If you read yesterday’s post, you know that I am a spiritual person. I don’t say religious, because I’m still struggling with finding a denomination/church that really feels like home. I’m not actually sure that one exists, but I carry my faith in my heart. I love the word spiritual director Rachelle Mee-Chapman uses. She calls people like me “relig-ish.”
Now before you start thinking I’m trying to convert you or preach, let me just say I’m one of the last people who would ever do that. A not-so-nice name for what I feel about religion is “post-traumatic church syndrome.”
I didn’t grow up in church. If I decided to go on Sunday morning, I had to set my alarm, get ready, and call the family I would get a ride with in time for all of us to get to Sunday School. I went to occasional Sunday evenings, revivals, and Vacation Bible Schools. My experience of church was different than that of someone who went every time the doors opened, but I did grow up in South Carolina. Believing seemed to be in the water there. I didn’t know too many others like me, and I believed generally what everyone else did, so it was easy to develop the kind of faith that was good enough for show.
In ninth grade, I transferred to a different school. I met a girl whose family had been missionaries in another country. After getting to know them, I actually “GOT” what it meant to believe–to live your faith. From that time, I was a believer. I was never as conservative as those around me, but it worked well for a long time.
It wasn’t until I was in my late 20’s that things began to fall apart–or come together. I was at Southern Baptist Theological Seminary in Louisville, Kentucky. As a student in the master of social work program, I believed that I had found my calling. I remember writing a paper early on considering the possibility of becoming ordained. I still believe that my calling was true and real.
During the summer after my first year, two things happened. I was hospitalized for depression, and the administration of the seminary became more conservative. This is when I realized that some forms of religion came with lies hidden within. One of the first points of conflict between the administration and our program was the statement, “The culture of social work and the culture of theological education are not congruent.” I remember feeling as if I had been struck by an arrow in my heart. Apparently, social work was too inclusive of different beliefs for comfort. Gay and lesbian people didn’t deserve care and ministry. Women were not allowed to be leaders or preachers. The proclamations continued, and we as students and faculty were caught in the crossfire. In short, anyone who didn’t believe the way they were “supposed to” wasn’t wanted or deserving of care.
This finally concluded with the program being dismantled and moved somewhere else where it grew and thrived. Since I had lost time when I could have been in school, when the people who started the program with me were graduating in the spring of 1995, I was trying to figure out where to go and what to do next.
I ended up at the University of Louisville and eventually earned a master’s degree in counseling psychology. I tried to convince myself that taking that path was just as good, but it never felt the same. I loved studying counseling, but my heart was never in it the same way as it had been in social work.
I had lost my world, and in some ways a kind of innocence, and it was something I would never get back. I wasn’t angry with God, so I was able to maintain some kind of faith throughout it all.
My heart is still bruised and trying to figure out where things went wrong. I know deep down it was nothing I did, but I maintain a safe distance from church to this day. I know not every church would be the same, but I learned the worst lie of all from this. I learned that spiritual community isn’t safe. I’m still trying to unlearn that lie–at least I hope and pray that it’s a lie. I hope eventually I find the place that teaches me a new truth about spiritual community. For now, it’s Rachelle’s Flock.