Leaving the Church-A Memoir of Faith

Leaving the Church-A Memoir of Faith

In Leaving Church: A Memoir of Faith, Georgia Author of the Year Barbara Brown Taylor tells the story of her decision to leave full time parish ministry after fifteen years, trading her church for a college classroom and her Sunday vestments for plain clothes covered in chalk dust.

“When it is my turn to talk, I generally skip the points and get right to the plot,” she wrote recently. “Narrative is not a choice I make when it comes time to tell the truth; it is the way that truth comes to me–not in crisp propositions but in messy tales of encounters between people and people, between people and creation, between people and the Divine.”

The following is an excerpt from the full review by Fred Plumer: 

A couple of weeks ago I picked up the book on a rainy weekend and read the entire book from beginning to the end. Certainly Ms. Taylor has not changed but apparently I have. There was not word that I would have wanted her to leave out. There was not one story in the memoir that I would have wanted to miss. There was not one drop of tears that I would have been willing to give up. And it all led to the culmination of the wonderful short section (Keeping) that alone was worth the time and the investment of the entire book.

Ms. Taylor does a marvelous job of reconstructing a powerful, cohesive, and spiritual approach to the Christian faith with integrity for the twenty first century. And she does this in a few short pages.

Anyone who is thinking about going to seminary; anyone that is thinking about leaving the church; anyone who is wondering why church has become so difficult; anyone who is wondering why good clergy are becoming more difficult to find; anyone who cares about the postmodern church; anyone who is trying to find a way to re-conceptualize their Christian faith so that it matches the reality of the twenty-first century should read this book. 

Topics: Clergy/Ministry and Spiritual Exploration & Practice. Ages: Adult. Resource Types: Books.

Review & Commentary

One thought on “Leaving the Church-A Memoir of Faith

  1. Review

    A Public Apology to Barbara Brown Taylor

    By Fred Plumer, President TCPC

    One of the responsibilities I inherited when I assumed the position of president of this organization twenty-some months ago was to look at new books that come across my desk and to decide what to do with them. They come in, usually from the publisher, on the average of three to four books a month. Some are written by well known authors and some are first books by virtual unknowns. After a quick perusal of these books I decide if they are worthy of reviewing for our site and if they fit our mission. If the answer is yes to both of those questions then I decide who would be the best person to do the review and try and make arrangements to get it done. I sometimes do those reviews myself but other responsibilities in my job do not allow me to do that as often as I would like. We take the responsibility of our reviews seriously as we have learned that a recommendation from this website sells books.

    One of the first books that landed in my mail box was a "proof copy" of Barbara Brown Taylor's then new book, Leaving the Church. In fairness it should be understood that at that time I was still trying to learn the basics of this full time volunteer job including several new computer programs and finalizing a redesign of our website. I was trying to learn words I had never heard before, systems I did not understand.  I was scrambling to keep my head above water and frankly at times was not very successful at that. Reading new books was not a priority.  

    I have more recently recognized that I was probably experiencing a mild form of depression about that time. I had recently retired, moved away from a vital church community, life long friends, a local reputation that opened doors for me, and the Southern California Beaches where I was born and I still played regularly. I was also struggling with a issue I have since discovered, tackles a lot of newly retired people, particularly clergy and especially men-"Who the hell am I now that I do not have a real job?"

    So as I read the beginning of the first section of Leaving the Church (Findings) while on an airplane, I was a little put off that this charismatic, very successful clergy woman and speaker thought her life was so important that I should be reading a personal memoir. OK, so it was well written and easy to read. OK, so she did a lot of neat things while she was leading a church but so have others. OK, so it was mildly entertaining but there are a lot of mildly entertaining writers out there, including me.

    Later that night  in my hotel room, when I was supposedly getting ready for the next day's workshop,  I picked up the book again and read more of that section, which is about two thirds of the book. I read well into the night. I found my judgmental attitude starting to recede but I still was not going to give her the benefit of full acceptance. It is still all about her…or was it?

    I slowly began to realize that here was someone who actually understood and wrote about the same frustrations that I experienced in my twenty plus years as the pastor of a wonderful church. Yes, it was about the impossible expectations, the theology and liturgies that no longer fit. It reflected that heavy pull of gravity when trying to make changes, and of the long hours of church meetings. But the one thing that really hit me was her description of how hard it is to always be set aside. She tells a wonderful story about a pool party she attended after she had resigned from the church. At one point she let herself be pushed into the pool with all of her clothes on, experiencing a new freedom like all of the other laughing friends she joined in the pool. It was a baptism of sorts and a wonderful metaphor for the entire book.

    Due to a scheduling change, my travel plans had to be changed that weekend, so I ended up having all Sunday afternoon to spend alone without transportation. It meant staying in my room or going to the bar. I chose my room and cuddled up with Leaving the Church. I was surprised to discover that I was really looking forward to it. When I got to the second section (Losing) that afternoon, I realized that this memoir was no longer about Barbara Brown Taylor, it was about me. As I read, I laughed and I cried-I cried a lot actually as she recounted the things both good and bad that she would no longer experience as a clergy person leading a church. The depth of my emotions retrospectively should have been a clue that I was having some emotional problems that I had not addressed. She had touched my well protected underbelly and I was not comfortable with that.

    I put the book down for the rest of the trip with every intention of finishing it and writing a review to be posted on our site. The book moved from one side of my "to do" shelf to the other and time passed, weeks and then months. Occasionally I would pick it up, glance through it but I never seemed to get around to finishing that last section (Keeping). I think now that I was still trying to protect that soft underbelly of mine and was not willing to open myself to another emotional rollercoaster.

    But a couple of weeks ago I picked up the book on a rainy weekend and read the entire book from beginning to the end. Certainly Ms. Taylor has not changed but apparently I have. There was not word that I would have wanted her to leave out. There was not one story in the memoir that I would have wanted to miss. There was not one tear that I would have been willing to give up. And it all led to the culmination of the wonderful short section (Keeping) that alone was worth the time and the investment.

    Ms. Taylor does a marvelous job of reconstructing a powerful, cohesive, and spiritual approach to the Christian faith with integrity for the twenty first century. And she does this in a few short pages.

    Anyone who is thinking about going to seminary; anyone that is thinking about leaving the church; anyone who is wondering why church has become so difficult; anyone who is wondering why good clergy are becoming more difficult to find; anyone who cares about the postmodern church; anyone who is trying to find a way to re-conceptualize their Christian faith so that it matches the reality of the twenty-first century, should read this book. It is just recently out in paperback so it is cost effective if you have waited.

    And so it is with sincere apologies to Barbara Brown Taylor that I write this very belated review. However since the book is apparently selling quite well without my input, I suppose it is you the reader to whom I should apologize. Please accept my apologies and go order the book.

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