Churchless but not Faithless

I haven’t gone to church in over 2 years. Honestly, I can’t remember the last time I was in a church building. COVID hit, and everything shut down, and when buildings opened up again, my little church hadn’t survived. We were renting a space in a strip mall, and it wasn’t worth paying rent when we weren’t using it. Then our pastor got a job at a different church in a different city, which was so good. He and his family need to eat and pay rent themselves, so none of us begrudge him that. So I was churchless. And my hobbity self who would like to snuggle down in a hole in the ground with some good food and drink didn’t mind all that much.

Most Sundays, my mum and I would livestream the service from my old home church in LA until they stopped livestreaming. And when it was safe enough to start meeting with other humans again, my family and close friend’s family formed a little home church where we meet outside or, if the weather is bad, inside masked, and study the Bible, pray together, and let the kids run wild together. Sometimes, we take communion together, and we did some advent together near the holidays. I also meet once a month with my women’s global prayer group, on our back patio or masked indoors.

So fellowship and Bible study and communal prayer and communion are happening – just not in the traditional sense. I’ve thought about going back to a church in person – like with a building and ordained pastors and formal small groups and all that – but the local churches where I live are not welcoming spaces for non-Republicans who are fed up with the current state of the white evangelical church and believe COVID was/is real. Even the churches of people of color tend to lean right here.

I must be honest, I don’t miss traditional church as much as I thought I would. My mum misses it a lot more than I do, which makes sense as she’s gone for over 70 years to my over 40. I’ve also never or rarely fit in to the church environment, so have always felt on the fringes anyway. I’ve also been struggling with the politics/ethics of the white evangelical church a lot longer. But it breaks my heart to see her grieve the loss of church. I’ve been there, I’ve felt the betrayal and pain, and I hate to see her going through it too.

I’m not deconstructing my faith – my faith is the same as it ever was. I love God and try to love people. I am a sinner, saved by the sacrificial death and resurrection of Jesus, who loved me and gave himself up for me. This is why I try to love others – because I am so loved in a way I do not deserve and I want others to experience that too. My faith is unshaken and permanent. But the churches I see around me do not reflect what the Bible says about God and humanity.

I am not naïve – I do not seek a “perfect” church. I know the church is for sinners, and therefore will never be perfect. I do, however, seek churches that are trying to love God and love others well. Which are willing to admit when they’re wrong, and do everything in their power to grow and change. Which are not willing to bow to the right wing worship found in these spaces, but which seek to do justice, love kindness, and walk humbly with our God (Micah 6:8).

I’m no longer willing to bend to religious spaces which actively harm women and vulnerable minorities, which pull the “both sides are equally wrong” crap or go further and believe you have to be right wing to be a Christian, which prioritize the tastes of the more powerful or favored congregants over what is right, which pick and choose which sins to rebuke while holding tightly onto sins like greed, lust for power, and violence.

For me, the biggest struggle in this leaving of the traditional church is also leaving behind my calling as a Biblical Counselor. I never quite fit into that world well, and in fact got into many debates with my professors in my years of study. I also purposefully never turned in my completed NANC (now ACBC) exam to get certified by the Biblical Counseling big wigs because I could never 100% sign off on their statements of belief and didn’t want my name to be associated with them. Still, I paid tons of money (loans which I’m still paying off), gave a lot of my time and effort, to get my Master’s degree and be trained in that discipline. I also have 16 years of experience in Biblical Counseling. I’ve attended many conferences and classes over the years, continued in research and reading, and have given a huge amount of my adult life to that particular field of counseling. Giving that up is the hardest part.

I am a good counselor, sometimes I am even excellent. I am a good speaker and teacher, sometimes even excellent. I am a good writer, sometimes even excellent. And giving up that call and gift and skill is like giving up a huge part of who I am. I currently only have 3 counselees left, 2 paid and one pro-bono. And after them, I do not plan on taking any new counselees for the foreseeable future. The tradition in which I was taught and trained is so wrapped up in the white evangelical culture that I do not think it can be separated. And I do not have the time, energy, and money to go back to school and start over again to get trained in a different kind of counseling. So I must let it go. This breaks my heart the most.

I’m still working through a lot of this stuff, so things may change, but this is where I’m at right now. And, for those of you who know me well, this will not be a surprise. It’s actually been a very very long time coming. But I appreciate your love, support, prayer, encouragement, and listening ears these past few years as I’ve weighed these decisions. Feel free to message me if you have any questions about any of this, as I know I’m not the only one out there going through this.

The one thing I know for certain is that pursuing God and faith in Christ is still worth it, still beautiful and good and true, and that forming relationships with his children is still worth it. It just might look a little different for a lot of us.

Getting a Little Messy

It’s springtime, which means things get a little messy. Mum and I have done some backyard gardening, with Dandelion as our “helper.” And with all this new life, my allergies go crazy, so my head is frequently a stuffed mess. Being a permanently single 40-something Christian dealing with other Christians’ strongly held views of singleness? Also messy.

