A Crisis of Church

I think I may be gearing up to make another major life change. 

I don’t think I am having a crisis of faith.  I think I believe what I’ve always believed.  I believe the Bible is truth, although it may or may not be always factual.  After all, wasn’t Jesus often inclined to use stories to teach His truths? I believe in one God, in three forms- Father, Son, and Holy Spirit.  I believe that I am a child of God and that I live within the grace of His embrace.  I believe that Jesus is my Savior.  I am committed, with the strength of the Holy Spirit, to living in a way that glorifies God and demonstrates the love of Christ.  I believe I am called to live an ordinary life with extraordinary love, in the name of Jesus. I believe that, in addition to my Christian obligation to follow in the footsteps of Jesus, the secret to being my happiest, most authentic self is to model faith, hope, and love in all I do.  I believe I have often failed to live in such a way and that I will continue to fail.  I also believe that God always forgives me, because He loves me just that much.  I believe He will use all things, including my failures, to teach and strengthen me so that I may be ever better. 

So the problem isn’t really faith.  I would say it is more that I am having a crisis of church.   

I grew up Catholic.  For most of my life, I believed I would always be Catholic. The Catholic Church felt like home for my faith.  Over the past several years, my certainty that I would always be Catholic has faded.  There have been several times when my connection with Catholicism has cracked and worn very thin.  

During the priest sex abuse scandals, my loyalty wavered, almost to the point of disintegration.  In my own life, I had a connection with three different priests accused of molesting children. By their own admission many years after the fact, these men were guilty of sexual behavior that harmed children.   It was difficult to continue to believe in the goodness of my chosen church at that time.  Still, I reasoned that it might be throwing the baby out with the bathwater to leave the church over the actions of some priests and church administrators.  It also felt somehow disloyal to consider leaving my church home in its darkest days.  I knew many good, brave priests who worked hard, despite public vilification, to shepherd their people through hard times.  I reasoned that, regardless of what some individuals had done, my faith still felt fed by the liturgies and sacraments and fellowship in my parish.   

Then, a daughter of one of my best friends was getting married.  The family was Catholic. The daughter and her fiancé went to the required pre-marital counseling with a priest at their home parish. The pre-marital counseling basically consisted of the priest advising them not to marry…. solely because the parents of the fiancé were divorced.  Instead of just advising them of the possible pitfalls, helping them develop tools to create a strong marriage, and celebrating their love, the Church- in the person of this priest- discouraged the couple… from Catholicism.  The couple married outside the church.  They have now been happily married for almost ten years and have two beautiful children.  This experience bothered me, but, again, I thought of it as the actions of a particular priest and not necessarily a reflection on the policy of the larger Catholic Church. 

I began to feel even more disconnected from the Catholic Church when I found that, more and more often, preaching about social justice issues became preaching about political issues. I understand that how we behave and what we do to help others are vital issues for Christians.  I also understand, after spending a lot of time in thought, study, and prayer, that social justice and moral issues are rarely as definitive as we would like them to be.  When we act, the consequences of our actions are often wide-reaching and unexpected, in both positive and negative ways.  Moral dilemmas are called moral dilemmas because they are complicated.  I began to feel that the Church was ignoring the complications and preaching societal mandates with no consideration of the various layers of implication and how to address them.  First of all, men must change before kings must change so I’m not sure that preaching for political agendas is what Christ had in mind.  Secondly, it felt like preachers were implying that the Christianity of anyone who felt differently must be suspect.  I think a good preacher can and should challenge a Christian to ask herself if she is living as Christ would have her live, but not presume to know exactly what that life should look like.   

When we were getting ready to move, I thought it might be a good time to consider other Christian denominations instead of registering at the Catholic parish in my new town.  I did some research on the internet, but my gut objected rather strenuously.  When we moved, I did start going to the Catholic church and felt happy with that decision.  I felt fed there. The Catholic church provided me a sense of stability and home that comforted me as I navigated all the changes in my new life. 

