One of my neighbors waited for a ride to church Sunday morning, when I entered the common room. She looked askance at my outfit, and almost whispered, “Are you wearing that to church?” I smiled and shook my head, and explained that Mom and I had a breakfast date at 9:00.
“You must go to a later service,” she said with confidence. When I shook my head again, she stared at me, obviously unbelieving. “When do you go to church?”
“I don’t,” I said. “I quit the church years ago, and I never looked back.”
“But, then, you aren’t saved,” she gasped, adding, “Aren’t you afraid of Hell?”
Now, I carried on this very conversation with others who live in my building, and I knew I could choose between sparing her feelings, by lying about my own, or set off another round of condemnation from all the religious people in the building. I decided, (in error, I learned,) that she could handle the truth, so I told her the story about belonging to and leading churches, in the earlier years of my life, about my decision to become a minister, (“you mean, you just decided? Weren’t you called?”)
I confessed my melodrama — I thought I was called, I even told my sister I was called, which earned me a snicker. I protested, loudly and long. I explained to my neighbor: deep inside, I thought I could be a successful pastor. But that honest feeling never even broke the surface of my mind.
I will not go through the whole story here, but I found courage, in the admiration, (read sexual attraction, ) of a senior minister. Read about that here. (I tagged that post badly.) I served two different parishes — one in Maine, one in Adirondack Park, New York. I talked a little about my experiences in those churches, but mostly I told how I decided to leave the church.
I refused to accept that I was too immature. Rather I blamed my congregation, my district superintendent and his committee, anyone but myself. I told lies about others for decades; only since I began to blog could I accept the true reason I quit. Example: from the time I reached New York, I served two churches, the smaller of which was in a village in the mountains. I loved the bar in that little town, and I spent a lot of time there. I excused my behavior by saying I was reaching out to part of the un-churched community. In fact, I was drinking, playing pool, and looking for a boyfriend. I thought I fooled the congregation.
I behaved badly. By the time I left the church, I was sitting on the upstairs porch of the bar, smoking dope. I continued until I was confronted by my district superintendent. I don’t know who complained, or if anyone did, but the church could have spoken in one voice that I was acting inappropriately, when I wasn’t in the pulpit. They loved my services, and the rituals I performed. I was too immature for the responsibility.
So I left.
Over the years, I shortened this story by an hour of more , and now I told it honestly. I became so involved telling the tale, that I really didn’t pay much attention to the woman to whom I was talking. When I finished, and really looked at her, I knew I should have kept my trap shut. Her eyes were wide, and she got very fidgety. Then this quiet woman stood, and announced she would prefer I not talk to her. (Usually a good sign that I upset my listener.) She sat back down, and I shut my mouth and waited for my ride.
I believed I had overcome my resentment towards the church and my anger at my own mistakes. Something I need to work on. But in my heart, shocking this poor woman was gratifying. How human, and ridiculously childish as well. The search for maturity continues.