truly one of her best! It will delight and satisfy a variety of readers with a diversity of faith backgrounds. She shares in such a way though, that speaks directly to the hearts of the priests, clergy, and pastors who share in similar journeys of ordained life. ...more info
Authentic Review of her books takes one intuitive, introvert. Only when I completed Clinical Pastoral Education of 15 months in EMORY Hospitals did I fit into that Jungian Personality type of INFJ Or Introvert/Intuitive/Feeling/Judging!
If I had been fortunate to read or review any of Barbara Brown Taylor's books, it was "Mixed Blessings or "When God is Silent!
After hearing her in 1995, again in late 1990's Mercer Lectures, I finally read both of those! They made a profound impression upon me, and gave me the most readers up to then. They led me further into reading, "Whatever Became of Sin? "The Preaching Life, "Bread of Angels and "Home By Another Way."
Upon the release of LEAVING CHURCH, we heard Dr Taylor speak at St. Phillips. She revealed her motives and struggles of not losing her faith in loss of some identity! That seemed to be an audacious show of her courage!
Since writing my first review of LEAVING CHURCH, I have come to an entirely different understanding of her writings! Likely due to her personal revelation found in her Memorial Homily for Bishop Bennett Sims on Sat, July 29th. She was both intimately connected to him and beloved wife, Mary Page; also most deeply indebted for his profound influence of over 20 years... He had ordained her, 1983 in St Phillips beginning his influence in her four parishes.
She had like influences upon Dr John Claypool, Fr Tom Conley, Fr Bob Hudak and Chaplain Fred W Hood! Influences that may well continue in her lectures and books and preaching for years... Gratefully, Retired Chaplain Fred W Hood ...more info
Scary Chistianity I've heard over and over again, in Christian circles, that Christianity is not about religion, it's about relationship. It is easy to say that, to nod in approval, but it is seldom actually lived out. What starts out as a relationship, often becomes religion and we're not even aware of it. We absorb the dogma, learn to talk a certain way, participate in the "life of the Church" and that leaves precious little time to cultivate the relationship with God that we were hungry for in the first place. What are we to do if we want to return to the primary relationship with our Creator? Leave Church?
Maybe. One thing's for sure, there are no easy answers. Taylor, a gifted preacher and writer, with a keen desire to help others, tells us, in this personal memoir, of her own struggles with these questions. We all have to take our own journey through this life. There is no pattern or map. I know some will say, "Jesus is the pattern and the Bible is the map." I don't disagree with that, but making the application to our own lives is not as simple as that statement sounds.
As we move along the path we have to make choices, not always between good and evil. As Taylor points out, the choices are usually between good, better, and best. Knowing which is which, isn't even possible most of the time with our finite knowledge. But that's what faith is for. We trust in God, who is bigger than we are, and nourish the hope that he will lead us. Where he leads us may not be where we thought we wanted to go, but his presence there with us gives life and joy to the journey.
Reading Taylor's story of her own journey gives me hope and faith to continue on mine. ...more info
An Intimate Revelation The author has an intimate, self-revealing style that makes you feel like an old friend. Her descriptions invite you into her experience and allow you to share her journey. A great leisurely read under a shade tree on a pleasant day or on a cool day curled up on the sofa or in your favorite chair with a soft fire buning in the fireplace. Liberal and moderate Christians will enjoy the author's openess and sharing. Conservative Christians cannot help to see Christianity with a broader and more inclusive perspective. ...more info
A Path into and out of Church This story, written by one of the Episcopal Church's most eloquent and popular preachers, is moving in its honesty, and courage to follow the heart where God's leads. I am also an Episcopal priest who has chosen freedom over the confinement of parish leadership. Barbara Brown Taylor continues to give voice to many in the church.
A Revelatory Memoir When I began hearing rumblings about this book, I was of two minds. On the one hand, I quickly became interested. Barbara Brown Taylor is well-known in both preaching circles and Christian feminist circles, so her books (and in one instance, her self) showed up at my seminary quite often...and she's just a good writer. In addition, this is a book about her journey out of the church, particularly local church ministry, and I've been reading a lot of those types of stories the past few months. So to hear Taylor's story might be fascinating in itself.
