When your home church doesn’t feel like home


I’ve been away from my hometown in Michigan for four years now, but I’m back, for at least a year.

Only it doesn’t feel like home right now.

Parts do. I get along with my parents better than I ever did, and, now that I am no longer an angsty teenager, I can see them as humans…friends even. My siblings and I are as close as ever, and even though my best friend (since we were babies) is now all married and grown up, our relationship is the same as ever. Two of our three cats still like to sneak into my room at night and curl up on my chest so that I wake up to an allergy attack of love in the morning. The third cat still hates me and everyone else and all is right with the world.

But somehow in the past four years, I lost my home church.

I don’t know how it happened exactly.

I know I’ve changed. I feel like it’s changed. Sometimes I feel that I’ve outgrown it, and other times I feel that it’s rejected me. Maybe it’s a little of both. But it’s not home anymore, I know that.

Oh, I want it to be. So badly.

See, I knew it wasn’t home from the first summer I came back from college. I knew I didn’t fit there anymore. But I stayed…and I stayed…and I stayed. I told myself I was being too selfish or too bitter. I told myself I was nitpicking or not focusing on Jesus enough.

“Stick it out,” I told myself.

“You’re not perfect either,” I reminded myself.

“You’re not here because of ____,” I said.

But after three years, I knew that staying at this church was just killing my soul.

I want to love it. I want to love it for all the people who will empty their wallets whenever another church member needs help. I want to love it for the woman who answered my prayers and put a ten dollar bill in my hand the last time I went. I want to love it for the people who will answer their phones at 3 in the morning when a teen needs a ride home from a party or just a shoulder to cry on.

There are good people there. Some of the best people. People that I still look up to and people who put this so-called advocate for social justice to shame with how much they care about those in need.

And I will never forget that when I came to that church as a misfit in high school, they welcomed me with open arms. They made me feel like I belonged somewhere–maybe for the first time in my life.

Image via the fantastic David Hayward

When I go now, though, I feel like a misfit again. I don’t want to, because there is good there and I want to be a part of it, but I can’t help it. I feel like I don’t belong anymore.

I feel like I could belong, if I stopped believing this or at least stopped talking about that. If I stopped being friends with those people or stopped dating this person. If I stopped asking questions and stopped having doubts and if I took everything the church leaders said at face value…

If I ignored the hurtful words of some church leaders and teachers, and the congregational “Amens!” that usually follow. The jokes about certain people that aren’t jokes. Not really. The phrases like “over-educated” and “too smart for your own good” that pierce my academia loving soul. The hateful, degrading words used to describe people I love, just because those people believe differently or have the “wrong” kind of sex. The words condemning these people that I love to hell.

I’m not sure it’s worth it.

I’m not sure I want to give up this part of me. And I know I don’t want to ignore those words anymore.

There are people there who would never want me to give up that part of me. People who love me despite my beliefs and despite the fact that I talk back when I hear these words. Those people will always be my family.

But I can’t ignore the feeling of dread I get when I walk into that building anymore.

It’s not home.

So, I’m leaving.

Hopefully on not-too-horrible terms. I refuse to ignore the hateful words and hurtful teachings that drove me away (because those words and teachings do not exist solely within this church, nor do they effect only the people within this church, and they need to be fought against), but I hope all at the church know that I will never ever forget the good.

But I have to go. After four years of trying to pretend it was home, while knowing deep down it wasn’t, I have to go.

Consider this my farewell.

I have only well wishes for the little church that I used to call home. Any criticisms I have from here on out come from a sincere desire to see all churches become more like Jesus. I hope the good in that church continues to grow. I hope the love gets bigger and stronger and that someday there is no room for hate.

Maybe someday, the doors of that church will open wide enough for evolutionists and agnostics and trans people and gays and democrats. Maybe even stubborn, opinionated, skeptical feminists such as myself.

Until then, let us part ways.

But peace be with you.


13 thoughts on “When your home church doesn’t feel like home

  1. You can’t change God to please yourself. Either we obey and follow God or we do not. Do we change for God or try to change God for us? We are not in charge God is amen.

  2. May I share what has helped me “fit in” to a new church? I sat in the pew for a good long while waiting for folks to make me feel welcome; to serve me. I had a pretty good pity party going on too. Then I decided to try another way. I joined a small group and went on a regular basis. I took an active interest in getting to know the people in the group. Next, I found a job to do at the church. Nothing big – just something. I serve dessert at the Wed. night meal. But, I now know and care about a couple people. This is working and I plan to keep it up. On topics that drive you from the church; Is that from the Lord? I would suggest that you read the Word, read the Word, read the Word until you know what God has to say on the topic. People have opinions all over the map – so what? What does God say?

