This post has been heavily edited and rewritten over the last week (not least the title, which I’m still not sure is the best it could be). There is much that has been left out which was on my heart but which I’m not convinced was wise for publication just yet. I hope that what remains is coherent and kind.
A little over a week ago, a friend posted a link on Facebook to the blog of an American pastor entitled 5 Really Bad Reasons To Leave Your Church. The post prompted a lot of interesting responses, some on Facebook, some on the blog itself. I wrote a first draft of a response in the weekend following, but couldn’t quite it right, whether that be in tone, in detail or in length. I found myself going off on all sorts of tangents. The best response was one of the first, where Hannah Mudge (@boudledige) engaged directly with the points raised in the article and looked at the analogy of escaping from an abusive relationship.
I queried the author about whether or not he thought there were any good reasons for leaving. I could not help but think of my own reasons and those given by a friend from the opposite end of the ecclesiastical spectrum from myself, The Artsy Honker. Where I got bogged down in my first draft was trying to recapitulate those, rephrasing my own past reasons in terms of Aaron’s post.
After a week of reflection, I think the lingering idea that has stuck has been that of emotional engagement. It takes a lot of courage to speak up about reasons for either leaving or considering leaving. If we view church as a family, then we can never “truly” leave, but we can move out of home and move in with others. So when I talk about leaving a church it’s never about giving up one’s faith. I am firmly of the idea that there are times and circumstances when it is right for someone to move on. At that point, one has a choice about how to go about it. One could just slip out of the door one Sunday morning and never come back or one can talk through with a pastor/minister/vicar (however you want to phrase it) the reasons why. Whether that means a face to face conversation or a written communication, that is up the individual and whatever is most helpful.
In any such conversation one has to bear in mind the well-being of the other party. I would hate to leave a church in any kind of a bad mood. If there is any critique to be given then this should be done graciously, with the aim of ultimately building up one another, or encouraging them. Likewise, if a church leader disagrees with such reasons, this should not be done in a condemnatory way. I think this was my issue with Aaron’s post, as it came across (bearing in mind, he’s American, so it may it not have translated well across the Atlantic) as unloving, judgmental and indicative of a pastor’s hurt pride.
Nomatter how good our intentions are, one thing we have to bear in mind is that we are fallible and get things wrong. If I try to be sensitive to someone else’s feelings as I move away then I may not get it right; I might say a word out of place or fail to mention something I should have done. The unity of the christian Church (as a whole) is vitally important. Yet we have different local gatherings for a wide variety of different reasons, whether they be because one favours a particular tradition or a hierarchical structure, while another is more liberal about such things.
Since moving to London last summer, the church I have settled at doesn’t meet on the 4th Sunday morning of the month, for reasons to do with the building we hire. What that allows me is the opportunity to be more ecumenical and visit another church in the local area, sharing fellowing one month with the united reformed church, another month with the methodists and just yesterday I went to an anglican church. I would love it if people from other churches dropped into us once in a while so we express a common identity in Christ, rather than living in parallel worlds which inhabit the same neighbourhoods, as can often happen.