Wednesday, June 27, 2007

Leaving Church: A Memoir of Faith ~ by Barbara Brown Taylor

Leaving Church: A Memoir of Faith ~ by Barbara Brown Taylor, 2006

Baylor University named Barbara Brown Taylor one of the twelve most effective preachers in the English-speaking world. After ordination in the Episcopal Church, she served as a priest for two decades, and now she teaches religion at Piedmont College and is an adjunct professor of Christian spirituality at Columbia Theological Seminary. She is also a writer, having published more than ten books and now serving as editor-at-large and columnist for The Christian Century.

The title of this book may surprise many people who think "leaving church" means walking away from church.  Did she?  Yes, and no.   Yes, she put away her collar, left the church she was serving, and didn't go back.  Not going back is required of clergy in some denominations, like hers (Episcopal) and mine (United Methodist).  We don't go back because people would continue to go to her or me for the pastoral care we had been giving them.  But on the other hand, no, she did not leave God, which is what many think "leaving church" really means.

The book is divided into three parts:  Finding, Losing, and Keeping.  Taylor says the central revelation in her life is "that the call to serve God is first and last the call to be fully human" (p. xi).  In this book she explores what that has meant to her "in a world where religion often seems to do more harm than good" (p. xii).  She could see that "human beings never behave more badly toward one another than when they believe they are protecting God" (p. 106).

Taylor addresses the reason I don't usually tell people up front that I am an ordained minister when she says, "If being ordained meant being set apart from them [the people] then I did not want to be ordained anymore.  I wanted to be human" (p. 120).  Many pastors seem to enjoy being considered something special, but Taylor and I both see ourselves as one of the people.  I was especially interested to see that, after leaving her position as pastor of a church, she began to teach religions of the world.  While I was still pastor of my last church, I did the same thing.

This book will give you a look at what being a pastor is all about, the struggles as well as the joys, and "look[ing] at life through the windows of the church" in a context "so tightly focused that even my junk mail was Christian" (p. 168).   I rate the book 9/10, excellent.
An opposing point of view:


Dewey said...

I knew you used to teach religion, but I didn't know you used to be a pastor! How long did you do that?

This sentence struck me: She could see that "human beings never behave more badly toward one another than when they believe they are protecting God" (p. 106).

I think that a) an omnipotent God needs no protection from mere humans and b) a loving God would not want to see his people treating others badly in his name.

Bonnie Jacobs said...

I was ordained 20+ years ago and retired from Signal Mountain United Methodist Church after ten years as their pastor. Ordination is for life, and I occasionally do a funeral or a wedding or preach when someone goes on vacation. I continued to teach Religions of the World as an adjunct at Chattanooga State even after retiring from the church, and I hope that hasn't ended yet.

I very much agree with your comments about God.

Dewey said...

Your life is so interesting! I can really understand that policy of not going back to the same church one retires from. Aside from everyone seeing you still as the pastor, it might be awkward for your replacement, as well as upsetting for you if your replacement did things differently.

Susan Tidwell said...

It must be very fulfilling to find and read a book by someone whose life, beliefs, and thoughts so parallel your own. While reading it, did you feel she was speaking to you? or about you? Have you ever written a book?

Bonnie Jacobs said...

Susan, I did read the book looking for parallels, but our beliefs are not really the same and I never felt she was speaking to me or about me. Barbara Brown Taylor's understanding of God was different from mine even before she went to seminary, and while she was on a church staff most of the time, I was the sole pastor of all the churches I served except the one while I was in seminary in Atlanta. I'd have to write a book to explain my experiences, which I hope to do. But first I need to finish the one I'm writing for book clubs and readers.

NoVA Dad said...

I ran across your post on BBT while seeking out comments from others who have read her work; I'm so glad you enjoyed the book. I posted a lengthy review of "Leaving Church" on my blog last year after I read it, and I have several other of her books in my to-read stack. If you're interested in hearing her speak live, the Washington National Cathedral keeps a video archive of appearances by major speakers. If you go to this link,, the first link is to an appearance BBT made. Further down the list, you'll find a link to a tribute to Frederick Buechner (another writer you might enjoy) where BBT spoke.

I've really enjoyed poking around your blog, and hope you won't mind if I link it to mine for future visits!

Molly said...

Thank you SO much for providing me this link!! Yes, we are indeed on similar life paths and I look forward to connecting often in this virtual blogging world.

I was able to find this book at my local library and have placed it on hold. I am most anxious to receive it (hopefully by the end of the week) and begin reading it myself.