How I Left Christianity Part Six: Retirement
March 5, 2012 3 Comments
One Sunday, the pastor of my church announced that he was retiring. The news sent shock waves throughout the church. You see, this pastor founded our church. He was the heart, soul, and lifeblood of the church.
Brother T (no one ever called him Pastor T, always Brother) wasn’t merely the man who stood at the pulpit on Sundays and preached. He taught children’s choir–the children who had grown up in the church, teenagers now, had been taught by Brother T how to read music. He taught us how to sing. Musicals were one of the main ministries at this church–we grew up on stage. Brother T directed every single one. He taught us how to act, as well.
Vacation Bible School was one of his favorite times of the year–Brother T led that as well. Most of the married couples in the church had been married by him. All of the children had been baptized by him.
When we reached our teenage years, he took us to Centrifuge, a Christian summer camp. After that, we went every summer.
Everything that happened at the church, he was intimately involved in, if he hadn’t begun and led the activity himself.
My friends and I talked amongst ourselves. What’s going to happen? How can this church function without Brother T? A new pastor would change everything.
And so it did.
A committee was formed to search for a new pastor. But the really big development was talk of merger. We should merge with another church, some said. The merger advocates grew in number and in volume, and soon, there was another committee looking for churches to possibly merge with. Pastoral candidates were found and rejected, at the same time that merger candidates were found, considered, and rejected.
During all of this, the power balance was shifting. Who was going to take over everything that Brother T had been doing? Who was going to make the big decisions in the meantime? The deacons? The board? Or the entire church, by vote?
There were plenty of disagreements. Most of the discussions I was not privy to, as a teenager, and a teenage girl, at that. But I could see divides, rifts, if you will, beginning to form. There were some occasions where church-wide discussions were held after services. No one asked the youth, nor did we really feel like we were allowed to speak up .But most of the division that I could see were mere undercurrents. There was a atmosphere forming at church–one of stress and tension, never acknowledged, that made one uncomfortable.
I don’t actually recall, during this period, any pastoral candidates being introduced, though I’m sure there were.
The merger committee had decided on three possible churches that we might merge with. There were more meetings. But at the same time, we “fellowshipped” with the three congregations individually, to see how well we might get along. One was forty-five minutes away.
Negotiations began. Who would be in charge of this? Who would be in charge of that? Who’s facility would we use? Who’s staff? Which staff? Who would teach? These things are more, I believe, what narrowed down our choices–the compatibility of our congregations, and the relative locations of our churches seemed to have nothing to do with it.
While the adults jockeyed for position, we felt largely adrift. What was going on? Why do we have to merge? What was going to happen? I found myself looking around the building and the grounds, imprinting everything in memory in case we moved to another church. It was a home to me, in so many ways–this elementary school turned church. But it had changed.
The church was changing, and it no longer felt like home.
I was homeless.