I was hesitant to pick up this book for many of the same reasons. Taylor is a name that people are more likely to recognize than any other person I've heard tell their story of disillusionment, dissatisfaction, 'wanting to be free,' and so on. Her story, thus, will be more widely read and perhaps for many hers will be the first and only such story. But for me, this wasn't the first and thus part of my reaction was to question why hers should be more highly regarded or given closer attention. Taylor probably wouldn't suggest that it should, but I could see others elevating it due to her credentials and reputation. So I asked myself why I should bother with this book. True, it would be Taylor's story and no one else's, but it would be the latest in a long string of stories...not the first, not the best. There is no best, actually. In the end, obviously, I gave it a shot.
Taylor divides her book into three sections: 1) 'Finding,' during which she gets caught up in and burnt out by the busyness of ministry and ultimately abandons it, 2) 'Losing,' the interim period during which she discovers what life is like without the daily tasks of ministry, and 3) Keeping, where she's back on the upswing after 'detox' (my word, not hers).
During 'Finding,' Taylor details some of her experiences in the two churches in which she has served: first an urban parish in Atlanta and then a rural parish in northern Georgia. She is fairly successful in both, if indeed success is measured by attendance and attentiveness to daily work. She ends up moving from the urban church to the rural because she's anxious to get away from the hustle and bustle of city life to her romanticized notion of a quiet country church where you can hear the birds and see the stars. Once she moves there, she reasons, she'll have more time to spend with God, which only proves to be a setup for disappointment. She's no less busy in the country setting, and she actually becomes disillusioned with the country church quicker than she became disillusioned with the city church.
I had some big issues with 'Finding.' Taylor operates largely under the assumption that if she can find a job that is 'less busy,' she can have more time for personal contemplation. This communicates a few things. First, Taylor seems to be looking for the Perfect Job, which comes off a little self-serving (and naive) as she moves from country parish to her eventual landing spot as a college professor. In addition, I found myself thinking, 'The pastor/priest is not unique when it comes to lamenting a lack of personal/devotional time, nor are we unique when it comes to feeling overworked and wanting more time off. But not everyone is able to just walk away in search of something less busy...whatever that means.' So I can't say that I had a lot of sympathy for the first section in that sense, but could identify as a pastor with the busyness, the desire to feel important and needed, and some of the conflicts that she has with parishioners.
'Losing' is sort of the meat of the book, because here she shares her revelations post-ministry. Here is where she sits on her porch on a Sunday morning for the first time without worrying about leading a service or preaching a sermon. Here is where she visits a few different churches and has to come to grips with not being in the spotlight (and looking at the back of people's heads). Here is where she discovers something about God's wildness and unpredictability that the church has tried to tame through endless doctrinal bickering and declaring God safe and unthreatening in theology and practice. Here is where she doesn't have people trying to act more holy around her because she's wearing a collar. This is the most revelatory portion of the book. The only gripe I have with it is that she has a three-month reprieve before her new job starts. This is helpful to her transition, but the relief that she feels when she is suddenly not busy anymore is a luxury, given that she doesn't have to start teaching until the following semester.
'Keeping' is sort of Taylor's epilogue. She first lists what she's kept from her life as a priest, and then moves to what she has realized since her initial move into a post-church life. This part of the book could have, in some ways, been included with 'Losing,' but given the amount of time that has passed between the two it is perhaps appropriate that they are separate.
