Saturday Symposium: Dealing with Estrangement from the Church

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It’s time for today’s Saturday Symposium question:

How this works: It’s very simple. We ask a multi-part question related to a topic we’ve blogged about during the past week or are considering blogging about in the near future, and you, our readers, share your responses in the comments section. Feel free to be open, reflective, and vulnerable…and to challenge us. But as always, be mindful of the comment policy that ends each of our posts. Usually, we respond fairly quickly to each comment, but in order to give you time to think, come back, add more later if you want, and discuss with other readers, we will wait until after Monday to respond to comments on Saturday Symposium questions.

This week’s Saturday Symposium question: This week, we are again taking our cue from our readers. Lindsey’s reflection On Being a Child of the Church has sparked considerable discussion. Lindsey noted that our relationship with the Church can be very complex and marked by seasons of estrangement. This week, we are wondering with our readers: How have you dealt with estrangement from the Church? Which strategies have you tried that help you restore your trust in the Church? Who have you found to talk to about your feelings? Where have you seen encouragement from the Holy Spirit in entirely unexpected places during these difficult seasons? As you consider participating in this week’s discussion, please know that these questions probe into vulnerable spaces. We’d encourage you to respond with an extra dose of empathy.

We look forward to reading your responses. If you’re concerned about having your comment publicly associated with your name, please consider using the Contact Us page to submit your comment. We can post it under a pseudonym (i.e. John says, “your comment”) or summarize your comment in our own words (i.e. One person observed…). Participating in this kind of public dialogue can be risky, and we want to do what we can to protect you even if that means we preserve your anonymity. Have a wonderful weekend!


Sarah and Lindsey

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11 thoughts on “Saturday Symposium: Dealing with Estrangement from the Church

  1. Is the church what ‘WE’ make it to be or is the church what Christ is making it to be- such as transforming hearts and bringing us closer in unity with Him? When I see works that bring Christians together I am encouraged when I see works that increases the divide I am discouraged. I have met remarkable Christians within and without the church walls
    So, when it comes to those who feel estranged perhaps it is their sensitivity which is their role as those who gauge the condition of the church ‘body’ like nerve endings send pain messages to the brain. I appreciate them. The brain needs to process those messages because if any Christian is suffering, the church needs to do something about it. I apologize in advance for getting caught up in the body ‘metaphor’ used by Paul but I think it is beneficial to reference Paul’s statement in 1 Corinthians 12:21 “ The eye cannot say to the hand, “I have no need of you,” nor again the head to the feet, “I have no need of you.” If we are all parts of the body then some will be naturally distant and hardly ever noticed such as the bottom of the feet or the backside.

    I don’t think it logically follows that if Christians are estranged from the church it means those individuals are should be deemed any less competent OR that the church has failed- nor should we tear down the church but rather, I think it points to the reality that the church is not yet perfected. The body is made up of broken people and is therefore broken and dysfunctional itself and is not reflecting Christ perfectly. I wonder if one of the greatest hindrances within the body of Christ are the perceptions we have when we do not recognize each member with the honor they deserve or not recognizing the unique contribution they make. What is evident then is that the missing and neglected parts of the body is what is causing dysfunction and those missing and neglected members of the body are necessary for it to function as healthy and whole. As Paul wrote “ On the contrary, the parts of the body that seem to be weaker are indispensable, and on those parts of the body that we think less honorable we bestow the greater honor, and our unpresentable parts are treated with greater modesty,which our more presentable parts do not require. But God has so composed the body, giving greater honor to the part that lacked it, that there may be no division in the body, but that the members may have the same care for one another.” 1 Corinthians 12:22-25.

    One of the things I have found helpful from reading your blog and looking at the Catholic faith is the idea of discerning your calling or vocation. When I connect this idea of vocation back to the subject of queer calling, perhaps LGBT Christian are a major part of the church body that has been missing and neglected for a long time – but even more so- I am wrestling with the question, Can we create a space for LGBT Christians in an uncertain environment where there is dispute and polarizing beliefs or protest movements? Can we include every LGBT person of faith – those celibate, those in relationships and those not yet decided? Or is it one or the other? Is there a dividing line between us based on whether or not we think gay sex is sin? Do we need to have multiple church buildings in order to keep parts of the body of Christ separated and distinct because we cannot think and act as one?

