“It’s hard to leave your church home,” my mom said. Her voice hung with a note of sadness that didn’t go away the half dozen or more times that I heard her repeat this phrase to various parishoners at our new church. I was thirteen at the time, and I didn’t quite understand what the big deal was. I knew why we had left our old church–there were some things that had happened that my mom didn’t feel right about–and while I certainly missed our old church, I wasn’t sad about leaving. I didn’t understand why my mom called it her “church home.” Church was church. Could it really be a home? Twenty-one years later, I have found myself uttering the same words that my mom did, as I try to process the grief that comes with leaving “home.”

I never thought in a million years that we would end up leaving our home church the way that we did. After a series of heart-rending events that showed my husband and I that our “home” was no longer safe, we made the decision to leave. We didn’t want to leave. We wanted to stay and help the congregation live into its desire to be a church that was anti-racist. But we could no longer stay where anti-racism was nothing more than a buzzword, where black women could be harshly silenced, and where black leaders could be uncerimoniously discarded.

I had assumed that, if we ever left, there would be a natural shift, likely after I finished seminary or got accepted into a PhD program, and that we would leave because of a shift in our life that necessitated it. We had been connected to our former church for almost 15 years, though we had only started attending it again in the last two years after we moved back to Missouri from the East Coast.

Leaving a church under the best of circumstances is hard. Leaving because you can no longer stay is brutal.

Over the years, we have changed churches a few times. Most of the time it has been because of a job, educational, and/or geographical shift…the type of thing that happens when you live life. There have been a few times when we have not been able to fully articulate why it was time to go, other than the Holy Spirit telling us that our time was finished and God met us in those seasons and led us to the next. Leaving is always hard because you lose friendships and the ties that bind loosen with time until you eventually become untethered from people who were once close. Leaving a church under the best of circumstances is hard. Leaving because you can no longer stay is brutal.

We could no longer stay at our home church, yet we hope that one day, repentance, repair, and reconciliation can happen among the affected parties. We harbor no ill-will toward anyone, but we also cannot fully agree that it is an anti-racist space. Hopefully this will be a learning experience and they will do better. And I will know that they are doing better when they attempt to repair the harm that has been done.

…many of the current paradigms, especially in evangelical and evangelical-adjacent spaces, are woefully insufficient.

With all of that said, I am convinced that race work in the church has to look different. Too many of us are out here trying to help God’s people do right by one another and we’re getting crapped on in the process. Our voices are being silenced. Our activism is held suspect, if not in complete derision. Our own people are being counterproductive to the cause of black freedom. People care more about comfort than justice. We have a hard road to hoe, and I think that many of the current paradigms, especially in evangelical and evangelical-adjacent spaces, are woefully insufficient.

My grandma used to say, “God don’t close a door without opening up a window.” My grandma was from rural West Central Missouri and when she said ‘window’ it sounded like ‘winda.’ What she always meant is that God doesn’t leave you trapped or stranded. He will guide your path even if it means that you have to crawl out of a window to get there. I often hear her voice speaking this phrase to me during times of struggle.

My family left our old church as if we had crawled out a window. We weren’t prepared. It didn’t fit into our long-term plans. We had wrestled with whether we were to stay or leave, but it became clear that it was time to go. So like the piano player at Harpo’s we dipped out and haven’t looked back.

God is still guiding us and we are on an adventure.

Although leaving was hard, and the issues that precipitated our departure still hurt and make me feel righteous indignation, I also realize that God is still guiding us and that we are on an adventure. I mentioned in a recent sermon that I shared that I hope to eventually be ordained as a priest in the Episcopal Church.

I have wrestled for a long time with whether I should pursue ordination in a denomination. I know that I am called to vocational ministry and that I am called to lead in the local church, but I didn’t have a good sense of where that would be in terms of what, if any, denomination. Last year, two of my professors at Fuller Seminary, Clifton Clarke and John Bangs, told me to get my life and get ordained. They both, in separate conversations, suggested that I consider becoming ordained in the Anglican (Episcopal) tradition. After much reflection, reading, and soul searching, I realized that I am, indeed, Anglican (with deep Pentecostal leanings) and that The Episcopal Church is the right fit for me. I’m still no where near starting any aspect of the discernment process to Holy Orders in The Episcopal Church at this point. And that is part of the adventure. I’m learning to engage my faith in a way that is simultaniously new and familiar.

Leaving our home church was a catalyst that has made me feel brave enough to step out into something new. My church background is Black church and Pentecostal/Charismatic non-denominational church. I’m used to church having a full band, hand raising, clapping, and even lights and a fog machine. I’m used to sending my kids to the nursery for church (I also want to give a shout out to my parents and parents-in-law who managed kids in churches without nurseries and kids church, especially my parents-in-law who had three kids over a span of 7 years and had to manage them all in church at one time…yall the real MVPs). The little Episcopal church that my family feels drawn to has none of this…and we’re 100% okay with it although we are all having to learn something new.

“Behold, I am making all things new…”

Revelation 21:5

I cling to the fact that God has put my family and I where we need to be right now. There are so many things that are giving us life and that have been healing for us the past month. Being in a new church, in a new denomination, with new worship and a different way of practicing our faith isn’t easy. There is so much grief and loss that is felt alongside excitement and curiosity. I feel like I am being formed and renewed on so many different levels, and I can’t wait to share more even as I unpack the pain that has come with this season.

Posted by The Armchair Commentary

7 Comments

  1. I hear you, and I hope & pray you find your home. I’m always grieved when I hear of yet another saint whose spiritual home is no longer safe or welcoming. Church should be, like Robert Frost’s poem, “the place that when you go there, they have to let you in.” It should be warm and embracing, care-filled and open, putting love above self-interest, making our reason for community our love for the Savior–and indeed, our Savior’s love for us.

    You are beloved of God, and you belong in the Beloved Community.

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  2. Grappling with the same decision but thru a different lens. As a WW I know nothing of your journey and the pain you’ve endured. I only know mine filled with my privilege and complicity of whiteness. Do I stay to support the small group who desire to do authentic anti-racist work or leave to find a place already committed and doing the work? As an Episcopalian I see both possibilities. Praying that you will know. Thank you for sharing your journey—I learn much from you!

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  3. Such a good read sweet friend! Although it troubles me to see you go, having gone to the same “home church” I question — what is really going on?— you are not the first to leave and I’m sure that you, Ben and the girls will not be the last. To you I’m sure it is unfair, hurtful and just confusing, to me sitting back with yet another family gone…. is concerning! I look forward to watching you grow! I love reading your words and listening to your eye opening topics. So proud of you for leading your family in the direction that God has called you to. Much love from me!

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    1. Thank you so much for your kind words. It means the world to me. I feel so seen, loved, and heard. I know that God isn’t through with us and I am trusting that God will bring justice and healing to this situation.

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      1. It’s Ally, I don’t know why I’m posting as anon on my own blog!

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  4. […] and one them recently posted a blog entry about “Leaving Home.” (You can read it here: https://thearmchaircommentary.com/2019/09/22/leaving-home/) It is the story of Ally Smith and her family’s struggle with a white church that ultimately […]

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  5. Been there… still healing. Blessings on your new journey.

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