All in all, for me personally this was not a revolutionary read. I attribute that to my own familiarity with most of her ecclesiological and theological reflections through other authors, books and media. For one brand new to such concepts and/or steeped in church life, this may be challenging, scandalous, eye-opening or even affirming. If it is your first brush with a story of this stripe, it is a good place to start. If it is your second, third, fourth, or more, you can read it if you want. Taylor is an excellent writer. Read it if you want to hear another exodus-from-church narrative, and if you do, pay close attention to the second section because that's where you'll find its heart....more info
Thanks for sharing your journey! When I began reading this book, I felt misled. I had ordered it on an impulse caught by the title, thinking it was referring to someone who had left the church altogether. I should have known better, yet I was disappointed about what seemed to be another book for church "insiders", annoyed by the identification of church and parish ministry. Very late in the book, BBT discovers she is still "on holy ground" even in the college classroom. But why isn't her broadened view reflected in the title? Yet despite my initial disappointment, I ended up reading the book from cover to cover with great interest and pleasure. What kept me reading was the beautiful language, the clarity, the honesty, the humor, the wonderful use of metaphors, BBT's ability to give theological meaning to every experience. Speaking of honesty: It appears to me that BBT downplays her publishing and workshop activities, which must have been pretty extensive already then and added to her workload in the church. I do appreciate that she does neither generalize nor preach, but explains her faith journey in a very personal way. It's up to us to draw our own lessons, and there are many!
Leaving with grace It has been my privilege to speak with Barbara Brown Taylor on occasion about the tension many thinking people feel between traditional church life and their personal doubts and disbelief. Especially by those who play official roles in it. This book is a courageous gift by someone who is looked up to as something of a hero of the faith (at least in the circles I inhabit). It is a coming-out story and the painful territory she sketches is very familiar to me as someone who gave up my ordination and yet still employed by a denominationally-linked seminary. In our God-frenzied nation, it is by no means a safe thing to leave church, so I admire BBT greatly for the risks she takes here to help us understand that faith and belief are two different matters.
I read this book like a thriller whose mystery would be revealed at the end. Just how far would BBT leave the church? Would she renounce her orders? Quit attending worship at all? Anounce herself as an agnostic? She is coy about these things -- which makes the reader assume that she has not yet resolved all the ways that living in the institutional church over the years can entangle one's life. Maybe she is in a resting place, a new home that she can settle in for the rest of her days like her blessed land in North Georgia. Or, maybe, it is a journey only part-way home....more info
Leaving Church This book is such a good read and truly reflects much of my personal experience- I treasure the author's way of writing about nature and so many of her feelings....more info
Always a good read BBT has been a favorite author for many years. This book is just another in a series of thoughtful, spiritual and hope-filled writings from a great author....more info
interesting journey I enjoyed reading the memoir Leaving Church. I enjoy hearing other people's faith journeys and this was well written. It shows that faith and seeking God broadens and changes as it grows. The author is open about this process and how it isn't always easy, especially when you are invested in the process....more info
Another great Taylor book I must admit in the beginning that I am a Barbara Brown Taylor fan. She is an excellent writer as well as a truly honest human being. To be able to write an auto-biography such as this is admirable.
It seems to me that many of us question the institutional church. Ms. Taylor, who was so deeply engrossed in it as a priest of the Episcopal Church, was faced with the same question. She had the guts to follow
her inner-being and act accordingly, knowing that God's love for her will
never cease. God's kingdom doesn't need the institutional MAN-made church!...more info
Rev. Barbara Brown Taylor hits home for me, anyway I especially enjoyed the book because I could relate to it. I was in seminary and after one year, I didn't feel that I was on the right track for where I was suppoed to be the rest of my life. I could see so much of myself in Barbara's description of herself. Passionate about church and serving, Barbara lets the reader understand that it is not for everyone. I read the book twice as I prepared to leave seminary. It was powerful for me....more info
Less about faith than I expected This is my first book by Ms. Taylor, so I knew very little about her history or her place in the world, although it was clear she didn't really leave "the church" from the dust jacket and a cursory look at reviews. I thought she might cover more about a crisis in faith that she was able to surpass, or how she retained her faith while moving toward less connection to organized religion, which is a common scenario in America. Those two possibilities would probably have resonated more for me personally.
In any case, her story was quite interesting and finely crafted. The first section, from her youth down a path that eventually led her to ordination (in another religion, no less) mixed nicely the events, her motivation, and the unexpected turns without feeling too self-conscious "me" autobiography. One can appreciate her yearning for a small, highly personal congregation in a lovely little church.
