Leaving Church: A Memoir of Faith

by Barbara Brown Taylor

Hardcover, 2006




"This beautiful book is rich with wit and humanness and honesty and loving detail....I cannot overstate how liberating and transforming I have found Leaving Church to be." --Frederick Buechner, author of Beyond Words "This is an astonishing book. . . . Taylor is a better writer than LaMott and a better theologian than Norris. In a word, she is the best there is." --Living Church Barbara Brown Taylor, once hailed as one of America's most effective and beloved preachers, eloquently tells the moving and delightful story of her search to find an authentic way of being Christian--even when it meant giving up her pulpit.


HarperOne (2006), 256 pages

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(154 ratings; 4)

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LibraryThing member homeschoolmimzi
Barbara Brown Taylor is a woman who was ordained as an Episcopal Minister and then became burned out and ultimately left her pastorate to become a professor. Her writing is elegant, honest and flows naturally. I enjoyed reading her thoughts and impressions and am grateful to have gained an
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understanding of some of the hardships of this profession.
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LibraryThing member ALincolnNut
Barbara Brown Taylor is one of the most prominent female American authors of books about religion. Over the course of her now dozen books (and probably counting), she has gained many fans for her engaging writing, particularly how she reveals herself in each of her books, many of which are sermons
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or about preaching.

In "Leaving Church," she recounts how she came to accept the call to her final parish as priest, and how she decided to leave the pulpit to become a full-time college professor. Subtitled, "A Memoir of Faith," it has two main sections, "Finding" and "Losing," with an extended epilogue called "Keeping."

This is an interesting book as it allows a glimpse at the personal side of being a parish priest -- the joys and the headaches. It also serves as a biography of faith in how Brown Taylor explores the transition of her faith from her vocational responsibilities to something she seems to be seeking for again in the second half of the book.

As a pastor, I appreciate the open way in which Brown Taylor invites people to imagine faith seeking, looking for the hand of God in many forms, in many contexts, and in many ways -- including outside of formal worship services. It is also helpful for a gifted author to describe a bit of how the stresses of serving as a religious leader can sometimes become an obstacle to personal faith.

However, I was mostly disappointed with this book. Time and again, I had the sneaking suspicion that much of the story was being consciously left out. I can understand the need for anonymity and for protecting the privacy of others, so I understand that many stories probably could not be told at all, for fear that they would betray a confidence. Granting this, though, the book still seemed overly disingenuous -- that Brown Taylor was not protecting the privacy of others as much as she was protecting -- or maybe even avoiding -- herself.

Perhaps others who are not pastors will appreciate the book more, and probably they are Brown Taylor's intended audience. From colleagues and others, I have heard of many who have found "Leaving Church" to be wonderful. Sadly, I found it otherwise.
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LibraryThing member cbradley
At first Barbra Brown Taylor’s book Leaving Church seems like a memoir of where she lost her conviction to be in ministry. The book recounts her early days of discovering God outside of the church, her first exposures to church, her entry into seminary, and her eventual call to the Episcopal
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Church. It becomes clear early in her ministry however that serving as a priest for the Episcopal Church was not a healthy way for her to live. She describes the frustrations she found in both her urban Atlanta church where she served as one priest amongst several on staff, and her difficulty in the more rural setting of northern Georgia where she became the sole priest of a small church with a growing congregation. Perhaps Taylor’s biggest failure was the more successful her ministry became, the less connected she felt to God.
After five and a half years in rural Georgia she eventually found her priestly calling was not to a church but to the university. She didn’t renounce her ordination; rather she simply changed the focus of her ministry. In her description of life in parish ministry it seems clear that she entered a church completely ready to take care of her congregation but wholly unprepared to take care of herself. At one point Taylor describes what her Sabbath day entailed and it becomes clear that she knew the word but had never learned how to put it into practice.
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LibraryThing member skokie
Ordained minister in the Episcopal Church, the author takes you through her spiritual journey which includes resigning from the ministry after 20 years. The author uses experiences, honesty, and a warm heart to give you a picture of why she made the hardest decision of her life. She left the
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official ministry so she could start a new one.

