Leaving Church: A Memoir of Faith

Leaving Church: A Memoir of Faith

by Barbara Brown Taylor


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“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: 98,252
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

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Leaving Church 4.2 out of 5 based on 0 ratings. 37 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
TimBazzett on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
I read a lot of memoirs these days. In fact they are probably my favorite literary genre. Maybe I should have been warned by Taylor's subtitle - not simply "a memoir," but "a memoir of faith." Because this is not a memoir in the usual sense. There is precious little of Taylor's childhood, youth or young adulthood - no real concrete stories and examples from her life. Too much of this book remains caught in the abstraction of ideas and beliefs, with not nearly enough examples. The people who show up in the book remain undeveloped vague outlines. And I have a hard time identifying with Brown's spiritual "quest," if that is what it is. I don't think it's because she's a woman either. What few facts that do emerge about her life outside this "quest" do not really serve to make her a sympathetic character. Daughter of a psychotherapist, sister of a lawyer, wife of an engineer - all these tidbits add up to what appears to have been a life of privilege and ease, and continued to be even after her ordination, as she speaks of her Saab and Audi and how they didn't fit into her rural community, and goes on at some length about everything she "wanted" in her custom-built home outside of town (in lieu of a parsonage near her church). What comes through in Barbara Brown Taylor's book is a story of a driven overachiever, who in fact drives herself into a near nervous breakdown, which finally causes her to leave her church and the active priesthood. While I do not doubt the sincerity of her quest for her true vocation and place in God's world, I do wonder about her motives. She became more likeable - more human - in the final section of the book, after she had left the priesthood, when she talks about her crisis of faith and things like her fears of inadequacy and the death of her father. Having said all of this, I still have to say that I'm glad I read the book, which has left me with much to think about in regard to my own role in the Church (Catholic in my case)and my relationship with God and my place in His world. I also think that Taylor is a person I'd like to know, but these 200-plus pages have not given me that opportunity. A memoir of faith? Perhaps. A "memoir"? No. - Tim Bazzett, author of Reed City Boy
clparson on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
I was given this book as a gift because I had left church, but not my faith. If I thought that was tough, I cannot imagine being ordained and leaving church. But, this book had many insights that I may not have considered.Throughout the book, as Brown's career as a priest seems to get better and better, her relationship with God seems to be put on the back burner. Talk about a conflict! She does not exactly see eye to eye with some of the elders and other officials at the small church where she preaches. This opens her eyes to the fact that what she may think is a good thing for the church, it may not be that good after all. After leaving the stress of preaching, she takes some time to get to know herself and God better. I loved this part of the book, because I could really relate to it. The word choice and sentence structure was amazing and kept the book moving quickly. My favorite sentence is where Brown was describiong her relationship with God, that she in bed, she would "peck him on the check, and roll over to sleep." I think the message is key to this day and age. In our fast-paced lives, it is hard to stop and detach from that world and look at the world God created. It is even harder to take the time to actually have a conversation with Him. But, if one takes to time and effort, it is worth the while.I would recommend this book to any, but especially to those who seem to have lost their connection with God.
joanj on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
Engaging look behind the collar at the life of a parish priest and the struggles to be/remain human in a position that automatically elevates a person to a much higher place. This book gave me so much to think about in my own life - I think her feelings of overload, exhaustion and burnout within a "job" are universal. I can think of many who have those very same feelings - teachers, supervisors, mothers, etc. -- you become "disconnected" if you fail to take time for yourself. Taylor clearly began to see her role as a "job" rather than a calling or a lifestyle and I applaud her decision to step down and reevaluate her own spirituality and ultimately find her true calling and use her gift to spread God's word through her eloquent writing. For me, the main theme of this book was to take time to find God (and passion) in everything - God is NOT just within the four walls of a building - God is everywhere and is constantly sending us reminders of that -- my favorite line: when stopped by the state trooper for speeding, her friend received this admonition: "but what made you think that hurrying would help you find your way?" And then "What made any of us think that the place we are trying to reach is far, far ahead of us somewhere and that the only way to get there