Church had been a huge part of my life. I could not recall a time in my life when I had no association with the church. I had been an adult member since the age of fourteen. The majority of my friends were connected to the church. Senior churchmen had decided that I was no longer worthy of membership. I knew of people that had been imprisoned and behaved immorally and still stayed members of the church. All my life I had listened too sermons on the themes of compassion and forgiveness but these were virtues not to be found in many so-called Christians.
The only people who were told officially about my membership cancelation were the elders of the last church I ran. Otherwise, it was left to me whether I divulged that information or not to others.
This meant that I could not attend services at any church in the same diocese because members of the congregation knew me and would want to know my story. If I went and attended elsewhere, I would be invited to participate in the service. This would then mean that I would have to explain that I no longer belonged to the church.
I was soon informed of certain rumours that were circulating over my resignation. Many within the diocese couldn’t understand why a minister of my calibre would quit without explanation. Some were saying that the church I led had treated me abysmally and this was why I had left. Readers of this blog will know that such gossip could not be further than the truth. However, I hardly wanted the reasons I left to be known by all and sundry. The last church I led was full of good, caring people (which sadly is a rarity in the church) and I didn’t want their good name tarnished over silly rumour.
I felt the only way to stop this chitchat was to attend services although I wasn’t really emotionally ready to go back so soon. I deliberately entered the church just as the service commenced finding a seat as close to the door as possible. I could feel the tears streaming down my face as I found a place to sit. That initial visit was very surreal as the last time I was in that church I had been conducting the Easter Sunday service from the pulpit. It was like an out of body experience. I was there physically but absence in every other sense. I stayed in the church for most of the service but intentionally left as the benediction was being sung. I couldn’t face speaking to anyone; I knew that it would be too much for me.
I wanted to go to church but attending any church in my own denomination was too painful. I was hesitating about trying another church because a visitor was easily recognised due the small sized congregations. The last thing I needed was an over exuberant welcome and questions about my background. I knew that such interest would be good natured and with the purpose of trying to attract a new church member by being friendly. The last thing I wanted to do was to explain who I was because once I revealed I’d been a church minister, I could imagine that I’d be encouraged to volunteer for all sorts of activities. I’d heard of a church that had over thousand people attend its services and this sound the sort of place where I could go to worship, but also hide in a crowd at the same time.
I attended periodically for a while but gradually the novelty wore off. I still felt deeply hurt by the actions of some so-called Christians and the little faith that remained weakened. Members of the last church I was the minister at, have kept in touch and have been a good source of encouragement. However in the storms of life you soon learn who your true friends are. At one time I thought that I had lots of friends within the church, but know I realise that they were nothing more than associates. Shortly after my resignation I was standing immediately behind one minister in a supermarket queue and they completely ignored me. Another minister emailed me and arranged to meet me for a chat. I agreed and we made arrangements. “I understand things can be tough when you leave the church and I want to be a good friend to you,” he told me. That was the last time he spoke to me and a few months later I went to a church service he was leading, he walked straight past me blanking me. So much for friendliness within the church.