pg 226 "On the twentieth anniversary of my ordination, I would have to say that at least one of the things that almost killed me was becoming a professional holy person."
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LibraryThing member TimBazzett
I read a lot of memoirs these days. In fact they are probably my favorite literary genre. Maybe I should have been warned by Taylor's subtitle - not simply "a memoir," but "a memoir of faith." Because this is not a memoir in the usual sense. There is precious little of Taylor's childhood, youth or
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young adulthood - no real concrete stories and examples from her life. Too much of this book remains caught in the abstraction of ideas and beliefs, with not nearly enough examples. The people who show up in the book remain undeveloped vague outlines. And I have a hard time identifying with Brown's spiritual "quest," if that is what it is. I don't think it's because she's a woman either. What few facts that do emerge about her life outside this "quest" do not really serve to make her a sympathetic character. Daughter of a psychotherapist, sister of a lawyer, wife of an engineer - all these tidbits add up to what appears to have been a life of privilege and ease, and continued to be even after her ordination, as she speaks of her Saab and Audi and how they didn't fit into her rural community, and goes on at some length about everything she "wanted" in her custom-built home outside of town (in lieu of a parsonage near her church). What comes through in Barbara Brown Taylor's book is a story of a driven overachiever, who in fact drives herself into a near nervous breakdown, which finally causes her to leave her church and the active priesthood. While I do not doubt the sincerity of her quest for her true vocation and place in God's world, I do wonder about her motives. She became more likeable - more human - in the final section of the book, after she had left the priesthood, when she talks about her crisis of faith and things like her fears of inadequacy and the death of her father. Having said all of this, I still have to say that I'm glad I read the book, which has left me with much to think about in regard to my own role in the Church (Catholic in my case)and my relationship with God and my place in His world. I also think that Taylor is a person I'd like to know, but these 200-plus pages have not given me that opportunity. A memoir of faith? Perhaps. A "memoir"? No. - Tim Bazzett, author of Reed City Boy
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LibraryThing member clparson
I was given this book as a gift because I had left church, but not my faith. If I thought that was tough, I cannot imagine being ordained and leaving church. But, this book had many insights that I may not have considered.

Throughout the book, as Brown's career as a priest seems to get better and
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better, her relationship with God seems to be put on the back burner. Talk about a conflict! She does not exactly see eye to eye with some of the elders and other officials at the small church where she preaches. This opens her eyes to the fact that what she may think is a good thing for the church, it may not be that good after all. After leaving the stress of preaching, she takes some time to get to know herself and God better. I loved this part of the book, because I could really relate to it. The word choice and sentence structure was amazing and kept the book moving quickly. My favorite sentence is where Brown was describiong her relationship with God, that she in bed, she would "peck him on the check, and roll over to sleep." I think the message is key to this day and age. In our fast-paced lives, it is hard to stop and detach from that world and look at the world God created. It is even harder to take the time to actually have a conversation with Him. But, if one takes to time and effort, it is worth the while.

