Barbara Brown Taylor knows the way to our hearts…that’s why she is so popular. Her writing and preaching keep her in the list of top influential preachers each year. I have not had the privilege of learning under her, but I’m certain that she’s an incredible teacher as well.
“Leaving the Church” was a timely read for me. As someone who needed out of the fast-paced Atlanta and looking to move somewhere a little slower-paced, I could identify with Taylor’s situation. She begins the memoir in Atlanta where the traffic, the constant sirens, and the fast paced life have become too much. She has loved the work she has been able to do with outreach and homeless ministry, but she practically lives at her church because there is always so much to do. She want to step out of the city into a slower-paced life.
Taylor visits the mountains and countryside of north Georgia and falls in love with a small country Episcopal church. She prays for God to give her the church, and months later she becomes the rector and priest there.
However, she finds that it wasn’t just Atlanta she needed to step away from, but she needed to step away from parish ministry. Taylor sees flocks of geese flying away, wishing that she could be free and fly away with them.
Taylor explains that the dividing line that elevates someone as “priest” or “pastor” can be exhausting. Pastors want love and community and acceptance just like every other person, but being called to be a leader can be isolating. Taylor describes a pool party where she finally felt at home among all the people she was serving, after she had turned in her resignation. At the pool party she was not wearing her collar, just average street clothes. At some point people started throwing other people in the pool, but would stop short of throwing her, their priest, into the water as if it would be sacrilegious. Missing out on this fun was hurtful and only intensified her loneliness. Suddenly someone grabbed her from behind and threw her into the pool with everyone else. Here she was, soaking wet, laughing and gasping for air just like everyone else. For a moment, the dividing line was down between them all, and that’s exactly what she wanted.
The book ends with her receiving a job offer at a college to be a professor or religion. Her story isn’t finished, so that this book is left open ended as to what will come next in her life.
This book is for everyone: church-goers, pastors, seminarians, professors, and anyone who just likes good writing. Most people can relate to Taylor at some point in the story, even if it’s just by understanding her fatigue and desire for freedom.
This is just a brief overview. Please, go read it and enjoy the way she tells her own story. Her attention to detail and ability to paint a picture with words will have you reading this book in just a couple sittings (or one really dedicated sitting.)