Leaving Church: A Memoir of Faith

( 26 )

Overview

By now I expected to be a seasoned parish minister, wearing black clergy shirts grown gray from frequent washing. I expected to love the children who hung on my legs after Sunday morning services until they grew up and had children of their own. I even expected to be buried wearing the same red vestments in which I was ordained.

Today those vestments are hanging in the sacristy of an Anglican church in Kenya, my church pension is frozen, and I am as likely to spend Sunday ...

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Leaving Church

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Overview

By now I expected to be a seasoned parish minister, wearing black clergy shirts grown gray from frequent washing. I expected to love the children who hung on my legs after Sunday morning services until they grew up and had children of their own. I even expected to be buried wearing the same red vestments in which I was ordained.

Today those vestments are hanging in the sacristy of an Anglican church in Kenya, my church pension is frozen, and I am as likely to spend Sunday mornings with friendly Quakers, Presbyterians, or Congregationalists as I am with the Episcopalians who remain my closest kin. Some-times I even keep the Sabbath with a cup of steaming Assam tea on my front porch, watching towhees vie for the highest perch in the poplar tree while God watches me. These days I earn my living teaching school, not leading worship, and while I still dream of opening a small restaurant in Clarkesville or volunteering at an eye clinic in Nepal, there is no guarantee that I will not run off with the circus before I am through. This is not the life I planned, or the life I recommend to others. But it is the life that has turned out to be mine, and the central revelation in it for me — that the call to serve God is first and last the call to be fully human — seems important enough to witness to on paper. This book is my attempt to do that.

After nine years serving on the staff of a big urban church in Atlanta, Barbara Brown Taylor arrives in rural Clarkesville, Georgia (population 1,500), following her dream to become the pastor of her own small congregation. The adjustment from city life to country dweller is something of a shock — Taylor is one of the only professional women in the community — but small-town life offers many of its own unique joys. Taylor has five successful years that see significant growth in the church she serves, but ultimately she finds herself experiencing "compassion fatigue" and wonders what exactly God has called her to do. She realizes that in order to keep her faith she may have to leave.

Taylor describes a rich spiritual journey in which God has given her more questions than answers. As she becomes part of the flock instead of the shepherd, she describes her poignant and sincere struggle to regain her footing in the world without her defining collar. Taylor's realization that this may in fact be God's surprising path for her leads her to a refreshing search to find Him in new places. Leaving Church will remind even the most skeptical among us that life is about both disappointment and hope — and ultimately, renewal.