Last Sunday, something else happened… probably the “something” that is going to send me looking for another church.  The priest started his homily by telling the congregation that he recently received an invitation to a family member’s wedding, but was adamant that he would not be going because the couple in question were both women.  I don’t think my reaction was spurred so much by the fact that the priest believed that homosexual behavior is outside God’s law.  I think a reasonable, prayerful Christian could legitimately deduce that gay marriage is morally wrong.   Personally, I see the scriptural concern with it but also think we might need to explore the issue from a wider perspective.  I think we might need to consider other scholarly interpretations.  I also think that just proclaiming homosexuality wrong does not fulfill our duty.  Even if we believe that the Church cannot legitimately bless a gay marriage, does that mean that we must deny compassion to approximately 10% of God’s family?  Are there other options, outside of proclaiming gay marriage to be scripturally acceptable, that would allow civil and legal rights for partners who are not sacramentally married?   My biggest problem with the homilist was that he was so certain that his position was correct and, however limited, sufficient. Certain to the point of smugness, it seemed to me.  Not only was he telling the congregation what his position was, he was telling us that his position represented the only truly acceptable position for a good Christian.   

You could argue that all of these incidents represented the behavior of some human beings within the Church and do not necessarily reflect the totality of the faith.  You would be right.  Also, none of these incidents except the clergy sex abuse scandals are really big deals in and of themselves.  The thing is, I always believe people should attend Christian worship services to help lift up their souls.  Even when I was working in the church initiation program for people thinking about becoming Catholic, I told them, “You should go where your soul feels fed.”  All I know is, in that moment when the homilist started rolling his eyes about the invitation he received to his family member’s wedding, I felt fed up instead of fed.  

Now the journey begins.  I don’t know if I will find the spiritual nourishment that I crave in another Christian denomination, if I will eventually find my way back to the familiar Church that has been home all my life, or if I will go my own way for a time.  I only know that God will lead me and that I will be listening for His call.  

Have any of you moved on from the church of your childhood?  What drove that decision for you and how has the change worked for you?  Please share your perspective by leaving a comment.  In the alternative, you can send me an email at terriretirement@gmail.com.

Have a  blessed day!

Terri 🙂

12 thoughts on “A Crisis of Church”

  1. First of all I support you 100%!! As a life-long Catholic myself, you have beautifully described some of the same concerns I have had about “The Church.” I also believe that one must go to a “church” where, as you put it, their soul feels fed. I’ve always described that as a place where you get something out of it. The single most important guideline that I learned in church school many, many years ago was to always ask “what would Jesus do?” That simple phrase has guided my life, my decisions, my ability to discern right from wrong, and in my personal case my contentment with worshipping in a Catholic Church. I believe each individual soul requires it’s own individual path to fulfillment in Christ, and it’s part of our life’s journey to discover that path. I wish you the best of luck in discovering your next step!

    1. Thanks, Kathy. It is a very individual decision, all based on what Jesus would have us do. You put it so well!

  2. Terri – I completely understand. My priest has consistently talked negatively about another large Christian church in town that opened up a branch within 2 miles of our church. The negativity is because it’s not Catholic! I have many friends at this other church and they are active and engaged in many good deeds. They have asked me to join them for activities and the one I did, I felt welcomed and inspired. My stomach churns when my own priest talks like that – so much for loving thy neighbor! My brother and sister have in adulthood left the Catholic church and gone into other Christian faiths and in fact are more “religious” now. So yes, I have thought – why am I still here? We are contemplating a house move and I think will explore multiple churches in our new area….not just Catholic. I love the ritual of the Catholic mass, but think I might find the fellowship of another Christian faith more inviting.

    1. I wish you luck in your journey, Pat. Change is hard, especially in something as personal and deeply ingrained as how we worship. There is a lot that is wonderful about the Catholic Church. I, too, find ritual and liturgy to be beautiful. We understand that the ritual itself is not the faith, but it can be helpful to have them to help us focus on and tether our hearts to God in communion with other believers.

  3. Hi Terri….what a great blog and thought provoking too. When we moved to Loveland, CO after CA, we had to decide on which church we would attend. In CA we attended a nondenominational church and were fed there. Now we are in Northern CO and our desire was to find a church that preached the Bible….an evangelical church. We went to one the first Sunday and all we heard was asking for money for a church building. So the next Sunday we attended a different church, and found our church home. It preached from the Bible and was an evangelical church.

    The one area I saw in your blog, was that the priest was the authority of what a person should or should not do. In the Bible it quotes in First Timothy 2:5, that ” there is one mediator between God and man, the man Christ Jesus”. A priest is a human so thus is not God or Jesus Christ. I believe we can be guided only by the Lord Jesus, and not a priest in a church. Read the book of John to start.