The second part was more about on-the-job training and the inevitable burn-out from trying to do everything for everybody, pushing her own worship and honoring of God to the background. Rather than stepping back and finding a better balance, she chose the path of leaving her position and moving on to another career.
Perhaps she could have found the balance needed to survive long-term as a priest. I don't know. From the third section, I suppose it's clear she made the right choice and found a more natural calling for her gifts and personality. One may even conclude her faith found a more complete flowering once out from under the constraints a practicing priest must follow. I had the vague feeling that she was presenting her "outside looking in" story as more difficult than it really was, as the woman I learned about in the first two sections seemed made of what was necessary to find success in her new life without a true crisis.
Ms. Taylor was a pleasant diversion from my usual books. I probably won't read another one of hers, however. My own religious attitude may not be the right fit.
Transformational Reading Although the story is so specifically about a minister in transition, the journey she depicts can be recognizable and helpful to many. Any one who has ever made a major change in life, having "died" to their old ways in order to be "born anew" will find the insights and prose in this memoir both uplifting and truly helpful.
I have read other works by this author and found the prose in this book to be her clearest, most succinct and spiritually mature yet. Truly a great read!...more info
This book should come with a WARNING LABEL Heterodoxy and syncretism run rampant throughout this memoir. Such qualities are highly valued by some. But for those who are looking for "a memoir of faith" that points to Jesus, this book is not it. Taylor early in the book states that she could have as easily developed her faith by way of non-Christian religious practices as through the Episcopal Church, and ended up with just as good a relationship with whoever the Supreme Being happens to be. A lot of people share her opinion. They are the ones for whom this book is written.
I'm not questioning Taylor's sincerity or criticizing her right to her own religious beliefs; I'm just saying that some people may pick up the book under the false impression that Taylor will be describing a spiritual journey that is more in line with traditional orthodox Christian beliefs than it really is.
If you are sympathetic to Taylor's philosophy of faith, you'll like the book. It has some nice prose and turns of phrase. If you'd rather read a memoir by someone who developed a relationship with God through Jesus, believing him to be "the way, the truth and the life" as Jesus himself asserted, then you should avoid this book. It all depends on which camp you fall into....more info
Leaving Church -- An excellent book Leaving Church was possibly the best book I have ever read exploring the issues of religion and faith and everyday life. Taylor looks at the questions of 'what is faith?', 'what is Christianity?', and 'how do those ideas tie in, or have meaning for me in terms of my personal experience of the divine?'
She also looks at the issues common to many people, women in particular, of becoming so immersed in taking care of others that one utterly loses oneself.
Taylor has a way of showing us how the seemingly simple or straight-forward 'demands' of faith need to fracture into a prism of possibilities and concerns when confronted with the actual complexities of the tapestry of human life.
I would recommend this book to anyone attempting to live the best life possible, and torn by the compromises that come with having limited resources of time, money, and energy. Taylor has been there before us, and has many insights to share that lighten one's load and broaden one's perspective.
A very helpful book; a travel guide for faith journeys! Ms. Taylor has created a map of her journey from her childhood in a non-believing family to deep faith that developed after finding her place in the universe while simply lying in the grass one day. What makes her story interesting is that the reader can identify with her at any point. This story isn't just about the "highs" in her religious life (she becomes a very popular priest), but how she dealt with the difficulties that develop because of her religious devotion to God and to her parishioners. This book is a "keeper." You'll be tempted to make a lot of marginal notes-I can't wait to refer back to them when I re-read this book....more info
From another Pastor This is my first BTB book. I've been reading articles by her for a long time, but was intrigued with this title. Frankly, I find "religious" books tiresome and boring much of the time. But, Brown has captured so many of the struggles I have had with the institutional church with such grace and gentleness, that I found myself welling up many times while reading. Her phrasing and descriptive passages about the meaning of the collar and the vestments of ministry was particularly poignant to me. I found myself feeling deeply her experience of serving the elements of the Eucharist. I, too, feel the sacredness of that moment, even though I serve in a less liturgical tradition.