is to run until we drop? For Christians, at least part of the answer is that many of us have been taught to think of God's kingdom as something outside ourselves, for which we must search as a merchant who searches for the pearl of great price." Or as Simon and Garfunkel put it: slow down, you move too fast.....Her section on "tame worship" also made me stop and think of myself - and how I often only "show up" for service without the energy and passion that would make my worship meaningful to meI agree with one of the other reviews - there was no development of relationships with other people - esp. her husband. A couple of times I wondered if he was even still around. I can't imagine not including his role in her decision to walk away from Grace-Calvary and I was most curious about his relationship with the Native American worship.
debnance on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
The story of an Episcopalian preacher who found she had to leave her church to find God. Very powerful story, emotionally moving, with the honesty of Anne Lamott and the beautiful writing of all great novelists.
skokie on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
Ordained minister in the Episcopal Church, the author takes you through her spiritual journey which includes resigning from the ministry after 20 years. The author uses experiences, honesty, and a warm heart to give you a picture of why she made the hardest decision of her life. She left the official ministry so she could start a new one. pg 226 "On the twentieth anniversary of my ordination, I would have to say that at least one of the things that almost killed me was becoming a professional holy person."
ALincolnNut on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
Barbara Brown Taylor is one of the most prominent female American authors of books about religion. Over the course of her now dozen books (and probably counting), she has gained many fans for her engaging writing, particularly how she reveals herself in each of her books, many of which are sermons or about preaching.In "Leaving Church," she recounts how she came to accept the call to her final parish as priest, and how she decided to leave the pulpit to become a full-time college professor. Subtitled, "A Memoir of Faith," it has two main sections, "Finding" and "Losing," with an extended epilogue called "Keeping."This is an interesting book as it allows a glimpse at the personal side of being a parish priest -- the joys and the headaches. It also serves as a biography of faith in how Brown Taylor explores the transition of her faith from her vocational responsibilities to something she seems to be seeking for again in the second half of the book.As a pastor, I appreciate the open way in which Brown Taylor invites people to imagine faith seeking, looking for the hand of God in many forms, in many contexts, and in many ways -- including outside of formal worship services. It is also helpful for a gifted author to describe a bit of how the stresses of serving as a religious leader can sometimes become an obstacle to personal faith.However, I was mostly disappointed with this book. Time and again, I had the sneaking suspicion that much of the story was being consciously left out. I can understand the need for anonymity and for protecting the privacy of others, so I understand that many stories probably could not be told at all, for fear that they would betray a confidence. Granting this, though, the book still seemed overly disingenuous -- that Brown Taylor was not protecting the privacy of others as much as she was protecting -- or maybe even avoiding -- herself.Perhaps others who are not pastors will appreciate the book more, and probably they are Brown Taylor's intended audience. From colleagues and others, I have heard of many who have found "Leaving Church" to be wonderful. Sadly, I found it otherwise.
cbradley on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
At first Barbra Brown Taylor¿s book Leaving Church seems like a memoir of where she lost her conviction to be in ministry. The book recounts her early days of discovering God outside of the church, her first exposures to church, her entry into seminary, and her eventual call to the Episcopal Church. It becomes clear early in her ministry however that serving as a priest for the Episcopal Church was not a healthy way for her to live. She describes the frustrations she found in both her urban Atlanta church where she served as one priest amongst several on staff, and her difficulty in the more rural setting of northern Georgia where she became the sole priest of a small church with a growing congregation. Perhaps Taylor¿s biggest failure was the more successful her ministry became, the less connected she felt to God.After five and a half years in rural Georgia she eventually found her priestly calling was not to a church but to the university. She didn¿t renounce her ordination; rather she simply changed the focus of her ministry. In her description of life in parish ministry it seems clear that she entered a church completely ready to take care of her congregation but wholly unprepared to take care of herself. At one point Taylor describes what her Sabbath day entailed and it becomes clear that she knew the word but had never learned how to put it into practice.
wordygirl39 on LibraryThing More than 1 year 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 More than 1 year 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.
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