    We found a church that preached God’s Word. We believe that we can follow His teaching and not man’s teaching. Just a suggestion, look and visit an evangelical church, a church that dwells on the Bible as the Word of God. Look for a church that doesn’t follow a pastor as the only leader. The pastor is a human being. Go to the Lord for direction as to the church you can feel is giving you food for your life. We have good fellowship with the people in our church. We attend a Sunday School class as well. My kids are all in different classes. We have great friends in the church and can relate to them. We get together during the week as well as on Sundays. I will pray that God will guide you to the church in which you will have true fellowship and fed as well!

    Love, Lois

    1. The priest is certainly not God and I don’t know that I would even say he is “the” authority. I do think of priests as leaders and mentors in our faith- I look for a priest to teach, inspire, and challenge me to figure out how to live closer to Jesus. I’ve heard from a couple of people who have reminded me that all churches are tied up with people and you can’t set up the human leadership as the foundation of the faith. Human frailty will be everywhere and it isn’t right or productive to just change religions because you observe human frailty in it. I do think we are called to be good witnesses and good stewards of our faith so I think it is important to affiliate with a church that you discern supports you in growing in faith.

  4. A long time ago I was told by a young priest to keep my eye on the Eucharist and not on the people. The Church has had good leaders and bad- because they are human. Pre Cana is a bit of a joke- almost everywhere. I could go on and on about abuse. The only good thing that has come out of it is the amount of protection now in place.
    Caring for the homeless and poor seems to be a tight fit for every parish I have attended- all over the world. Reconciliation- I am super picky.
    There are basic tenants. The Catholic Church is not going to sanctify gay marriage, but never supports turning your back on another person. The Catholic Church is never going to be pro choice, but offers solace to those who chose and then are saddened by their choice.
    If you feel strongly enough to leave behind the Eucharist- that is your choice. I am in doubt you will ever find a place that offers all of the choices/messages you want. I teeter on the edge. Love the Eucharist. Cannot find a good home. I do a mix of Community Church and Mass. I hum or read during homilies that are off the rail at both places.
    Just food for thought.

    1. Thanks for your thoughts, Jan. The Eucharist is certainly one of the main factors that has kept me in the Catholic Church thus far.

  5. Terri, I usually read and move on, but I jumped in this time.

    Without knowing everything about your confliction, I would suggest that you search for a more traditional Episcopla church (some Episcopal churches have guitars and modern services and some have traditioal services. The type of service says little about how liberal or conservative). A traditional Episcopal Eucharist is basically word for word what the Catholic service is. It would give you a chance to have the same kind of service and worship, while exploring different options in terms of the kind of sermons and that kind of thing.

    And those Episcopalians, they do know how to throw a buffet or coffe hour, let me tell ya!

    1. Hi! Welcome and thanks for reading. I appreciate your comments. As a matter of fact, I am planning to visit an Episcopal Church tomorrow.

  6. I also was raised Catholic and went to 12 years of Catholic school.I thrived on the sacraments. As an interesting addition, my Dad was a rosicrucian, which is a mystical group, and I was also taught reincarnation and other beleifs alongside Catholicism..confusing at times.. but it gave me a VERY open mind… As an adult, my beliefs changed dramatically. The tenants of catholicism did not hold up.I don’t believe we need to be “saved” and I now view Jesus as one of many great spiritual teachers.I believe in reincarnation and a woman’s right to choose. LGBT rights are of course a given. I see Spirit in rocks, mountains and oceans.. it is hard to find a spiritual community which supports all my beliefs and my “tribe” is mostly friends I’ve met at various spiritual retreats throughout the country.But I’d love a CHURCH community, locally. Our local Unity church is the closest thing to what I need.. but we recently lost our eloquent thoughtful minister and the minister left behind is not quite the same.. I will try to persist and open up to what’s left there. I am also very attuned to the Goddess spirituality movement, and there are no local churches honoring that!! (The veneration of the Blessed Mother in Catholicism comes close!) No church “feels”like Mass.. and I miss the sacraments and the rituals, but the core beliefs of Catholicism make it unacceptable to sit there in church…I don’t have much in common with the other congregants..so– keep looking!!And share what you experience!

    1. Hi Madeline. Thank you for your interesting comment. I appreciate you sharing your story. I can certainly understand how it might be confusing to grow up in the midst of such religious diversity, but an open mind is a wonderful outcome. I don’t share all your particular beliefs, but I do share your thirst for truth so we have that in common. Good luck on your journey, as well!

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