Leaving Church: A Memoir of Faith

Leaving Church: A Memoir of Faith

by Barbara Brown Taylor


View All Available Formats & Editions
Eligible for FREE SHIPPING
  • Want it by Monday, October 22?   Order by 12:00 PM Eastern and choose Expedited Shipping at checkout.
    Same Day shipping in Manhattan. 
    See Details


Leaving Church: A Memoir of Faith by Barbara Brown Taylor

“This beautiful book is rich with wit and humanness and honesty and loving detail….I cannot overstate how liberating and transforming I have found Leaving Church to be.” —Frederick Buechner, author of Beyond Words

“This is an astonishing book. . . . Taylor is a better writer than LaMott and a better theologian than Norris. In a word, she is the best there is.” —Living Church

Barbara Brown Taylor, once hailed as one of America’s most effective and beloved preachers, eloquently tells the moving and delightful story of her search to find an authentic way of being Christian—even when it meant giving up her pulpit.

Product Details

ISBN-13: 9780060872632
Publisher: HarperCollins Publishers
Publication date: 05/01/2012
Edition description: Reprint
Pages: 272
Sales rank: 114,861
Product dimensions: 5.30(w) x 7.90(h) x 0.70(d)

About the Author

Barbara Brown Taylor is the author of thirteen books, including the New York Times bestseller An Altar in the World and Leaving Church, which received an Author of the Year award from the Georgia Writers Association. Taylor is the Butman Professor of Religion at Piedmont College, where she has taught since 1998. She lives on a working farm in rural northeast Georgia with her husband, Ed.

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 . . .


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.

Table of Contents

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

What People are Saying About This

Thomas Lynch

“Leaving Church is a canticle of praise to creator and creation.”

Nora Gallagher

“Taylor describes doubt, faith and vocation, their limits, and how the church both blesses and muddies the waters.”

Frederick Buechner

I cannot overstate how liberating and transforming I have found Leaving Church to be.”

Garret Keizer

“Lovely . . . revealing . . . poignant. . . . I found in Taylor’s narrative a companionable voice...”

Peter J. Gomes

“This memoir [...] is full of surprises[...] In her renewal is our own.”

Alan Jones

“A fiercely honest and gracious book about our primary vocation to be human.”

Lauren Winner

“I love this book . . . . Her beautiful, absorbing memoir will bless countless readers...”

Customer Reviews

Most Helpful Customer Reviews

See All Customer Reviews

Leaving Church 4.3 out of 5 based on 0 ratings. 30 reviews.
Guest More than 1 year ago
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.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
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.
Guest More than 1 year ago
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.
Fflint More than 1 year ago
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.
SavM More than 1 year ago
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.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
Corageously honest faith exploration and expression
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
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.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
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.
BEA_ROSEY More than 1 year ago
wordygirl39 on LibraryThing 2 days ago
I just finished reading this book and I liked it quite a bit. I've read Taylor's essays for years in the Christian Century, so I thought I would appreciate the book, but I wasn't prepared for how clearly it mirrored my own history, feelings, responses and longings for church and faith. I am not a clergywoman, but my journey in and out of Faith has been similar. I am the daughter of a minister and a friend to several other ministers and I think Taylor adequately captures the spiritual heaviness and loneliness associated with the job. She also reminds all Believers that, in the words of Bruce Cockburn, "God is bigger than an ideology," but she manages to do this without the usual airy fairy Baby Boomer new age language (sorry, Boomers). Always grounded, her words carry great weight. In the words of my current pastor, "Leaving Church kicked my ass." Yeah.
robinamelia on LibraryThing 2 days ago
While to a certain extent, Ms. Taylor's failures are more successful than any of my achievements, she still conveys her sense of desperation as she sought to be a spiritual leader while still taking care of her own spiritual needs. God must definitely still love her, since she fell into a nice college teaching job and didn't have to move away from her lovely home. But I did find this book encouraging as I am in the process of leaving my lay job at a church and seeking career paths that do not leave me feeling spiritually depleted.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
Anonymous More than 1 year ago