First published 07 Nov 2021
I was born into a Presbyterian family and baptised as a baby – I would later choose to be baptised again in a non denominational church when I was 20, I felt I was old enough to choose my own path and not my parents decision to have me baptised as a baby. I have always been part of the church and have actively played a role in every church I have ever attended – I am a gifted singer and have always used my voice in church. Over the years, my being part of the church had brought me so much fulfilment and joy and to be honest, in some of the most difficult moments in my life, church had served as a lifeline. I had also over the years met some wonderful people in church and most of these connections are still intact till date – I have so many fond memories to look back on over the years in church – however, in light of all these wonderful memories – I have decided to end my involvement and attendance to church!
What would lead me to make such a decision, one may ask – well many reasons and events had led me to this place. It was not an easy decision for me to make and it took me months to finally admit to myself that, that which served a great purpose in my like no longer did and I no longer belonged. I have been through all the stages of grief as I came to this decision – I have been through shock and denial – because I was so involved I never thought I could be in such a place but here I was. Then came the pain and guilt – I was hurting and I felt guilty like I was letting people and myself down and this led to anger. There had been many practices I had viewed as normal until I started being at the receiving end of it – this made me angry. Then I was depressed about it and as I unpacked this with my psychologist I finally accepted that this was where I was and to be honest, as I researched similar topics I finally realised I was not the only one and I would not be the last. It was my journey and I was allowed to deconstruct my faith and also to decide if I did not want to be part of church anymore- it was ok.
There were not many people I could share this decision with – because most people I knew were christians and my decision was quickly dismissed and they tried to fix me by telling me what they thought I should do. I did not need fixing – I was evolving as a person and certain practices I had been involved in no longer fit into the person I was becoming and I wanted to focus my energy on what would bring me growth. So I stopped talking to most of my friends about this – my mind was made up and I was tired of the fear mongering coming from most church goers about my decision – I never want to do anything out of fear. The more thought I gave it, the more I was convinced that for my peace of mind and growth as a person, I needed to walk away from church – especially the one I was attending at the time my decision was made.
This was not a decision I had made over night – no, it had been something that had been brewing inside me for a long time. There were several events over several years that led me to this place – and going into lockdown last year finally gave me time to look at things I would otherwise have never looked at and my church membership was one of the things I looked at in lockdown. For about 5 years I no longer felt like I belonged in church and that led me to leave my previous church – after being home for about a year and a half, I decided to go somewhere else and about a year a half into that, I started feeling restless. To be honest, before lockdown, I was not frequently going like I used to. There were major events I would never miss and I was no longer attending these – all the signs were there but I was not ready to face them until lockdown forced us all to stay home and I finally saw that I no longer belonged and I will speak on a few of the reasons why I felt it was time to leave;
I did not fit into the ‘cookie cutter’ definition of a christian woman.
When I was a younger woman in church, I never experienced this, however, I had heard whispers of it here and there and never thought much of it until it happened to me. To be a woman of a particular age in church and be single is seen as a curse – especially in African churches. There were many people offering to pray for me – it was the subject of many conversations and suddenly I began to look at my life through these lenses. For someone who was not brought up to view my life through my marital status, I found myself in a place where everyone was looking at my life as being lacking because I did not have a man. And then started the parade of men I was paired up with in hope that someone would lead me to the altar! And if I decide that the person I had been paired with is not for me, then came the whispers – someone went as far as to tell a gentleman they had paired me with that I was high maintenance! This foolishness continued for years until someone told me that their desire for me is to see me settled with a man and they were praying this for me earnestly. It was then that I realised that it was not about what I wanted for my own life – it was about what the church saw as acceptable and I was being moulded into this whether I liked it or not. Next came the jabs from the pulpit – there are beautiful women who are still single and average looking women are married because they prayed better and are better christians actually. The last time I sat through such a sermon was when I finally decided that this environment is not good for anyone – especially young women who are finding their place in the world.
When I looked around, there were no women in leadership positions who were unmarried – I saw many capable people around but they were overlooked because they were single. But this was not the case for men and I witnessed several unqualified people in leadership because they were men and some were quite abrasive in their approach and hurting several people in the process – I even walked out one Sunday because of the behaviour of such a person. No matter how qualified I was or my desire to grow – it was denied me and I knew it boiled down to the fact that I was single. I could give so much but in the end, whenever I was introduced to anyone, my ‘flaw’ of being single had to be mentioned and to be honest I was tired of it all. In one breath you are being told to wait on God and in the next you are being told you are not being good enough. I had simply not met someone I wanted to do life with and I was not going to be shamed about it. So I decided to tell people that they cannot force me to want what they think I need in my life – no one was allowed to live their life through mine – I came to the painful conclusion that, they would rather I was an abused battered wife than a happy single woman and that was a big no no in my book.