Would that all of us who long to "leave church" could find another satisfying answer to God's inexorable call on our lives. I found myself wondering, still, after the book was finished, how she was able to leave the pastoral ministry. Sometime I hope that I might get a chance to sit on a porch, rocking, with her and have her explain it to me. Each time I even think of "leaving Church" I feel the relentless call of God pulling me back to serve in the place that I, in many ways, find after these 20 years, I don't want to be.
Even though the book was wonderful, and has taken its place on my shelf along with LaMotte and other female authors I highly value, she didn't answer the "Why I left Church" question for me.
Perhaps not a book with universal appeal. I very much looked forward to reading this book and was aware that it was getting some very nice reviews. So, I was surprised to be underwhelmed and disappointed by it. Perhaps, if I knew the author, had heard any of her inspiring sermons or read her other works, I would view this memoir more favorably. Before writing this review I consulted with one other person in my church who just finished the book. Interestingly, that person had a very similar reaction to mine. I give the book 2 stars because it appears to resonate with some readers - perhaps, the majority of those who are actually reading it. But, I can't imagine that its appeal would be universal among general readers or even the niche of Christian readers. The best way to explain this thought may be through a comparison. Consider the book "My Struggle with Faith", by Father Joseph Girzone (author of the "Joshua" series): (1) it is an uplifting personal account with a clear intent to benefit and inspire the reader, (2) the book is all about faith and is fully relevant to clergy or laymen,(3) the cover bears the picture of a happy human face. In contrast, "Leaving Church": (1) is not uplifting and feels like a rationalization for the author's life decisions, (2) is not really about faith, but more about job burn-out and one person's struggle to achieve a healthy balance between personal and professional life, (3) the cover on my copy features a beautiful white bird fleeing from the gate of an antique cage - are we to assume that the author views herself as the beautiful bird and views the Episcopal Church as an antique cage?
Perhaps the author should be applauded for her honesty, but I was deflated by her apparent inability to sit in a pew after her own decision to relinquish her position behind the pulpit. I was also deflated by her admission of mourning the loss of social status once she removed the collar. These things represented conflicts to me because the author seems to want to convince the reader that she has achieved a better and purer form of faith now that she has left church.
I would definitely not recommend this book to people in search of their spiritual compass. Nor would I give this book to anyone who is enthusiastic about pursuing a life of service in the clergy....more info
Honest and Interesting and Well Written Barbara Brown Taylor's memoir was interesting and revealing on several levels.
On a personal level I appreciated her honesty about herself and how she grappled with the challenges of ordained ministry in the church.
On literary level, this is a fine work. It is elegent in choice of words and even poetic in places as she paints for the reader the currents of her life, thought and reflections on her ministry in the church.
On a theological level this book reveals a great deal about the agonizing struggle of so many in the church today over questions that are rooted in core theological convictions. What she reveals is her own core theological convictions (though without explicitly elaborating on them) regarding the authority and interpretation of Scripture, the person and importance of Jesus Christ for Christians (and others who do not profess to to be) and moral/ethical matters over human sexuality.
I enjoyed the book, less for it's biographical telling of the details of her life, and more for what it says about her own struggle within herself to serve in a church that has progressively abandoned historic Chritian orthodoxy and moral strictures to govern its common life and belief(a move which she certainly wishes were accelorated). ...more info
Hope Renewed The age of 76 years is not an easy time to have a crisis of faith. I was, and am, faced with many questions about my Church. After reading Leaving Church by Barbara Brown Taylor, the small questions have lessened in importance and a much larger picture has emerged.
I knew Barbara Brown Taylor to be a powerful preacher and retreat leader, but her writing has a personal tone with which the reader can identify and from which many answers can be gleaned.
