Why I Left Church And Why I Went Back Again

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old southern presbyterian chapel

When I left my church last year after more than a decade, I was partly relieved. I didn’t want to go to any other church, I was just spent after giving so much of myself and needed to process the intense, transformative experiences which I had there. And, quite frankly, I wanted to stay in bed on Sunday mornings.

As the months went by and I traipsed round church after potential church getting more depressed and angry each time, I started to think that I might not go back at all. It wasn’t a crisis of faith, but I certainly had a desperate lack of hope in the Church.

My questions about what Church is and how we do it have been growing in recent years. As someone who loves to innovate and experiment, I struggle with the sameness of it all, and I really feel my blood boiling when we do what we’ve always done but call it something new and ground-breaking.

On top of that, I’m battling with its disconnection with the outside world, the hypocrisy of much of what is taught, the judgement most people feel when they sit in the pews, the way it saps your time and energy, the sexism, the inequality and just how unbelievably boring it can be.

No wonder millennials who crave authenticity are dropping out of Church in droves. Most of the time I don’t blame them.

So often it seems like Church is a weak and pathetic expression of who God is and what I believe he calls us to be. It’s embarrassing and I’d rather not be associated with it.

About six months after leaving my church, I was taken into hospital with a mystery illness. It wasn’t life-threatening, but it was a bit miserable. I’d been staying away from home so I wasn’t close to any of my friends and my husband was out of the country. For the first time since leaving my church, I craved its support. I had some lovely messages and visits from people which I was very thankful for, but I wanted to know that my church family were praying and rooting for me to get better. I realised there was a gap in my life and it was only that community which could fill it.

For the first time in a long while, I remembered why I needed Church.

As I’ve begin exploring churches again, I’ve set my expectations low. There are going to be things that annoy and frustrate me wherever I go. I won’t agree with all the preaching or the way the services are run. I’ll probably experience all of those struggles described above. And I definitely would rather have a lie-in most weeks.

But what I crave and what I need is a community of people who care about me, who spur me on, who get the whole God-spiritual-supernatural thing. People who are like and unlike me, people with whom I don’t have much in common, who’ve had different experiences, each with their own story to tell of what led them to that place. I need them to point me to God and share with me what they know to help me on the journey of faith. In a crisis it is them who I will turn to.

A healthy church is a melting pot like no other and it is this uniqueness that I love (much as it can also drive me mad). It is family with quirks and tensions and imperfections, and it’s hard work just like families can be. It’s human with all its mess and self-absorption. It’s nothing like what it could be like but it is an expression of the kingdom of God. Even in the chaos of it all, it is also a place where I have experienced hope, comfort and friendship in a way that I haven’t anywhere else, from people who I wouldn’t have met anywhere else.

At its best, it’s a place that has shaken me to the core, shaken me out of myself and changed my life. It’s woken me up to the brokenness of the world, and taken me into the stories of extraordinary individuals. And in this, it has shown me the depth and vastness of God in challenging and beautiful ways.

I guess I’ll be setting my alarm for Sunday mornings, after all.

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