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Editorial Reviews

Frederick Buechner
I cannot overstate how liberating and transforming I have found Leaving Church to be.”
Peter J. Gomes
“This memoir [...] is full of surprises[...] In her renewal is our own.”
Nora Gallagher
“Taylor describes doubt, faith and vocation, their limits, and how the church both blesses and muddies the waters.”
Alan Jones
“A fiercely honest and gracious book about our primary vocation to be human.”
Thomas Lynch
Leaving Church is a canticle of praise to creator and creation.”
Lauren Winner
“I love this book . . . . Her beautiful, absorbing memoir will bless countless readers...”
Garret Keizer
"Lovely . . . revealing . . . poignant. . . . I found in Taylor’s narrative a companionable voice..."
Garret Keizer in Books & Culture
“Lovely . . . revealing . . . poignant. . . . I found in Taylor’s narrative a companionable voice...”
Atlanta Journal Constitution
“An Episcopal priest renowned for her eloquent sermons turns her talents to memoir...”
Columbus Dispatch
“Such is the power of Brown Taylor’s prose...and her humanity that this story becomes one of hope.”
San Diego Tribune
“A beautifully crafted memoir . . . . There is a refreshing honesty . . . a slice of courage in a world that too often refuses to admit its vulnerability. . . . Leaving Church does not bash the church. It is a love story about letting go and learning to live with the mystery of what may happen next.”
The Columbus Post Dispatch
“Told with insight, humor and compassion.”
Christian Century
“...Taylor at her best, writing about congregational moments with such artistic grace and wit that we see them afresh”
Kansas City Star
“A wonderfully gifted Christian writer and speaker.”
Detroit Free Press
“This new memoir is among the summer’s best books...”
ExploreFaith
“Even without the collar, Barbara Brown Taylor is one of our most important spiritual writers today.”
Living Church
“Taylor is a better writer than LaMott and a better theologian than Norris. ...she is the best there is.”
Atlanta Journal & Constitution
"An Episcopal priest renowned for her eloquent sermons turns her talents to memoir..."
Publishers Weekly
A widely acclaimed preacher, Taylor draws on her homiletical skills in this finely crafted memoir with a simple plot: an Episcopal priest exhausts her inner resources, first in an urban church and then in a small country parish; she changes jobs, struggles and finds renewal. Such a synopsis, however, does not do justice to Taylor's literary style in this rich evocation of her lifelong love affair with God. "When I think of my first cathedral," she writes, "I am back in a field behind my parents' house in Kansas, with every stalk of prairie grass lit up from within." Drawn to the church, she compulsively overworks: "I had such a strong instinct for rescue that my breasts fairly leaked when I came across those in need of rescuing." Though she has found new employment, she realizes she is still a priest: "I miss being a lightning rod, conducting all that heat and light not only from heaven to earth but also from person to person." Current and former clergy will relate to her comical and sometimes touching descriptions of parish life, while memoir buffs will savor her journey as she identifies her core beliefs, sets boundaries and learns to relish her "blessed swath" of the world. (May) Copyright 2006 Reed Business Information.
Library Journal
A frequent guest preacher and teacher at churches and universities across the country, Taylor (Christian spirituality, Columbia Theological Seminary) shares her life journey with particular emphasis on her full-time ministry as an Episcopal priest. She minces no words and gives witness to the idea that "we do not decide things as much as gravitate toward them." A keen storyteller, she shares her doubts about her vocation as well as admits that she finds it hard at times to worship God in a church community. Her quoting Philo of Alexandria-"Be kind, for everyone you meet is fighting a great battle"-epitomizes not only her own openness to tomorrow but also her acceptance of today. Those familiar with Marjorie J. Thompson's Soul Feast: An Invitation to the Christian Spiritual Life or Gerald W. Hughes's God in All Things (his sequel to God of Surprises) can expect to find comparable dramatic imagination and creative images here. This easy-to-read memoir is likely to speak to adults dealing with doubt, tension, or grief. Public libraries, large and small, can include for inspirational reading.-Leroy Hommerding, Fort Myers Beach P.L. Dist., FL Copyright 2006 Reed Business Information.
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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9780060872632
  • Publisher: HarperCollins Publishers
  • Publication date: 4/10/2007
  • Edition description: Reprint
  • Pages: 272
  • Sales rank: 46,388
  • Product dimensions: 5.30 (w) x 7.90 (h) x 0.70 (d)

Meet the Author

Barbara Brown Taylor's last book, An Altar in the World, was a New York Times bestseller that received the Silver Nautilus Award in 2012. Her first memoir, Leaving Church, received an Author of the Year Award from the Georgia Writers Association and won the Theologos Award for Best General Interest Book of 2006. Taylor spent fifteen years in parish ministry before becoming the Butman Professor of Religion at Piedmont College, where she has taught world religions since 1998. She lives on a working farm in rural north Georgia with her husband, Ed.

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Read an Excerpt

Leaving Church

A Memoir of Faith
By Barbara Brown Taylor

HarperCollins Publishers, Inc.

Copyright © 2006 Barbara Brown Taylor
All right reserved.

ISBN: 0060771747

Chapter One

The night that Ed and I decided to leave Atlanta, we were nearing the end of our evening walk when a fire engine tore by with lights flashing and siren howling. If we had been inside our house, the whole foundation would have shaken, as it did every time a dump truck or city bus passed by. Outside the house, the tremor took place in our bodies, as we shied from the weight of the metal hurtling by. We were both used to this. Both of us had lived in Atlanta for half our lives by then, and up to that point the benefits of living in a big city had outweighed the costs. The human diversity was worth the traffic. The great restaurants were worth the smog. The old friends were worth the burgeoning strip malls; and the old neighborhood was worth the property taxes, even if my car stereo had been stolen twice in one year. I do not know why the balance shifted that particular night, but it did. When the din of the fire engine had receded far enough for me to hear him, Ed looked straight ahead and said, "If we don't leave the city, I'm going to die sooner than I have to."

I knew what he meant. As one of four priests in a big downtown parish, I was engaged in work so meaningful that there was no placeto stop. Even on a slow day, I left church close to dark. Sixty-hour weeks were normal, hovering closer to eighty during the holidays. Since my job involved visiting parishioners in hospitals and nursing homes on top of a heavy administrative load, the to-do list was never done. More often, I simply abandoned it when I felt my mind begin to coast like a car out of gas. Walking outside of whatever building I had been in, I was often surprised by how warm the night was, or how cold. I was so immersed in indoor human dramas that I regularly lost track of the seasons. When a fresh breeze lifted the hairs on my neck, I had to stop and think, Does that wind signal the end of spring or the beginning of autumn? What month is this? What year, for that matter?

