A year ago yesterday I turned in my formal resignation to my former church. It’s been an interesting and wonderful year, full of growth, laughter, and a few tears, but well worth it.
I didn’t want to leave my former church. Although there were a lot of bad things that happened, there were also people who’d been kind to me and who I didn’t want to hurt… People who would be hurt by my leaving, no matter how the leaving was done. I was also scared. I believed that the basic doctrine taught was THE truth, but the situation at that church had become untenable. If I left, I would face the strong possibility that no other Oneness church would accept me, yet if I stayed, I knew that there was a strong possibility that I would be pressured to lie. The fallout from speaking the truth would be heavy, yet I had to speak. I’d been named in a lawsuit by a member who’d told me something entirely different than what he told in court.
Before the court case, I thought that I would simply, gracefully, disappear. I’d get a job and move, get married into another church, or simply move home to take care of my aging parents. Then I could go to a more liberal church and get away from what I considered the hurtful side of Pentecost–I thought that if I went to another church or into another part of the movement I’d be fine. I couldn’t grasp that problems might exist in other parts of Pentecost- I thought they were limited to my church. When the court papers were served, I knew I had to get out before responding to the papers. I kept some pending commitments, turned in my resignation, and promptly submitted my documentation to the court.
I wasn’t sure what would happen when the pastor got the resignation… as it turned out he never even acknowledged it, at least not to me. A few members continued to contact me for a few weeks. Finally, I told one that I’d resigned. They were shocked, hurt, and probably scared for themselves at that point. I explained that I’d deliberately refrained from telling them to ensure the pastor had received notice first, in order to protect them. Though I still wish I could have told a handful of people goodbye personally, that would have hurt them more. It surprised me and hurt me though, to realize that once they knew about my resignation, most never attempted to bring me back. It was as though either I or the church had suddenly disappeared from the city!
When I joined the support group board, I didn’t think I’d be leaving Pentecost forever. I assumed that I would leave for a short while, or leave the very strict group I was in, but I never thought I would leave completely. I was terrified of registering on the forum, but desperately needed some sort of interaction and a place to put my thoughts and work through everything that was happening.
Grace, faith, love… a different kind of prayer, faith filled and simple… the prayer drew me. Before leaving I’d talked to a chaplain about leaving. He was extremely kind. He listened rather than telling me what to do, and he listened completely and compassionately. I wasn’t used to that. After we visited, he asked if it would be alright to pray with me. The kind of prayer he prayed still brings tears to my eyes.
Still, it was only a few months later, after visiting another Oneness church a few times, that I knew I would probably never go back. The services seemed shallow and then I discovered there were connections between a member and members at my former church that would have led to more gossip. I was tired of the gossip and the struggle to prove myself. I’d also begun to realize that there were good churches outside the Oneness movement… and that I needed to learn some of the things they taught.
Once I realized and admitted to myself that I wouldn’t be going back to a Pentecostal church, I could move ahead. There were a lot of questions to answer, a lot of exploring to do. What did I believe? What didn’t I believe? What did I just do because I’d been told to, and what did I believe was actually in the Bible? What did the Bible teach about topics like grace that my former church had always avoided?
It’s been an interesting journey. It doesn’t seem like a year has gone by, yet if someone had asked me last December if I could have come to where I am today in such a short time, I would have been stunned.
I still struggle with some things. It’s hard to read my Bible (because of sermons I’m reminded of), but it’s becoming easier to pray. And not just to mumble a half thought prayer as I did in Pentecost or to push for a certain feeling or experience, but to truly talk to God about things, accepting that He’s there and He hears. I still respond strongly to some things, too. But I’m not afraid anymore. I don’t worry as much about what others think or what they might say. If something goes wrong, I don’t immediately think I must have sinned and God’s punishing me. And I don’t feel the pressure to pretend to be something I’m not, and never have been. It’s nice to be free to be real, to be myself. It’s nice to do things just for the enjoyment of doing them, without examining every minute to see if it could be judged wrong in some way.
Someone stopped me the other day and asked what was different about me. It isn’t the first time I’ve been asked. It’s not a change of dress or hairstyle. Apparently even to others I seem happier, more relaxed… something. And I am. Yesterday, I think the woman had decided I had a new guy in my life. No, I don’t. But I am finally really getting to know Him.
Merry Christmas, all.