I will read more of her books and feel that their importance is only now being realized by the faithful. For those of us who were, and still are, puzzled by the happenings in our Church today, her comments have been more than just helpful. They have kept me, and the friends for whom I have purchased the book, in the Church and hopeful for its future....more info
Losing and Finding Barbara Brown Taylor has created another winner. Her books always cause me to thing, again and again and again. In Leaving Church, she addresses the theological paradox of losing life to find it again. She uses her life experience of leaving the church and her ordained ministry to find God in a place of Sabbath time and communion with the Creator God. Her journey is personal, and yet its themes are universal. The Reader's Guide at the end of the book asks probing questions that help us to personalize Taylor's message and foster growth.
A Very Thoughtful Memoir Honest appraisal of the joys and the pitfalls of parish ministry for a caring woman. This book carried me gratefully through every page and I was sorry to come to the end. I especially appreciated Brown's ability to look at the idiosyncracies of church life without bitterness and with obvious understanding of human dynamics. I will read this again!...more info
For Pastors Who Have Considered Leaving Ministry
Nearly 18,000 pastors leave ministry each year in the United States. This is the story of one. Barbara Brown Taylor does a magnificent job of telling her story. She is a gifted writer. Any pastor who has struggled with the "pastoral call" will relate to portions of this book. I do have one word of caution to add. Taylor writes from a specific theological perspective. Those whose frame of reference is from another perspective might begin to tune out when confronted with the differences. Please, do not do so. This story goes beyond doctrinal distinctives.
Barbara Brown Taylor is an adjunct professor of Christian spirituality at Columbia Theological Seminary. She is an editor-at-large and columnist for THE CHRISTIAN CENTURY. She has written several books. She was named one of the 12 most effective preachers in the English-speaking world by Baylor University. Her story is worth reading.
Engaging & thought provoking... Barbara Brown Taylor is a gifted writer & I thoroughly enjoyed my time spent reading her memoir. I loved her descriptions of how she felt God led her from here to there and her thoughtful reflections on the meaning of her life. I loved her acceptance and open attitude toward others... she muses about what kind of a world would this be if we all LISTENED to each other and learned about each other, rather than judging and preaching. This book was a joy to read as well as offering me a hand down my own path of faith. ...more info
A kindred spirit I felt like I found a kindred spirit as I read Barbara Brown Taylor's journey of faith. I didn't want the book to end any more than I want a good coffee time with a friend to end. Barbara remains respectful throughout even as she "camps out on the edges" of the church world. A beautiful memoir. ...more info
4 1/2 Stars...Holy Ignorance The title of this book caught my eye from a bookstore shelf. It rang like a tiny bell, like one only I could hear. I had spent years in official "ministry," only to discover the alienation and drain that such a thing imposes on a person. I'd watched people change their demeanor and speech patterns in my presence. I'd realized the unintentional gulf that went against everything Jesus himself came to overcome. When I left that position, I did so hoping to know people as they really are, to meet them along the road, dusty and dirty as I.
On the surface, Taylor's book is more gracious and reverent than an Anne Lamott title, but her heart beats with the same frustrations and struggles. Her words ring true. The first third of the book covers her move toward ministry in the Episcopalian church, then we read of her slow disenchantment brought on by long hours and spiritual draining. Finally, we discover with her the freedom and true faith found in serving other people as one of them--not as one set above them.
There are numerous rich passages here, told with clarity and wisdom, sometimes revealed through symbolism. Although I don't necessarily agree with a few of Taylor's theological angles, I fully relate to her desire to serve God, to love others, and to stay somewhat sane in the process. While the motives of many clerics and priests may be sincere, the Mother Church (as Taylor refers to it) often takes over. The congregants, the baby chicks, are expected to stay within the safe shadows of the Church, and treated like heretics if they wander outside the yard. When Taylor describes her hunger to be part of the Mother's family, while also wanting to move on from being treated like a kid, I know just what she means. When she expresses her appreciation for holy ignorance over religious certainty, I nod my head vigorously.