  3. I know how you feel. I feel like a misfit in my Church. I’ve been ilbl with depression and nobody could care as they would tell me things like “Snap out of it” or “You’ve got nothing to be depressed about at your age” as I am 26 years old. There’s a couple of other people who suffer with depression and they get all of the support of the Church. I feel as if they just brush me under the carpet and that I’m not welcomed there anymore. I just don’t know what to do anymore.

  4. I feel like my church isn’t home anymore either, and I don’t know what to do, I feel miserable and out of place walking thought the doors every sunday, but I’ve been at this church for 8 years and I have commitments to it, I feel like it not being home is not a good enough reason to leave, but I’m not happy staying and I don’t know what to do.

  5. It is so hard, isn’t it? In my case, I have a husband and children and have to consider how it would affect them to change churches. Some comments I’ve heard about homosexuality frustrate and sadden me. . .but this is the same place where my husband can call the pastor at 3 a.m. on a business trip if he’s struggling with temptation (re T.V. viewing) and he has a caring and supportive voice on the line. Sigh. . . .

  6. So, thanks. I’m not quite ready to leave yet. But probably soon…my prayers are with you, sister.

  7. I’m writing now under a nomdeplume because I am so completely with you but cannot divulge my identity. Or, I’m too chicken to do so.

    .I became a universalist not too long ago. A pretty orthodox one, really. Jesus is still my Godde. But of course, I’m a passionate feminist and a pro-queer (a little queer myself) person.

    In my church, I feel instead of being taken seriously, people (or a few in particular) fail to take me seriously. I’m “proud” when I bring up sexism (Jesus was God and never asked for his rights…) or if I question Hell because of intense, thoughtful wrestling with theodicy and evolution. They know I have depression so a lot of my anger is blamed on “being hurt in the past.” and yeah, that may be true but do my daddy issues make my insights about patriarchy any less valid? I dont think so.

    I am also told we are “on a journey” but should my journey take me to a non-church sanctioned place, my faith will be questioned. I am pressured to attend my church even though, due to mental health issues, I am triggered more often than not. But I can’t say that. because it would hurt the people I love.

    This is whatbhurts so intensely. I care about them; I love the people there. I love their faith. And their love. But, I can’t be honest a lot of the time in the place where I wished I always could be. Never judged or pushed. And I will be. I’m proud. Or bitter. Or…a pawn of Satan, deceived.

    • Yeah, I’ve gotten the “you just have daddy issues” thing too (weird, because I actually have a really great father). It’s so frustrating how dismissive people can be. I hope you find what you’re looking for!

  8. I’ve been reading your posts for a while and I finally decided to comment. I feel like we have so much in common and I know exactly how you feel. I’ve been asking myself some of the same questions. I don’t feel rejected, but I feel like I don’t fit in anymore. I’ve changed so much and it’s a change that’s come with doubt and a lot of soul craziness because I used to be that girl that could show up at almost any church and feel at home. I’ve been re-examining my faith. I want my beliefs to be my own. I can finally admit that I’m a feminist and I just have no tolerance for church culture, christiany things that don’t have anything to do with Jesus. I just want people to be who they are and I want to love them….oh, and I love kitties too!

  9. I know the feeling. We just left a church we had been at for ten years for many of the same reasons.

  10. So sorry to hear this, but unfortunately, it’s a familiar story, isn’t it?

    “I feel like I could belong, if I stopped believing this or at least stopped talking about that. If I stopped being friends with those people or stopped dating this person. If I stopped asking questions and stopped having doubts and if I took everything the church leaders said at face value…”

    This, in particular, so characterizes the way I feel about my employer (adding in, perhaps, “If I could just learn to put my head down and stop caring”). And it’s so frustrating to know that of course they’re not going to change who they are (collectively, who they have been for decades, etc.), so my choices are effectively to jump on the bandwagon, to continue to be the miserable misfit, or to leave. And while leaving a job may be no more painful than leaving a church, the practical reality of it is much more difficult.

    Anyway, I wish you the best as you negotiate this. Do be sure to take time to grieve, as necessary.

  11. I also have two cats who love me, and one who hates me!

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