When I was first ordained someone gave me a book of Barbara Brown Taylor’s sermons. I put them aside on a bookshelf meaning to read them some time but those early days of new ministry were awfully busy. Reading was way down on my list of priorities. I had had years of reading at University and Theological College… I wanted to be DOING.
Perhaps a couple of years later I heard someone raving about Barbara Brown Taylor, so I dug out the book and had a wee glimpse. Oh what a treat. What joys lay therein. These were sermons to dream over, to ponder, to come back to time and time again. And yes, I will confess to having pinched the odd idea from her.
A couple of years ago I heard that she had left the American Episcopal Church and my heart sank. What on earth had driven her to leave a successful ministry and go into teaching? She who was an icon for all women clergy in parish ministry. She whose preaching was so grounded in the people she served. She whose gift for storytelling and making connections was such an inspiration to the rest of us?
Leaving Church is the book that tells that story. I read it over two days with a pencil by my side marking phrases, paragraphs, whole pages to ponder again and share with my literary journal later. It is the book that you want all your busy, frazzled clergy friends to read before its too late. Passages like this:
I was not doing so well on the inside either. In spite of my best intentions, I had dug myself back into the same hole that I had left All Saints’ to escape. My tiredness was so deep that it had seeped into my bones. I was out more nights than I was home. No matter how many new day planners I bought, none of them told when I had done enough. If I spent enough time at the nursing home then I neglected to return telephone calls, and if I put enough thought into the vestry meeting then I was less likely to catch mistakes in the Sunday bulletin. As soon as I managed to convince myself that these were not cardinal sins, one of them would result in an oversight that caused a parishioner’s meltdown… (p98)
…Behind my heroic image of myself I saw my tiresome perfectionism, my resentment of those who did not try as hard as I did, and my huge appetite for approval. I saw the forgiving faces of my family, left behind every holiday for the past fifteen years, while I went to conduct services for other people and their families. (p102)
In the end BBT ends up in a good place. She seems happy finding new ways of being creative with God teaching spirituality to young people. Those of us who may not have such opportunities need to do something first before we end up disillusioned and very, very tired.
As my network of support seems to mainly come from social media like Facebook and Twitter these days, perhaps the church needs to look at ways of peer support in this area. As more clergy leave the church we need to ask why? BBT goes a long way to answering honestly some of those questions.