On talking to others, I found I was not the only one – looking online, I found the same narrative for many women in church who were single – they were treated like lepers and if I had not met the same treatment, I would have never believed it. And the more I stayed in church, the more I realised that people that were married were more respected than those that weren’t and to be honest, that is a damn shame. I noticed that I started to think along these lines and it took a conversation with someone who knew me well to draw my attention to what I was becoming – we all want to belong in a family but a woman is not less than because she is single. It is these practices that makes people make decisions that end badly in the end – for a place where all are welcomed I most certainly did not feel welcomed. At the end of the day, it was a married man who propositioned me for an affair in church – all was not well in marriages as it was painted to me afterall and I was done! Women must know what they want and must not let anyone sway them from pursuing and achieving what they want – its ok if you are married but if you are not, you are not less than and it is also ok! There is room for both married and single people in church and that is the message I wanted pushed not the one that painted single women as a curse.
You could never give of yourself and resources enough
As already stated above, I have always been in church and being a gifted singer, I had always used my gift in church. But lately, even this was being used to manipulate and control – so what brought me so much joy no longer did. Looking around I could see this was the case for many serving in other capacities. In a former church years ago, I remember meeting an elderly woman at the entrance of the church on my way home who was visibly upset because she had been made to feel it was her duty to God to come to church and serve but she had turned up ready to volunteer only to be asked to go home because she was not needed. I asked why she was not needed and to be honest she could not say why – so she had dressed up and come in ready to do whatever she had been asked to do that day only to be turned away. I can give countless examples of this same thing happening to me over the years – and I had reached a point where I had simply had enough.
It was only in church where I was made to feel that I was too good at something and therefore being a part of people who were not very good at the same thing would frustrate me so asked to sit down and not take part instead of utilising me to improve the situation. Absolute madness if you ask me but this is what happened – after the third time, I realised that it was not because I was good at this particular task – someone did not want me involved and this was the reason given me to stop me asking any questions. So I decided I would not use this gift anymore in church – after all music is enjoyed everywhere and not only in church and I could use my gift anywhere I wanted. Been in situations where there have been groups within groups with one group being the elites but doing the same thing as everyone else however treated more importantly than the rest of us – in any organisation, that would be seen as abuse but not in church. I had a friend reach out to me once because she had not been able to attend church for a period due to work and the leader of the church was behaving in a passive aggressive way towards her. This led her to think she needed to give a reason whenever she was unable to attend any church service. This was control and the poor woman thought she needed to submit to such behaviour. No one must be made to feel they have to give a reason for not being able to show up – yes, if they had a part to play and could not show, then I could see that posing a problem but this person was not in such a position.
Then there was the financial burden on people to give so they can be blessed financially – I could talk about this for ages! There was an unfortunate author in a previous church who expressed contrary thoughts to giving financially in church to that of the leadership. Instead of leadership speaking to him to understand why he thought this way, one person took it on themselves to purchase the said book and distribute to people in the church highlighting the chapter that spoke on this issue. Eventually, I was gifted the book by this ‘generous’ person – I immediately spoke to the leadership if they were aware of what was in the book and the answer was the affirmative. But nothing was done to stop the other person going round discrediting this author and their belief – I gradually saw this author taking time out of coming to church – once again passive aggression was used to deal with this person until they decided to limit their time in church. There is also the guilt trip of never having enough if you were not giving financially to the church – being financially free suddenly was tied to giving to the church and not to hard work and being wise with your money. People felt under pressure to give and I have heard stories from people who struggled to pay their bills after giving in church. Giving has always been a part of the church but it is the extremes where people are fleeced of all they have in hopes that they can purchase a miracle – this is where my issues are. I have been witness to so many heart aches over the years – when people have given their monies in hopes for a miracle and nothing had happened. To these people, they could not give enough and the people on the pulpit allowed them to think this way and sometimes even being the ones to instigate this belief. If everyone can come then treat everyone well even if they can give or not – there have been too many instances where people with money have been treated with dignity and respect as opposed to the not so well off congregants. If you look through history, there have been many people who had fought the same system where the rich are favoured over the poor and I have decided to add my voice to that of those who fought before me.
I thought I would start with these two reasons because I had had readers reach out to me with similar issues, and these two reasons were a common trend in the experiences shared by others. I will be continuing and sharing the other reasons why – I am in no way asking anyone to leave their church of their belief, but if you find yourself in place where you are only valued at the convenience of others, then rethink your involvement. When I made the decision to step back from church, I did decide that if I ever went back, I would prefer a small group that met in a home. A group where community was at the heart of what they did and everyone was welcome regardless of who they were or their circumstances.
Thank you again for always taking time to read and getting in touch – let’s continue to effect the change we need by sharing our experiences.