For those still carrying the scars of organized religion, this book is a welcome glass of cold water--bracing, refreshing, invigorating. There is life out there. And beauty. And God's love still brings salvation to those who may never step through the doors of a church....more info
At last a book that expresses the Joy and the Drain of Church In the opening quotation to her book, Leaving Church: A Memoir of Faith, Barbara Brown Taylor shares these words from William Faulkner, "The only thing worth writing about is the human heart, in conflict with itself." With those prescient words, Taylor invites us to a deeply personal and moving story of her own journey of the heart, in particular her journey as a person of faith, called to minister in Christ's church. While the title may suggest a volume filled with anger or hostility toward the church, instead the reader is treated to a Valentine for faith, complete with the twists and turns of every powerful love story. For Barbara Brown Taylor is like so many of us in her relationship with the church -- one that is both deeply satisfying and life-giving and also taxing and draining at the same time. What makes her different is her ability to articulate the nuanced relationships of life and faith in God in ways most of us cannot.
From her childhood experiences of the divine through her years as one of America's most celebrated preachers, Ms. Taylor shares the inner world of a person seeking to be faithful to God's call while also seeking to live fully and authentically in God's dynamic creation. The prose is delightful and the emotion rings as sincere and deeply human.
Whether you find yourself at a crossroads of faith or simply hoping to gain compassion for those who are, this is a book to cherish. I forced myself to read it slowly, a chapter at a time, in order that it would last longer and feed me more slowly. In the last section of the book, Ms. Taylor observes this, "I may have left the house, but I have not left the relationship. After twenty years of serving Mother Church at the altar, I have pitched my tent in the yard, using much of what she taught me to make a way in the world."
Asked to speak to a church group on one occasion, the host asked Rev. Taylor, "Tell us what is saving your life now." She goes on to answer, pointing out that the beauty and depth of the question resonates with both a knowing and the recognition that we are changing all the time, as is our relationship with God and God's creation.
If you enjoy wonderful writing and themes of living in the tension of faith, you will simply love this book!
Bill Roseen, Atlanta GA
Honset, moving story of a personal journey In "Leaving Church," Barbara Brown Taylor chronicles her journey to the priesthood, her journey to a more rural church and finally her journey away from the church altogether. This, Taylor explains, was her journey to find meaning in the world--to better understand her relationship with God and, she says, to become more fully human. It's a story of the opening of her heart--how she learns to question the establishment while still loving it at its core. In discovering her own insecurity, insignificance and inability, in yearning for direction, Taylor opens her eyes to God in everything and realizes the power of God in everyday life. She finds meaning in her suffering and pain and, in the end, discovers that she made the right decision. Along the way, she also provides valuable insights about the Church today--the great things and the things that should improve. Taylor has written a tremendous book, immensely readable, about her journey that anyone desiring meaning or help for the search should read....more info
A Moving and Honest Look At Ministry And Faith I'm going to admit that when I select a ministry related book such as LEAVING CHURCH, I usually expect that the writer will tell a story about what leads to the pulpit, not what takes a person away. In LEAVING CHURCH, we find the opposite happening: Barbara Brown Taylor decides to give up parish ministry even though she seems to be effective and doing a wonderful job. I guess I decided to read it because I wanted to see how it would enfold. What I found was an interesting tale of faith that is both church related and personal. The fact that she seems to be following the movement of the Spirit in her life makes the book interesting and for this reason she has a great deal to say about the life of faith in general.
I think it could be argued that the title LEAVING CHURCH may be a bit misleading. She does not go from a life of faith to a life of no faith. From my reading of the book Taylor leaves parish ministry but from my point of view is still involved in ministry as a teacher and guest preacher. She leaves the pulpit in favor of the classroom but the call to both seems to be similar. If church is supposed to mean people of God, I'll agree that she leaves the edifice of a church building but she never abandons Church as in God's people.
