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Thu, Feb 26th - 10:27AM

Leaving Church by Barbara Brown Taylor

Barbara Brown Taylor is one of the Anglican Communion's most effective and renowned preachers. Hers is a beautifully written memoir in which she shares her poignant testimony of faith. Many clergy will be able to identify with her vocational journey towards ordination as a priest as well as with her parish experiences. Her candid confessions may prompt parishioners to reconsider some expectations they have of clergy.
Leaving Church: A Memoir of Faith by Barbara Brown Taylor
This is a love story. The title is somewhat misleading. Half of Barbara Brown Taylor's book describes her joy at discovering opportunities within Anglican tradition to celebrate her attachment to God. "I had found a church where the Divine Presence felt as strong to me inside as it did outside. . . . I not only lost track of time, I also lost track of myself." There, I wonder, may lie the clue as to what ultimately went wrong between Taylor and the Church. She calls it "compassion fatigue".

It is within the second half of her memoir that Taylor identifies factors that led her to resign from parish ministry, to become part of the flock instead of the shepherd, and to rediscover both God and ministry in new places. I have also recently retired from parish ministry. Stepping beyond Church boundaries has allowed me to look within from a very different viewpoint. You get a different perspective when you sit in the back pew instead of standing at the altar or pulpit.

Taylor likens her departure to that of a young adult leaving home and as stepping out into the wilderness. She searched for ways to remain related to Mother Church that did not require her to stay as a child. She writes, "Because I had left the house, I found less and less to talk about with people who were still happily engaged inside. At clergy gatherings I felt like a single woman listening to dedicated parents discuss day care and home remedies for colic. When I spoke of things that I found fascinating, the resounding silence told me how far I was from the centre of the map and how much my distance sounded like disloyalty. Church people who could tell I was in the wilderness were kind enough to invite me back into the house, but even when I went to visit I did not want to stay. I did not know how to behave anymore, I could no longer speak the lines that I had been given to say. I wanted to go back outside."

Taylor’s experience resonates with my own. Moving away from the centre has made me more conscious of the inordinate amount of energy the Church expends on those dancing at its centre as compared to the disproportionate amount of attention it offers those hovering at its edge. It wasn’t until she had moved from its centre that Taylor discovered "faith in God has both a centre and an edge and that each is necessary for the soul’s health".

New life is born out of struggle, hurt and the loss of security. A decision to enter the wilderness or to sit with those in exile is both disturbing and liberating. I now take time to discover God beyond the certitude of dogma and to seek Christ in my previously unfamiliar neighbour. Barbara describes how, after twenty-one years of priesthood, she emptied the bag of her old convictions on her kitchen table to decide what she would keep. Among them is faith. "Faith - in God, in God’s faith in me, and in all the companions whom God has given me to help see the world as God sees it - so that together we may find a way to realize the divine vision."

She sums up her discovery in these words, "My vocation was to love God and my neighbour, and that was something I could do anywhere, with anyone, with or without a collar. My priesthood was not what I did but who I was. In this new light, nothing was wasted. All that had gone before was a blessing, and all yet to come was more." Barbara and her husband Ed live on a working farm in Georgia. She remains a frequent guest preacher and teacher, is adjunct professor of Christian spirituality at Columbia theological Seminary, editor-atlarge and columnist for The Christian Century, and is the author of many books. Leaving Church is recommended reading for all who seek to follow in the way of Jesus and to participate in his ministry, ordained or otherwise.

Harper San Francisco, published 2006, ISBN-10: 0-06-77174-7
Reviewed by Archdeacon Neil Carver who serves as Review Editor and Director for The Canadian Centre for Progressive Christianity

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Thu, Feb 12th - 10:28AM

Murder in the Cathedral

Canterbury Cathedral
St Thomas a Becket was murdered by four knights in Canterbury Cathedral in 1170.

Archbishop Becket's story was re-told by T.S. Eliot in a verse drama, Murder in the Cathedral, commissioned for the 1935 Cathedral Festival and performed within yards of the spot where Becket was murdered.

Eliot, who had converted from the Unitarian Church to the Church of England in 1927, treated the story as a latter-day morality play, introducing Four Tempters who challenge Becket's motives, as well as the Four Knights who kill him. It was so well received it went straight on to London and helped Eliot towards winning the 1948 Nobel Prize for Literature.

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Place of Art in Worship by Arthur Custance

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