    • Kathy — I like that you called up the image of the parts of the one Body of Christ. Nerve endings, they can be hypersensitive and they can also go numb.That reflects the experience of estrangement. Thanks for that.
      Just to take it one step further, I often wish that those who are the face of the Church would remind themselves that the Church is so much more than a corporate organization, focusing on the who’s in, who’s out. As Christians we all already are the Body of Christ, and I guess that includes warts and all.

    • An insightful comment, Kathy. We identified strongly with this part of it especially: “I don’t think it logically follows that if Christians are estranged from the church it means those individuals are should be deemed any less competent OR that the church has failed- nor should we tear down the church but rather, I think it points to the reality that the church is not yet perfected.” Surely there is a constant need to address situations in which people feel alienated from their faith traditions, and Christians would do well to think more deeply about what causes some to feel this alienation.

  2. I attend church on a regular basis. But there have been occasions where I felt isolated and alone.

    What helps me the most is sharing my feelings through private, online groups, such as the Side B Facebook group. The exercise of articulating and putting down in words, in itself, helps to get my brain out the rut of having these feelings running in circles constantly through my mind. I’ve found the comments that follow helpful.

    Even just asking for prayer to help me deal with these feelings go a long way.

    • Some great ideas, Dale. Sometimes it’s helpful to sort some of these things with Christians who are not part of our own parish communities. To all our readers, if anyone is seeking a community of celibate LGBT Christians and LGBT Christians exploring the possibility of celibacy, please let us know so we can get you connected.

  3. I’ve also had seasons of estrangement, in fact I am having one right now. I do not think this has anything to do with my deepest faith identity. It’s just that people in my community are too much alike, and I am too different.

    I have felt estrangement due to racism, classism, homophobia and transphobia in my diocese and I care about it. Most don’t.

    I decided to stay home and focus on the rituals that brought my heritage close to home. My heritage is a combination of several traditions. I read about colonialism and justice, and I modify rituals to suit my needs. I have baked my own bread and I have shared wine with friends. I have prayed to Mary and I have called Oya in my dreams.

    I do not necessarily wish to restore trust in the church because racism and classism IS a part of it, and my church is very good at pretending they have transcended it – even as black and indigenous people are passed over for the sign of peace in the pews. This has resulted in anger when I probe beyond the superficial nods to justice and so I return to online and personal friendships to navigate and validate my emotions.

    This has made me very aware that oppressive mechanisms are often quite deliberate and if and when I return to the parish(es) I attend, it will be with a renewed sense of purpose, energy and — to be quite honest — a healthy dose of rage.

    The encouragement I have found comes from seeing people with privilege respond in like manner to the subtle forms of violence with even more deliberate acts of justice and this has resulted in saying good bye to many people inside and out of the church who are failing to live up to their gospel call. I am happy about this.

    • Thanks for sharing your experience. We’ve experienced many of the same things in faith communities over the years. We also find it comforting to see people who are in places of privilege respond with deliberate acts of justice. Sometimes we don’t know how we would survive in the Church if it weren’t for receiving support from folks in places of privilege who really want to see the unfair treatment coming to an end.

  4. There are a lot of people who have been shat upon by the church.Sort of like Radical Mary, restoring my trust in the church is not something I feel like I can do yet. My wife and I have a good church that we go to now and really like. We like the pastor and we trust his vision. But in general, we don’t trust church people.

    That’s where we’re at with it right now.

    To work through it, I have a group of seven friends that I can go to. We are pretty much on the same page theologically, but I’m in a different place than them so I rely on them somewhat to help me navigate it. I don’t necessarily “do what they say.” but they they keep me from going off the deep end. They act as my anchor.

    I’ve also learned that there are a lot of people “in the wilderness” which is a phrase I’ve heard describing those who are done with Church, but are still pursuing Christ. These are actually the ones in whom I see the encouragement of the Holy Spirit. I see in them that the HS is still leading them in their darkness, as they struggle to hold on to the only thing they have left .. Jesus Christ.

    • Sounds like a lot of people are sharing similar things: positive experiences coming from closer, more tight-knit groups of people, and those experiences serving as a bit of a counter to negative experiences within the broader church community. It’s certainly a challenge to “be Church” with other people sometimes…and we’re sure that there are people who at times find it difficult to be Church with us.

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