A couple months ago, I was able to have 1½ hour long conversation with my friend, pastor and writer Scott Mehl, about “The Mess of Singleness” for his podcast, “The Messy Podcast.” The episode aired at the end of March, but I didn’t think to mention it here at the time. If you haven’t had the chance to listen to it, I strongly encourage you to check it out. It holds truths, challenges, and encouragements for both singles and marrieds. 

You can find it on Apple or Spotify:

Just when I think I’ve said everything there is to say on this topic, someone like Scott comes along with great questions, and I realize there is so much more that needs to be expressed about living the life of a single adult in today’s Christian church environments. 

One of the main things I wanted to express is that singleness is vast and varied. From the young 20-something who has just started dating, to the 75 year old man who recently lost his wife of 50 years, from the divorced single parent, to the never-married person in middle age, singleness is not one-size-fits-all. 

If the Christian community wants to serve its single people well, it needs to expand its perspective and be ready to truly get to know each individual and what their specific needs are rather than treating singles ministry like a monolithic entity, usually geared toward young adults with the goal of marrying off as many of us as possible.

I’d love to hear what you think of the topics touched on in this interview, so feel free to comment or message me back once you’ve listened! What would you like me to discuss next time? What needs to be repeated, delved into more deeply here on my blog, or what have I missed thus far?

The New (Single) Girl At Church

I missed church this Sunday, accidentally. Somehow, I was an hour off in my head, starting last night when I set my alarm, right up to the middle of my shower this morning when I realized my error when it was too late. I’ve been trying out a different church for the past few weeks, and was looking forward to it. Ah well, such is life.

The church I’m trying out is multi-ethnic, tiny, and only a couple years old. It is led by a young, black, male pastor who loves God’s word and his people. As someone who has been unhappy with the state of the white evangelical church since moving away from my LA church, it was time to try something different. We’ll see how it goes. I’m still leading GriefShare (a grief support group for those who have recently lost a loved one) at my former church while I figure out if I’m going to leave or stay. The counseling pastor at my former church is aware and supportive of this transitional period, as is the pastor of the new church.

Trying out new churches as a single woman is always a daunting process. I know it’s now easy for marrieds either, but at least you have someone to walk through those doors with, someone to talk to about it after, someone to run interference in awkward social situations. You also don’t get stared at quite as much as you do as a single woman. You’d think I’d be used to it by now, having tried out churches as a singleton from college through today, but it’s still unpleasant. 

You have to face confused questions like “did you come here alone?” and, once they find out you’re single, the dreaded “don’t worry, there’s still time” or “never doubt that God can still bring you a husband” or “I know someone who got married at 50!” Ugh. I actually haven’t gotten much of this at my new church, which has been a pleasant surprise. I have gained enough confidence to shut it down pretty quickly when it does happen by reassuring people that I’m actually quite happy with my single life, and that I’m glad to be following God’s plan for me. And, when I’ve got nothing to say on the tip of my brain, I echo what my llama church notebook (pictured above) says, and just say “Nope!” and leave it at that.

There’s also the fear that every man you meet in the church might think you’re trying to hit on them, or their wives may get possessive. I don’t feel this way when I meet men outside of traditional Christian environments. But after enough experiences with men in conservative Christian circles being convinced that any unattached woman must be on the hunt for a man (specifically them?), and therefore dangerous possible vixens, I always feel more nervous during the church meet and greet when I shake a woman’s hand, then turn to shake her husband’s.

Sometimes the men ignore you altogether, and won’t even greet you. It’s bizarre. Then there’s the awkward Christian hugging thing – do I side hug?Actually hug? An awkward combo. of both? Anyway, I didn’t have horrible experiences with the men here, so that was nice.

A dear friend of mine who I’ve known for years has also started trying out this new church with me. She’s a single mom, and her adult daughter has come as well. Thank goodness she started coming before we had communion, or I’d never have figured out the whole wafer shrink-wrapped on top of the juice thing! We singles need to stick together to mitigate some of the awkwardness.

I battle between hope that this could be my church home for the foreseeable future, and cynicism that there is no church where I currently live that can fill that role. I’m not naive enough to think a church that’s “perfect for me” exists. I’m well aware that church is made up of fallen, broken sinners (like myself!) and it’s a family, which comes with some good, some bad, and lots of complications. I know it’s not all about me as well.  But I still yearn for a church where I see both a deep respect for God’s word and his love for the vulnerable lived out in word and deed.

I had the chance to meet with the pastor one on one to get some answers to questions about church doctrine, structure, and accountability, as well as views on women in ministry and on social justice and community involvement. It was a great start, and I always respect a Christian man who isn’t afraid to meet with me at the church, who listens well, and who responds with thoughtful, biblical, compassionate answers. I feel hopeful.

I’ll keep trying this new church throughout fall and hope to make my decision this winter. I’ll keep you guys posted on how it goes. Your prayers are appreciated!

Other singles out there, how do you handle trying out new churches?