In the ICU, nurses wrote details like these on blackboards to help their dazed patients hang on to reality. Most days I could name the president of the United States, but my daily contact with creation had shrunk to the distance between my front door and the driveway. The rest of my life took place inside: inside the car, inside the church, inside my own head. On the nights when Ed and I walked, I sometimes talked with my eyes fixed on the moving pavement for more than a mile before an owl's cry or a chorus of cicadas brought me, literally, to my senses.

Only then did I smell the honeysuckle that had been there all along or notice the ghostly blossoms on the magnolia trees that deepened the shadows on more than one front lawn. The effect was immediate, like a shot of adrenaline straight to the heart. All these earthly goods were medicine for what ailed me, evidence that the same God who had breathed the world into being was still breathing. There was so much life springing up all around me that the runoff alone was enough to revive me. When it did, I could not imagine why I had stayed away so long. Why did I seal myself off from all this freshness? On what grounds did I fast from the daily bread of birdsong and starlight?

The obvious answer was that I was a priest, with more crucial things to do than to go for a walk around the park. I had been blessed with work so purposeful that taking time off from it felt like a betrayal of divine trust. I was a minister of the gospel in a congregation of close to two thousand people, set in the center of a city of never-ending human need. When I went home at night, I drove past homeless people pushing rusted grocery carts down empty streets, and hospitals with all their windows lit. I carried with me all the stories I had heard that day, from the young woman who had just discovered that the baby she carried inside of her was deformed to the old man who had just lost his wife of fifty-seven years. I knew that I would hear more such stories the next day, and the day after that, with no healing power but the power of listening at my command.

I knew that there were wonderful stories out there too, but most people do not need a priest to listen to those stories. Plus, when you are tired, you cannot hear those stories anyway. You get jumpy, like a fireman who has just finished a double shift and cannot go out to eat without expecting to hear a big explosion from the kitchen. After a bad couple of nights on call, even the candles on the table can make you nervous. In my case, I knew I was tired when I started seeing things that were not there. Driving home in the evening, I would see the crushed body of a brown dog lying in the middle of the street up ahead, causing a great howl of grief to rise up inside of me. By the time I reached the corpse, it had turned into a crushed cardboard box instead. When this happened twice in a row, I knew I was tired.

I had remedies in place to help me keep my pace. I climbed the StairMaster at the gym. I paid monthly visits to a pastoral counselor. I planned vacations to exotic places where there were no telephones. Some guilt was involved in all but the first of these, since I had the . . .

Continues...


Excerpted from Leaving Church by Barbara Brown Taylor Copyright © 2006 by Barbara Brown Taylor. Excerpted by permission.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
Excerpts are provided by Dial-A-Book Inc. solely for the personal use of visitors to this web site.

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Table of Contents


Introduction     ix
Finding     1
Losing     129
Keeping     211
Acknowledgments     233
Recommended Reading     235
Reader's Guide     237
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Customer Reviews

Average Rating 4.5
( 26 )
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See All Sort by: Showing 1 – 20 of 26 Customer Reviews
  • Anonymous

    Posted July 8, 2006

    Sharing the greatest of struggles.

    What is greater than losing your faith and then finding it in a completely different light? Barbara Taylor's beautifully written memoir leaves nothing out as she leaves the church to find her faith again. She begins her story sitting in a field in Kansas and falling in love with God. From there you are part of her journey as she empties herself into the work of a parish priest only to discover that her faith is waning. She is so honest and open with herself so brave. Her writing is so easy to read it is as if she is writing this book only for you. Whether you are a believer or not, this book asks some tough questions, and helps to separate religious dogma from true faith. You will want your own copy to underline, write in the margin, and reread over and over again.

    4 out of 4 people found this review helpful.

    Was this review helpful? Yes  No   Report this review
  • Anonymous

    Posted May 19, 2012

    A "____-changing" book

    Especially because I found this book just when I was looking for it, or something like it, it was certainly thought-changing, perspective-changing, and even life-changing. I have felt uncomfortale about picking up "religious" books in the past due to some biased or specific doctrine-driven motives, but An Altar in the World was able to be beautifully helpful and hopeful all while glorifying all of our current religious practices and outlooks. I have already bought copies for my friends ESPECIALLY because we belong to different religions. It is just a thoughtful and very well-written book that calls us to find God/Love/the Holy Spirit/the Power of the Universe in our everyday thoughts and actions.

