I love Jesus, I love justice, I love myself, and because of these things the likelihood of anyone seeing me in a pew on a Sunday is slim.
The reality is that I’m just so over it. And by “it” I mean I’m over tethering myself to congregational spaces.
I’m over fighting people with titles because they take issue with my womanhood, my queerness, my blackness. I’m done lending my gifts to spaces that devalue aspects of my personhood but who will gladly spiritually and materially profit from my labor.
I wonder how many of you feel similarly. I wonder how many of you are weary after having fought to assert your personhood in church spaces and spent nights crying out to God because all you want to do is love like Jesus loves.
I get it. I sincerely understand you and your struggle because I was the ultimate church kid and this was my story.
My father is a Baptist preacher and growing up, the commitment he and my mother had to church meant that I was in a house of worship nearly every day. In the rare event of an “off” day, we would hand out gospel tracts in the neighborhood, visit the sick and shut-in, and spend time in the local VA hospital as missionaries. Like most children, I loathed it and wanted to play with friends or watch Nickelodeon but as an adult I can see that these experiences were formative in me developing a sense of community and love for others. If we weren’t at church, we were in service to the church.
My family serving in the church and my having a preacher for a father skewed my view of what was possible for women in these spaces. My dad’s spiritual parent was a woman and she was a dynamic preacher. My inquisitive nature, leadership, and intelligence were validated in my formative years. People prophesied over me, telling my parents of the powerful ways God would use me all throughout my childhood and adolescence.
Looking back, I don’t think anyone attempted to put limits on the scope of my ministry until the beginnings of my young adulthood. And by then it was too late.
See, the mistake folks made was telling me what God couldn’t do through me because of my womanhood when I had already seen the firstfruits of what the Spirit and I could co-create. They couldn’t undo years of visions, dreams, and intimate conversations I had with my Creator but they surely tried.
They tried to tell me that pastoring and spiritual leadership weren’t for women without understanding that I would sit with the text and find examples of women in the old testament and the new to turn that logic on it’s head.
They tried to tell me that certain offices in the congregational church were meant to be led by men without anticipating that I would study and start pointing out the gender neutrality in verbs, nouns, and other articles of speech in the scriptures.
They tried to get me to yield to control by using shoddy theology, exploiting my young adult desire for marriage, and telling me that unsubmissive women were undesirable prospects for wives. They didn’t realize that my lineage is grounded in strength and I’m not the one (they found out that day…).
They tried to get me to fit into constrictive, gendered box rife with limitations but failed to understand that because I know I bear the reflection of divinity, I reject the lie that my womanhood makes me ill-equipped to do anything.
And in my rejection of these lies and the toxicity of this culture, I began to see the ways in which the people who attempted to subjugate me were also harming my sisters.
I began to see the extraction of their gifts like teaching and administration but the denial of leadership opportunities or titling them as the pastors they were.
I saw scriptures about submission be twisted and fashioned into theological nooses designed to cut off our spiritual air.
I heard rumors and whispers rise to strike women down when they began to question or assert themselves after realizing their worth.
I saw sisters with deadened eyes and broken spirits share stories of the spiritual abuse and malalignment without hope for a better tomorrow
Witnessing this and acknowledging my own trauma made me want to rage against the systems and agents of said systems responsible for our pain. I was furious at the pastors, the deacons, the elders, the laypersons, the trustees, the writers, the theologians, those in power and those who wouldn’t dare dream of leading, the men, the women, just all of the people in institutional and congregational spaces that have tried to block us and the move of God for no other reason than who we were as women.
Holding this reality alongside my shifting theological views signaled to me that it was time to distance myself from the institutional church…
My commitment to Jesus, growing understanding that justice is the embodiment of Christlikeness, and increasing desire to concern myself with my wellness meant that I couldn’t stay within the bounds of an institution.
There are rules, hierarchies, and expectations for comportment and functioning that I can’t follow – not if I’m trying to be serious about leaning into the fullness of my personhood and my call.
So I left and that has been one of the best decisions I could’ve made for me.
I share this because while some of you are called to stay inside of congregational settings and fight for our equity there others of you are being drawn out of these spaces to heal and to do a new thing.
You are called to love, live, and do community in profound ways that can only happen when your faith is exercised in wild spaces and not just in houses of worship.
I realize that sometimes people need permission or evidence that others have done the things their heart longs to do. Well Sister, I’ve done it, am doing it, and have no desire to root myself in spaces that do not give me the freedom or resources to love God and love people in the ways I am able to do now.
Search your heart, dear sister. Ask God and ask yourself if where you are is where you need to be. If the answer to that is no, then consider making a move. Fear not – there are those of us who have walked this road ahead of you and I’m here to let you know that leaving isn’t the end.
Leaving just might end up being the start of something that you’ve been longing for.
Alicia Crosby has always been the type of person to color outside the lines — a trait that comes in handy as the Co-Founder and Executive Director of Center for Inclusivity (CFI). Through her experiences within religious, social service, and community empowerment contexts and her navigation of the world as a queer, black woman, she saw a need to address the spiritual, systemic, and interpersonal harm people experience through the promotion of inclusion and equity for all people through her work. Alicia is proud that CFI is a place where people can bring the fullness of who they are forward and find community that gives them life. Connect with her on Twitter and on her blog, Chasing The Promise