For me, the book's greatest contribution is that it gives an honest look at the life of a person in ordained ministry. Few people who are not ordained ministers can understand what it means to be so intimately involved in people's lives in their greatest and worst moments. It is a privileged position and Taylor appreciates the opportunity. Likewise people who are not in ordained ministry do not always understand the expectations people have and how wearing a clerical collar does change the way the world looks at you. Taylor portrays accurately the strengths and pitfalls of both the role clergy people play in the lives of others as well as how taxing it can be. She's also very honest about how challenging the transition was as she went from being a priest at Grace Calvary Church to being just a member of the local community.
As a person in active ministry, I found much of the book very insightful. In Barbara Brown Taylor we see an Episcopal priest who did care for her congregation and took their spiritual needs as well as her own seriously. When we hear her say she had a hard time as a guest preacher in a congregation she didn't love because she didn't known them, we know that she did love her parishioners and recall the importance of love in her ministry. We also see that she is not in ministry for her own edification and ego. When she began having opinions that differed with her church's positions and the opinions of many of her congregants, she decided it was time to leave ministry. Too many do not have this insight and the result is a divided and alienated congregation. Her dedication cannot be questioned. However, there was something significant missing, at least for me. I think I would have enjoyed another fifty or so pages with tales about teaching and how she found God in the classroom. We are given a few glimpses of this, but it is summary form rather than the detailed prose of her ministry at Grace Calvary. Still, it's a great read for anyone in active ministry and offers some wonderful thoughts for people in transition too.
episcopal priest leaves church to save faith Most Christians devoted to parish ministry like Barbara Brown Taylor discover at some point in their lives the perilous interface between one's personal identity and the professional institution of the church which they serve. Often this interface brings a deep sense of satisfaction and fulfillment, but at other times it becomes a flash point for crisis. In the words of the Benedictine nun Joan Chittister, given the grace of experiencing the faults and failures of both myself and the church, how do I remain a "loyal member of a dysfunctional family?"
After ministering for nine years on the staff of a large Episcopal church in urban Atlanta, where she had lived half of her adult life, Taylor moved to Clarkesville in northeast Georgia, a town of 1,500 people and two stoplights. The prospect of serving Grace-Calvary Episcopal with its tiny sanctuary that seated 85 people was a dream come true for her, or so she thought. Her passion and competence spelled success, and after five years the church had expanded to four Sunday services. In the process she nearly lost her soul, and so she resigned, left church, and took an endowed chair of religion at nearby Piedmont College.
Taylor's memoir reads like an account of classic burnout--an exaggerated sense of self-importance, her "staggering" sense of ownership, a deep need to help others, a relentless work ethic, self-pity, a "heroic image of myself [and] a huge appetite for approval." All these led to a meltdown of bitterness, loneliness, uncontrollable tears, and resentment. "My role and my soul were eating each other alive," she writes. In addition to describing her personal issues that contributed to her crisis, Taylor also reflects on the church as an institution. Here too we discover familiar if frustrating experiences. While Jesus prayed for a kingdom of God, what we got was an imperfect church. The church guards its "center" and often persecutes those on the "edges." Rigid belief enforced by "jurists" marginalizes the "poets" who would rather "behold."
Taylor structures her narrative around the themes of finding, losing, and keeping. She discovered that what she really wanted was to become merely but fully human. She lost her parish job but gained Sabbath rest. She lost her professional identity but gained a far broader and deeper identification with all of humanity. Most important of all, she discovered a spirituality of imperfection in which "spiritual poverty is central to the Christ path." As this is what she calls a "love story" and a "memoir of faith," her candid narrative reminded me of the wise words of Erasmus who, after failing at rapprochement with Luther, returned to the Catholic church with all its imperfections. "I will put up with this church until it becomes a better church," said Erasmus, "and it must put up with me until I become a better person."...more info
A very important book for clergy in the modern church Taylor showed real courage in writing this book. She presented her personal story in a way that could help many clergy facing the same predicament. Not all clergy would choose her path of leaving parish ministry, nor does she recommend they do. This is not a condemnation of the current church at all, rather it is one poignant story of a priest that has dealt with the pressure so many experience of serving a congregation. Thankfully, Taylor only left local chruch, not the greater church. In this book she offers artful wisdom to a far to common condition. ...more info