I would recommend this book to any, but especially to those who seem to have lost their connection with God.
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LibraryThing member debnance
The story of an Episcopalian preacher who found she had to leave her church to find God. Very powerful story, emotionally moving, with the honesty of Anne Lamott and the beautiful writing of all great novelists.
LibraryThing member joanj
Engaging look behind the collar at the life of a parish priest and the struggles to be/remain human in a position that automatically elevates a person to a much higher place. This book gave me so much to think about in my own life - I think her feelings of overload, exhaustion and burnout within a
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"job" are universal. I can think of many who have those very same feelings - teachers, supervisors, mothers, etc. -- you become "disconnected" if you fail to take time for yourself. Taylor clearly began to see her role as a "job" rather than a calling or a lifestyle and I applaud her decision to step down and reevaluate her own spirituality and ultimately find her true calling and use her gift to spread God's word through her eloquent writing. For me, the main theme of this book was to take time to find God (and passion) in everything - God is NOT just within the four walls of a building - God is everywhere and is constantly sending us reminders of that -- my favorite line: when stopped by the state trooper for speeding, her friend received this admonition: "but what made you think that hurrying would help you find your way?" And then "What made any of us think that the place we are trying to reach is far, far ahead of us somewhere and that the only way to get there is to run until we drop? For Christians, at least part of the answer is that many of us have been taught to think of God's kingdom as something outside ourselves, for which we must search as a merchant who searches for the pearl of great price." Or as Simon and Garfunkel put it: slow down, you move too fast.....
Her section on "tame worship" also made me stop and think of myself - and how I often only "show up" for service without the energy and passion that would make my worship meaningful to me
I agree with one of the other reviews - there was no development of relationships with other people - esp. her husband. A couple of times I wondered if he was even still around. I can't imagine not including his role in her decision to walk away from Grace-Calvary and I was most curious about his relationship with the Native American worship.
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LibraryThing member yeldabmoers
Leaving Church by Barbara Brown Taylor is a spiritual memoir I’ve been eager to read for some time as that category of memoir is my favorite. I wanted to love this book for many reasons. It’s ultimately about a woman’s relationship to God. Taylor, who was a minister for many years, leaves the
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church to become a professor of religion. Here, in this new vocation, she believes she is closer to God. It’s an utterly fascinating concept of a story. Unfortunately, the story itself and the way she tells it, to me, was unremarkable. There was nothing I found stirring or memorable in her story, not any revelatory passages of her passion for God, not her story of transition, not her writing style, which I found prosaic. The only aspect of the book I found poignant were her journal-style passages of the rustic-style life she adopts after moving to a new town and a new congregation. She builds her house herself on farmland, from the bottom up, no easy feat (think of plumbing, foundation, etc.) and is as familiar with the land and its animals as Annie Dillard was with Virginia’s Blue Ridge valley in her memoir Pilgrim at Tinker Creek. Still, I have not given hope on this author. Maybe I simply didn’t connect to Leaving Church. Her other bestselling spiritual memoir An Altar in the World sits on my bookshelf. Soon enough, I’ll be turning its pages.
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LibraryThing member JRexV
This is a great book. "...how we treat one another is the best expression of our beliefs.."
LibraryThing member auntieknickers
Hello, my name is Barbara and I'm a workaholic priest. From outside, it's not hard to see why this renowned preacher and committed clergyperson felt it necessary to leave parish ministry. I hope her memoir will be helpful to other clergy such as my daughter and her roommate, seminarians, whose
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book, which I read while visiting them this was.
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LibraryThing member robinamelia
While to a certain extent, Ms. Taylor's failures are more successful than any of my achievements, she still conveys her sense of desperation as she sought to be a spiritual leader while still taking care of her own spiritual needs. God must definitely still love her, since she fell into a nice
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college teaching job and didn't have to move away from her lovely home. But I did find this book encouraging as I am in the process of leaving my lay job at a church and seeking career paths that do not leave me feeling spiritually depleted.
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LibraryThing member maryreinert
"Leaving Church" is somewhat a misleading title in that it could be construed as a guide for leaving church. Granted that is what the author did, but that's certainly not the entire story.

In this book Taylor tells the story of her faith journey from a young girl always interested in matters of
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religion to her ordination as an Episcopal priest and then her decision to leave the clergy and become a teacher. It is a journey for her and the book is personal, but it is so much more than that.

"Leaving Church" is a guide for believers of all faiths. The ups and downs, the questions, the challenges, the everyday struggle to put faith in action--all these must be handled not just by clergy, but by all persons of faith. Taylor does not provide answers, but she provides an example for others. Her faith is not one of dogma, but one of trust. This is a book to be read and re-read. Her writing is sincere, but not preachy; thoughtful, but not difficult.
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LibraryThing member olegalCA
Barbara, where have you been all my life?

It's disconcerting to realize that this wonderful woman has been writing books for a while and I just now found her. She has captured my heart much like Frederick Buechner and Philip Yancey did years ago - with her honesty about God, the church and why
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sometimes we can't reconcile the two. Just about every page has a quote and every chapter has an experience that I can relate to. I look forward to reading more.
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LibraryThing member kvrfan
I was bound to like this book as Barbara Brown Taylor and I have followed similar paths: following a genuine call to ordination, having a satisfying career in parish ministry, and yet feeling just as genuine call to leave the church and learning what satisfaction with a new identity can mean.

