7 Things I Wish the Church Knew About Me

An open letter to the church I left — but maybe not for good.

Dear Church,

It’s coming up on one year since I left you.

I grew up with you. I memorized all the Bible verses and had all the “right answers” ingrained in me before I had time to ask the questions myself. I learned to speak your language very well.

I remember the guilt I would feel if I missed a few days of devotions, those few minutes before bed I would set aside to read a Bible passage out of context and force a prayer.

Today, evangelical culture is steeped with buzz words and behaviors that trigger memories for me, bringing back feelings of shame and inadequacy.

This is why walking through your doors on Sunday fills me with anxiety and fear.

But every few months, I get the courage to try you again–and when I do, this is what I wish you knew about me:

1. I love Jesus.

I may have stepped away from regular church attendance for a season, but I haven’t stepped away from Him. Can you see me as part of the Body, rather than seeing me as lost?

2. I still worship.

It happens on the ski trails, by the riverbanks, in the mountains, and through acts of service to my friends and community. When I hear you asking me to “come worship” with you on Sunday, it tells me you assume that because I don’t attend regularly, I don’t worship.

3. I don’t need your pity.

I know how I must look, walking in with my big sunglasses, skulking into the back row, keeping my head down and leaving my phone in my hand. Do you know that on the other end of that phone is a community of people that have become my safety net? I need to know they are there–just a tweet or a message away.

When I enter your sanctuary sometimes, I just want to worship. I gaze up at the cross, the tapestries, and the stained glass images. Do I seem sad or hard-hearted? This is me worshipping. Don’t assume just because you don’t see me every Sunday that I don’t know your God.

4. I need you to respect my boundaries.

It all seems to come with the territory of attending a church on Sunday morning. The forced fellowship, the signing up for groups or activities, or inviting me to weekday events. I wish you could just allow me to tiptoe into your midst. To observe, contemplate, and make an informed decision before I call you “home.”

Just let me be here. Just let me worship. And please, don’t make me “turn to the person beside me and share _____.”

5. I don’t want to be your project.

I lived in the evangelical world long enough to know about the group prayer meetings, the missionary’s newsletter that names individuals they have been “working with” and reveals their stories for all to hear. I know too much about this world to not be skeptical when someone suddenly makes me their best friend.

I can’t help but wonder . . . who are you telling about me? Are my words safe with you? Do you even like me?

6. I have questions, and that’s okay.

I live with questions, and I’ve settled in comfortably (or uncomfortably?) amongst them.

They will always be part of my journey, and they don’t change my faithfulness to Jesus. I won’t ignore them, and I won’t try to satisfy them with surface answers. I will continue to seek the truth without fear.

I’ve come to realize we don’t need to shelter God from our questions. He is big enough to handle them, and He can even help us keep our heads high as we ask them.

I need you to be okay with my questions too. Even more, I need you to be okay with not giving me an answer.

7. I crave authentic community.

Despite what my Sunday morning posturing might tell you, my heart longs for community.

I crave the kind of community that is born out of a collection of broken but redeemed people, being honest and real with one another, basking in grace, and floundering around through life together.

This isn’t built after one Sunday. Can you allow me to enter into this naturally and when I am ready for it?

I can’t speak for all of us who have left, but for me the most poignant words of encouragement you could give me on a Sunday morning as I enter your doors is, “You are welcome here. All of you is welcome.”

I know you want to make me feel welcome, and I believe much of what you do is of love. Can you remember that when I come to you I come with questions, baggage, memories, burns, and scars–many of which have been caused by your people?

All of this is wrapped up in my humanity and I can’t leave it behind–not even on Sunday morning.

This post appeared originally at Redemption Pictures.

Image by Josh Hawley.

Meghan Ableson
Written by
  • Doug Wilkening

    I can’t help but notice what a great job the evangelical church of your youth did at teaching you how to find fault with others while saying that you love them. Well, I guess we deserve a taste of our own medicine.

  • http://tracesoffaith.com/ Traci @tracesoffaith

    Thank you for including thoughts on what does make you welcome. As a leader at my local church, I want my initial approach with visitors to be totally authentic. It is hard for us to get it right too!

  • Marie M

    God wants us to give of what we have been given. It’s not about what you receive or how others treat you. God is always there for us ~ but He isn’t following us ~ we must follow Him.

    • Meghan Ableson

      My experience with God has been much different Marie, in fact he has pursued me fiercely even during the times I tried to turn my back on him completely. He draws me into His presence continuously.

      • annie

        Oh, Love that will not let me go.

  • notalone63

    I’m giving a shout out to you Meghan. I hear you, and you are not alone…not by far, we are an emerging presence. Keep putting your heart and your thoughts out there….I for one am listening and am encouraged:)

  • Eric

    I lived in the evangelical world long enough to know about…

    I, too, have lived in the evangelical world for a long time. I haven’t left my church yet, although my attendance has been poor. The last 2 years have been a trial that deepened my faith and opened my eyes to those outside my little world. I got to know the “villains” of evangelicals — LBGT, women pastors, liberals — and found that not only were they human, but they were Christians as well. Or worse, they left the faith because of evangelicals.

    I stay because I hope I can share what I have learned, but I worry that I’ll be rejected.

  • Katie

    The Episcopal Church strives to celebrate questioning and reflection in light of our God-given intellect. While The Episcopal Church uses a Book of Common Prayer, every Episcopal Church has a different energy to it. So if you enter one that doesn’t speak to you, try a couple more. There is an Episcopal Community that will meet you where you are, for all of who you are, because Jesus told us to do that.

  • loveistheanswer17

    I admire your courage for questioning your beliefs. I have found myself wondering… is the bible wrong or is it just our imperfect interpretation of God’s word? However, I believe that God is love. We were blessed with this fascinating instinct, to attempt to fuse our intellect with our pervasive knowledge of the heart. It is a delicate balance and one that needs constant attention to remain just. Our churches do not have all the answers. We are simply trying to find them, nurture them and believe that they are righteous and in harmony with our faith and conscience. After struggling with the issues that did not align with Jesus’ teachings, I realized religion is not bad. I have finally found a church that works for me. I encourage you to seek the truth and to not feel so judged. You are awesome, so is faith :)