    2 out of 3 people found this review helpful.

    Was this review helpful? Yes  No   Report this review
  • Anonymous

    Posted April 1, 2008

    A Precious Memoir

    Over the course of my life I have learned certain things about salad. It has good, nourishing things in it, like spinach, almonds, feta cheese, and olive oil. Sometimes you can add strawberries. With a splash of balsamic vinegar, it sings. Other times it is dressed with slightly less healthy things like mayonnaise or sour cream, but generally its ingredients have a clear line of succession back to something alive-- apples, raisins, eggs, potatoes. Then I moved to South Dakota, where I was introduced to ¿salad¿. Unlike what I have just described, this concoction is made of things like Cool Whip and crushed up Oreos. It tastes good in the moment, but by the end of it I am always left slightly nauseous and wondering where it came from. There¿s a lot of spiritual ¿salad¿ out there. Thankfully, this offering is not in that group. From the moment you crack open the cover, it sings. Her story of earthy, fragrant devotion to God is refreshing and very alive. It breathes the living life of Christ and speaks from the still beating but wounded heart of the church. Thankfully, Taylor veers only briefly into the sordid realm of political hot button issues, and for good reason. With fifteen years in the pastoral crucible under her belt, and an evident love for all of us, Taylor comes across as someone you can trust. Her words in this precious memoir are nourishing, full of flavor and, like the vegetables in her Georgia garden, entirely organic.

    2 out of 2 people found this review helpful.

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  • Posted June 19, 2014

    Taylor is a magnificent word artist. This book describes her fa

    Taylor is a magnificent word artist. This book describes her faith journey from a girl in a meadow through commitment to the Episcopal Church and priesthood to circling back to the simple things of faith.  Her failure to set boundaries caused her to flame out at church.

    Leaving Church challenged me to consider who God is in my life and helped me as I reconsider the definition of church.  Ultimately, Taylor chose the life of a freelance believer while I continue to commit to the place that sinners gather.

    1 out of 1 people found this review helpful.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted May 4, 2014

    I came across this author and book when on retreat a couple year

    I came across this author and book when on retreat a couple years ago and was intrigued by it, however, did not actually read the book until a couple months ago.  I could relate so much to Barbara's experiences growing up and finding God in nature and her search for a deeper relationship with God.  I loved the book and would highly recommend it to those who are burned out doing church ministry and looking for depth and a contemplative way of being.

    1 out of 1 people found this review helpful.

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  • Posted October 1, 2013

    Highly Recommend

    Reveals the struggle to recognize a call to ministry and what that means in the truthful awareness; thought provoking - a book every Christian should read with openness to one's own response to the call of the Holy Spirit and discernment at every stage of spiritual growth. A hopeful, encouraging narrative of trusting all to God as experienced at the deepest and most venerable levels.

    1 out of 1 people found this review helpful.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted July 18, 2012

    Vital, thoughtful, and corageous

    Corageously honest faith exploration and expression

    1 out of 1 people found this review helpful.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted May 16, 2010

    Leaving Church

    Leaving church is an enjoyable read on faith and finding God's plan for us. The author doesn't avoid her warts and failures and is realistic about how faith is a journey for all of us and the road is not straight and narrow but full of twists and turns.

    1 out of 1 people found this review helpful.

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  • Posted June 27, 2009

    HELLO WORLD THIS BOOK IS AWESOME

    I HIGHLY RECOMMEND THIS BOOK IT IS IN MANY WAYS SIMILAR TO THE BOOK
    A MEMOIR WHO AM I , BY BENJAMIN BLAKE. MR. BLAKE'S BOOK SPEAKS AS THIS BOOK DOES ABOUT FAITH BUT IT ALSO SPEAKS OF FEAR OF OTHER'S AND THEIR
    UNWELCOMED OPINIONS...

    1 out of 1 people found this review helpful.

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    Posted May 31, 2010

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    Posted June 2, 2009

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    Posted September 18, 2011

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    Posted April 4, 2010

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    Posted September 25, 2010

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    Posted February 25, 2012

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    Posted September 15, 2010

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    Posted December 13, 2010

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