Noted preacher and writer Barbara Brown Taylor served as a parish minister for nearly 15 years, beginning at a bustling urban church in Atlanta. It was a vocation she expected to fulfill the rest of her adult life. But after five years as rector of Grace-Calvary Episcopal Church in rural Clarkesville, Georgia, she realized that in order to keep her faith, she had to leave ordained ministry.
“Drawn to marry the Divine Presence, I had ended up estranged,” she writes in Leaving Church: A Memoir of Faith (HarperSanFrancisco). Normally a writer of sermons, an exercise in which she tells public truths, the switch to sharing private truths was painful, but ultimately healing, as she told an audience at the Washington National Cathedral in June.
My last book came out six years ago—a long time, for a wordy person. When people asked me what the holdup was, I told them I had lost my longtime editor at Cowley Publications, which was true, but I had also lost my voice—or my voice was changing anyway, and I did not yet trust it enough to put anything in print. I was no longer a parish priest. Many of my old certainties about life and faith had slipped from my hands. After a dozen years with religious publishers, writing in and for the church, I was not sure I could speak to anyone else—people who had resigned from church, for instance, or who had never had any interest in joining. I did not know who my audience was, any more than I knew if I could speak about things that mattered without using the religious language that had served me so well for so long.