Taylor, Barbara Brown. Leaving Church. A memoir of faith. Harper San Francisco. 2006.
B.T.- named one of the twelve most effective preachers in the English-speaking world by Baylor University. She lives on a working farm in rural Habersham County, Georgia.
This is a story about leaving the church not abandoning the church. Actually it is really about a career change that involves a transition with adjustments marked by a fairly high level of spiritual trauma. Barbara is a gifted story-teller, something that makes for a great preacher. Her story is a real delight to read. As a result of this read I have gained a clearer understanding of a position that I would describe as a ‘non-evangelical Christian’.
Barbara began her career when she was ordained as an Episcopalian priest in 1983. She was one of four priests at All Saints Church in Atlanta. Her husband Ed had an engineering firm in the same city.
As a child Barbara had a great sensitivity to and impressive understanding of what she calls “the Presence” (23), her idea of God. She demonstrated a very strong gift of compassion for those (creatures) in need. As a young adult she chose to go to seminary with no plans for ordination. While a student at Yale Divinity School she discovered Christ Episcopal Church and this ‘connection’ put her on the path of ordination. From the time of her ‘call’ it took five years for her gifts of ministry to be confirmed as a potential priest.
Concerning her motivation for ordination Barbara explains, “I wanted to move in with God on a full-time basis and ordination looked like my best bet”. (41) She served as an associate rector at All Saints Church in Atlanta for nine years. Her transition to rector of Grace Calvary Episcopal in Georgia was a major change for her.
Barbara succeeded a rector who had been at Grace for many years and had recently passed away. She described her feelings like “the second wife of a widower. I wanted to make up for what they (the congregation) had lost when Julieur died, without trying to take his place”.
When Ed and Barbara bought acreage and built their dream home the people saw this as a commitment to permanency. It turned out to be a short-lived dream. Two contemporary issues brought on the consideration that Barbara should consider leaving the church. The first was a rapid growth of Grace-Calvary that required some decision-making that caused division in the congregation and non-pastoral, administrative responsibilities that took Barbara way out of her comfort zone. The second was a denominational conflict over the ordination of lesbian and gay priests. These issues brought her to a crisis of faith. “I wanted to recover the kind of faith that has nothing to do with being sure what I believe and everything to do with trusting God to catch me though I am not sure of anything”.
Barbara’s transition from a rector of a flourishing church to a professor of religion at a local college is a moving story. “There was no mastering divinity. My vocation was to love God and my neighbour, and that was something I could do anywhere, with anyone, with or without a collar.” (209)
Leaving the professional association of the church included a great deal of ‘keeping’. “I will keep the prayer book and hymnal.” (215) “I will keep the Bible, which remains the Word of God for me.” (216) “I will keep faith- in God, in God’s faith in me, and in all the companions whom God has given me to help see the world as God sees it.” (230)