Over the past week, my social media feeds have been overwhelmed with a viral article entitled "Departure: Why I Left the Church," authored by the Rev. Alex Lang, a PC(USA) pastor who recently stepped away from parish ministry. Along with the many reposts of that specific blog post, I encountered many, many response posts penned by other clergy friends, colleagues, and acquaintances from across the denominational spectrum. Many of those responses lifted up similar sentiments, in a "me too" vibe. Others served as more of a counter to Rev. Lang's words, with many a post suggesting he had it coming.
I have nothing to add as far as the virality of the article goes, and will say nothing of Rev. Lang's decision to step away from parish ministry.
To be clear: I do not know him; I do not know his ministry; I do not know his hurts... not that any of that has stopped others from chiming in.
All I can say is this: I grieve for him and for his family; I grieve for the congregation he leaves behind; I grieve for the institutional church... because from all that I've gathered, he had many incredible God-given gifts to share, and those gifts are now absent from the church.
Having said that, however, reading his words was admittedly a bit haunting to me... because it wasn't that long ago that I, too, considered leaving the church -- and for some of the same reasons he cites in his article. During one of the most traumatic* seasons of my life, my mental, emotional, and physical health had taken a nose-dive. I began pursuing jobs in the secular world, in hopes that I'd simply make it out alive.
Rather than attempt to write something new to add to an already wordy discourse in clergy circles this week, instead I'll simply link to a sermon I preached recently entitled "Can't Not," based upon Jeremiah 20:7-13. In a moment of vulnerability that I don't usually employ in sermons, it tells the story of the time I considered stepping away from ministry, and how I ultimately came to a place of well-earned and hard-fought healing that enabled me to stay.
I share this not to imply that my decision to stay makes me stronger or more courageous than someone else, or even to imply that ministry is a uniquely perilous vocation that cannot be matched by other jobs. Each person, each circumstance, each setting is unique. Pain is pain. Trauma is trauma. These are difficult times for us all. Also, this sermon isn't really meant to be considered a response to the virality of the past week, since I wrote and proclaimed it a few months ago. In choosing to share the video below, I'm simply acknowledging that the words of Rev. Lang brought my own story to mind once more. I'm simply acknowledging my grief for the places that the church universal falls short, and my joy for the places it embodies the love of Christ. I'm simply acknowledging a part of my story that holds a gentle perspective that says: "me too." And, "I can't not."
* = I'm beginning to fear that the word trauma can be overused in and through modern pop-psychology. As such, I'm trying to be careful about my use of the word. And in this instance, for better or for worse, my PTSD diagnosis has earned me the ability to claim the word here.
I'm a husband, father, news junkie, theatre lover, enneagram enthusiast, bi advocate, amateur foodie, wannabe barista, and an ordained pastor in the Presbyterian Church (USA).
All works by Rev. TJ Remaley on this website are licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-ShareAlike 4.0 International License
This blog is maintained personally by me and does not necessarily represent the views of any congregation I have served. Every effort is made to give proper attribution for quotations, images, and other media used on this page.