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wonderful writer, Barbara well catalogs all the emotions felt along the way: grief, uncertainty, and finally, peace. She quotes a friend she knew while still serving as a pastor who described his own feelings about letting the church go in his own life. At the time, she couldn't quite understand what he meant when he said that he felt satisfied with his new path because he thought "he finally heard the gospel. The good news of Christ is 'You have everything you need to be human.' There is nothing outside of you that you still need--no approval from the authorities, no attendance at temple, no key truth hidden in the tenth chapter of some sacred book. In your life right now, God has given you everything that you need to be human."

Barbara now understands what he meant.

So do I.
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LibraryThing member klburnside
I really enjoy Taylor's thoughts on religion and faith. She writes beautifully and has a perspective I really relate to. I would love to hang out with her and her husband on their farm in rural Georgia.
LibraryThing member bness2
Taylor seems to see the church like I do, even though we are in different denominations. She provides truly profound insights into what it means to be a part of God's kingdom while she explores how difficult it was for her to serve as a priest with any kind of life balance. I think the major
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take-home of this book is that we sometimes take ourselves too seriously and God not serious enough, and sometimes the Bible can get in the way of finding God and His kingdom.
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LibraryThing member PuddinTame
After a couple of the blurbers said that this is a book for everyone, including the unchurched, like me, I felt that I had to write a review.

I was asked to read the book by a Christian friend who was reading it for a Sunday School class, and wanted to know what I thought -- most of the class
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thought that Taylor seemed self-centered, but she disagreed. I understood why the others thought that, but I wasn't ready to assume that it was true.

I thought that as a memoir, it sometimes had too much information, and sometimes too little.
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LibraryThing member ajlewis2
This is a book about faith and not certainty. I especially loved her chapter about the Native American Sun Dance held on their property. Her husband was involved in it and she came to it only at the end. The telling of that experience was beautiful. In fact, all of her writing is quite beautiful as
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she relates her journey into full-time ministry in the church and back out as she goes into other work. She is careful to give her experience without claiming it is everyone's experience. She most certainly does not preach to her reader as she shares her story.
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LibraryThing member LivelyLady
An Episcopal minister's faith journey.
LibraryThing member Jim53
Taylor's memoir describes the processes by which she became an Episcopal priest, led her own congregation, became overwhelmed, and stepped away to accept a teaching position. As the leader of her own small congregation, she tried to be all things to all people, without nourishing herself, and found
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it increasingly impossible, exhausting, and depressing. In resigning her pulpit, she found herself able to appreciate the everyday world and to find the holiness in mundane objects and experiences. She explored other traditions and found much she could relate to. I found much to admire in the way she thinks about spirituality, and the questions that she ponders. Highly recommended for anyone with an interest in these topics.
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LibraryThing member dgregoryburns
Taylor's style reminds me somewhat of Anne Lamott. This book was one which I related to on many levels. However, if you read only one of Taylor's books choose the far superior "An Alter in the World".
LibraryThing member wordygirl39
I just finished reading this book and I liked it quite a bit. I've read Taylor's essays for years in the Christian Century, so I thought I would appreciate the book, but I wasn't prepared for how clearly it mirrored my own history, feelings, responses and longings for church and faith. I am not a
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clergywoman, but my journey in and out of Faith has been similar. I am the daughter of a minister and a friend to several other ministers and I think Taylor adequately captures the spiritual heaviness and loneliness associated with the job. She also reminds all Believers that, in the words of Bruce Cockburn, "God is bigger than an ideology," but she manages to do this without the usual airy fairy Baby Boomer new age language (sorry, Boomers). Always grounded, her words carry great weight. In the words of my current pastor, "Leaving Church kicked my ass." Yeah.
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LibraryThing member forsanolim
The author, Barbara Brown Taylor, was an Episcopalian priest for some twenty years, the last five of which as the rector of a small congregation in a small Georgia town. At the end of that time, Taylor, emotionally and spiritually drained from her pastoral duties, made the difficult decision to
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accept a position as a professor of religion at a nearby college. In this memoir, she explores the evolution of her faith throughout her life and how leaving the clergy (though most definitely not the faith) has impacted her faith and relationships.

I usually write longer reviews, but I don't think I'm going to do so for this book, at least not right now; I will say that I found it very touching and impactful.
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