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Leaving Church: A Memoir of Faith Hardcover – Bargain Price, May 30, 2006

4.5 out of 5 stars 271 customer reviews

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Hardcover, Bargain Price, May 30, 2006
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Editorial Reviews

From Publishers Weekly

Starred Review. A widely acclaimed preacher, Taylor draws on her homiletical skills in this finely crafted memoir with a simple plot: an Episcopal priest exhausts her inner resources, first in an urban church and then in a small country parish; she changes jobs, struggles and finds renewal. Such a synopsis, however, does not do justice to Taylor's literary style in this rich evocation of her lifelong love affair with God. "When I think of my first cathedral," she writes, "I am back in a field behind my parents' house in Kansas, with every stalk of prairie grass lit up from within." Drawn to the church, she compulsively overworks: "I had such a strong instinct for rescue that my breasts fairly leaked when I came across those in need of rescuing." Though she has found new employment, she realizes she is still a priest: "I miss being a lightning rod, conducting all that heat and light not only from heaven to earth but also from person to person." Current and former clergy will relate to her comical and sometimes touching descriptions of parish life, while memoir buffs will savor her journey as she identifies her core beliefs, sets boundaries and learns to relish her "blessed swath" of the world. (May)
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From Booklist

Episcopal priest Taylor, a respected and beloved preacher, ended a 20-year career when, after much reflection, she left the church. She had expected to spend the rest of her life writing sermons and leading worship. Instead, she now teaches full time at a college in Georgia. With its three indicatively titled sections--"Finding," "Losing," "Keeping"--Leaving Church aims to explain her compulsion to leave the familiar behind. When she was first ordained and for years thereafter, she felt certain about the fundamentals of her own faith and what it meant to be Christian. But she slowly realized that she was conflicted, internally and with the church, in large part because of church-inclusiveness controversies, including gay and lesbian issues. She laments that while ostensibly protecting the integrity of scripture and church doctrine, people can trample the rights of others. She discovered that change isn't easy. Sometimes, even getting dressed in the morning seems an insurmountable challenge. Ultimately, Taylor's is a luminous portrait of faith not lost but questioned, refound, and regained. June Sawyers
Copyright © American Library Association. All rights reserved

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Product Details

  • Hardcover: 256 pages
  • Publisher: HarperOne (May 30, 2006)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0060771747
  • ASIN: B0058M64I2
  • Product Dimensions: 5.5 x 0.9 x 8.2 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 11.2 ounces
  • Average Customer Review: 4.5 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (271 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #1,574,874 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

Customer Reviews

Top Customer Reviews

Format: Hardcover
To thousands of readers, Barbara Brown Taylor is best known as a writer of resources for the ordained (Home By Another Way; The Seeds of Heaven; etc.). Her books have become a staple in the mainline Protestant clergy diet, like casseroles or Frederick Buechner. Clergy will find multitudes in this new book, as well. Just as Buechner's memoirs helped clergy twenty years ago, Barbara Brown Taylor's will, today. Clergy will understand when she tells what she's thinking and how she's scrutinizing while administering communion (p. 34), or as she movingly describes what it felt like to be ordained a priest (p. 43). Her descriptions of unease and insecurity in the role will speak most profoundly to fellow clergy, but also to anyone who has counted a priest, pastor, or deacon, a friend.

On the other hand, Leaving Church is too limiting of a title for Taylor's new memoir. I hope that the phrase will not keep those in the pews, or even those who left the church long ago, from reading it. A quote from William Faulkner opens Part One of the book, and would do well to open every memoir: "The only thing worth writing about is the human heart in conflict with itself."

The simple facts are these: Baptized Catholic, she wanders in and out of a few Protestant denominations. Drawn to a life of divine importance during high school in the sixties, she attends Yale Divinity School in the seventies on a scholarship; is among the first women ordained in the Episcopal Church USA a few years later; serves a large church in Atlanta (All Saints') for a decade as one of several clergy; seeks and finds a rural parish to lead on her own (Grace-Calvary in Clarkesville, GA); and after several years, quits, exhausted, taking a job teaching religion to college undergraduates.
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Format: Hardcover
For a long time, any new collection of Barbara Brown Taylor's sermons was "must reading" for me. Her gift for storytelling, combined with an ability to get down to one gem in sometimes complex texts, provided fertile ground for meditation.

Then came a long stretch where I no longer snapped up her books -- until this recent "memoir of faith." It is clear that Barbara Brown Taylor has changed, and she shares those changes in this elegantly written book.

As she took this reader through her own journey from large urban parish to teaching (with a stop in a small country parish), she examines her interior life and her need for control. In a very moving passage, she describes her first Sunday in the pew instead of leading worship. Her candor in describing her desire to still be at the center of attention is something that speaks to anyone who has surrendered the spotlight, whether voluntarily or involuntarily.

Yet, as I read the section dealing with her life in her small country parish, I couldn't help but experience a disconnect. Her descriptions of feeling overburdened and of overcompensation leave out a very key part of why that might have happened. At the same time that she is pastoring this church, she is also spending a lot of time elsewhere as a guest preacher, member of the College of Preachers, and retreat leader. Yet there is no mention of the possibility that steady travel and multiple responsibilities might have played a role in both her feelings of burnout and some difficult relationships with parishioners. Memoir, by its very name, is naturally selective, and a memoirist has the right to pick and choose what to leave in and what to leave out.
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Format: Hardcover
I have enjoyed Barbara Brown Taylor's essays in The Christian Century and there is no question that she is a talented and descriptive writer. This book is a pleasant (and quick) read largely because her prose flows so beautifully.

On the other hand, I had some issues with this book. As someone who is also ordained (United Methodist), I know firsthand the pressures that one faces in parish ministry. There's never enough time, there's always a need, and "compassion fatigue," as Taylor puts it, is a real-world possibility. For me, however, ministry is first and foremost about calling--that God is somehow involved in choosing us for this work. That doesn't make us special or spiritually pedestal-worthy (as one of my seminary professors once put it, "When God calls you to ministry, he isn't doing you a favor."). Taylor's story as I read it seems to involve more of a drift toward ministry as a helping profession where baby birds and wounded souls can be healed by clergy touch. I'm not always sure that that's a healthy vision of ministry, especially when its the only one. The call to lead, to be prophetic, to teach, to handle the tough stuff, and to be the called out representative of God is hard work and being faithful to the task is less about being a "helper" and more about being an "equipper." Setting healthy boundaries and revisiting our call frequently are two of the essential tasks of clergy if we're going to stick with God's call on us for the long haul. Ultimately, ministry isn't about us--it's about what God does through us.

The other thing that I had in the back of mind as I read was the fact that Barbara could leave parish ministry with minimal disruption to her life.
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