Dear Church Refugees and Religious Orphans,
Sometimes people leave organized religion and sometimes organized religion abandons them.
I don’t know which is true for you.
You may have been so wounded and disillusioned by the Church, you felt you had no choice but to walk away; out of grief or self-preservation to declare yourself a prodigal from the faith.
You may have found yourself through coldness or cruelty or explicit words from within, pushed to the periphery and eventually out the door.
You might see yourself as a conscientious objector whose exodus was voluntary or as a relational leper branded as unwelcome by professed religious people. Either way you are outside now and it is painful.
I’m not sure of the circumstances surrounding your current estrangement, but I know that whatever the reasons, there are times that magnify grief for the once-churched—and that Easter is likely one of them. When much of the world is acknowledging something that was once such a part of the rhythm of your life, you feel the distance and the loss more acutely. The calendar reminds you of that separation and the disconnection all over again.
This weekend may trigger spiritual muscle memory for you, reminding you of rituals that were at one time so meaningful, of buildings you once found affinity in, of songs you once sang in the company of people you loved and felt loved by, maybe even of things you used to believe but no longer do. It may stir up in you emotions that you thought you’d long since moved beyond. You may find that a Sunday commemorating resurrection, ironically feels like a day of mourning: for your old church or your younger optimism or your former faith. I’ve heard from many people for whom this Easter will be the first one as Church Refugees or Religious Orphans and they will be deeply grieving with along you.
I’ve known the two extremes of these Spring Sundays. I’ve spent Easters fully secured in the blessed assurance of God’s love for me, of my place in the community of God’s people, and in the redemptive reality of the resurrected Jesus—and felt sweet comfort in that place.
I’ve spent Easters when I’ve been certain of none of those things—and been at times quite fine and other times rightly terrified by that fact.
And this weekend, whether you’re mourning someone you used to be, somewhere you used to feel at home, or a faith you once knew—or whether you’re feeling a rekindled anger at damage that’s been done to you in the name of Jesus, I want to remind you that Jesus is not okay with any of it; your pain, your grief, your injury, your isolation.
I wanted to let you know that whatever God is made of it—it isn’t this. God isn’t the bitterness and judgment and shame you’ve endured. God is not steel and concrete and wood with doors you can be expelled from. God is not something you need anyones’ permission for proximity too, either. Whatever God is, is as close as this breath—so breathe slowly and deeply.
The story of Easter is one of hope that cannot be defeated, of joy that will not be denied, of peace that overcomes. It is celebration that dances in the face of death when it realizes that love always has the last and loudest word. Regardless of whether you find yourself inside or outside a church this weekend, you can claim this very good news as your own. It is not bound to any building, it is not the property of anyone to withhold from you or bestow upon you—and it is not contingent on where you find yourself this Sunday.
So this Easter, if you end up in a familiar place, singing those songs, and feeling fully welcomed with those gathered, give thanks. But if you don’t; if you spend this Easter regretfully, defiantly, or joyfully on the outside, be grateful for that too, because the truth is, you aren’t any further than you’ve ever been from a Love that holds you.
You may be a Church Refugee or a Religious Orphan, but you are not alone and you are not abandoned.