Editor’s Note: I must admit that it still pains me to hear how religion has deeply hurt some very good people. For me, religion was a pleasant, unobtrusive aspect of my life that gently dissipated as I grew up. For others, who dedicate their lives to it, religion can become a huge deadweight. Thanks to Dawkins and Barker for creating the idea of The Clergy Project, an organization that gives comfort and hope to people like the good person writing here. /Linda LaScola, Editor
By “Fresh LA”
When I deconverted, I had no idea there were others just like me out there. Honestly, for all I knew, I was an anomaly, an outcast destined to darn the “scarlet letter” alone.
I did have the support of my spouse, kids and a handful of friends. Still, there were no ministry peers in my life that I could turn to, share my thoughts with in a way only they could understand.
Following my departure from a church I cared deeply about and entering the workforce in an entry-level management position, I found myself wrestling with depression. I had no idea where or who to turn to. Locally, I knew most of the counselors. I had helped them start their practice in our city and knew fully well their religious-steeped sources and methods. Post-faith, I saw no value in seeking out their help, or in swallowing their prescribed pills of more prayer, more devotions and more church volunteerism. So, I turned to the Internet, podcasts in particular.
One of the podcasts I stumbled upon was Bart Campolo interviewing Drew Bekius,
a former president of The Clergy Project. I deeply related and identified with him as he talked about his childhood, growing up on a farm, praying the “Sinner’s Prayer” as a toddler and then becoming “on fire for Christ” in high school. Eventually, like him I became an evangelical minister. Listening to him was like listening to myself in a strange “Back to the Future” kind of way. I knew in that moment, I was not an anomaly, nor was I alone.
Two weeks later, while on a walk along the river with my wife, I told her about the podcast. She asked me if I had looked up The Clergy Project. When I answered “Yes” She asked,
“So, is it something you could join, something you feel would be helpful right now?”
After a long pause, I replied,
“I’m not sure; I think so.”
She then asked,
“So, have you done anything with it?”
“No,”I nervously answered.
Then, she looked me in the eye and said,
Later that week, I reached out to The Clergy Project.
At this point, we (TCP) have reached the momentous milestone of 1000 participants worldwide. Together, we form a fellowship of professional clergy, both active and post-ministry, from a variety of faith traditions. We are nuns, priests, Pentecostal ministers, evangelical pastors, mainline clerics, rabbis, imams, gurus, religious education teachers and more. Across all time zones, we gather together on a secure online venue to chat and support one another. One of the most helpful resources that I personally experienced is the 12 free counseling sessions TCP offers new participants.Like many of my fellow TCP’ers, life changed dramatically post-ministry. Even though I found a decent job rather quickly, and had the support of my spouse, adult kids and a few friends, the stress of acclimating to my new reality was overwhelming. Being able to talk to both peers and highly qualified counselors was invaluable. Through TCP, I gained access to a community and tools that have dramatically helped me navigate this new season in my life. I’m forever grateful and happy that I can give back now, serving on a committee and participating on the secure, online chat threads.
For certain now, I know I’m not alone.
Furthermore, I realize I’m part of a growing, worldwide trend made up of people just like me. From various backgrounds, geographical locations, cultures and faith traditions, we are uniting, embracing our humanity and learning how to compassionately value one another. In a rather dreamy, utopian state of mind, I like to think what’s happening right now is a fleshing out of John Lennon’s beloved lyrics:
“Imagine there’s no heaven…No hell below us…Nothing to kill or die for and no religion, too…Imagine all the people living in peace…You may say that I’m a dreamer, but I’m not the only one. I hope someday you’ll join us, and the world will be as one….”
If I could go back in time and talk briefly with myself, I would say:
“Be kind and patient with yourself. Don’t be afraid of questions, and never settle for pat answers. Embrace adventure, fearlessly pursue truth and be unapologetically authentic. Everything belongs, even if but for a moment, and in time you will too.”
To be honest, this hindsight advice is something I’ve always lived by, albeit it in measured degrees. It has eventually shaped who I am today. My only regret is wishing I had fully trusted it much earlier in life. In doing so, I would have been spared years of emotional stress and religious trauma. Undoubtedly, I would have been less swayed by inherited superstition, archaic belief traditions and decades old prejudices. But that was then, and this is now. Today, I’m grateful for the community and support TCP affords me, and I’m hopeful that one day a tipping point will occur, when globally we all realize:
Life is a gift; love is the reason, and embracing one’s humanity is more than enough.
Bio: “Fresh LA”is a child of the 70s who grew up northeast of St. Louis, MO. His life journey involved a two-century old family farm, a mid-west bible college, almost 30 years of church planting in the northeast and responsibilities as a professional evangelical adviser, nationally and abroad. These days, he’s content to work as a project manager by day, and at night, blog about his past and present experiences as a human, nothing more and nothing less. To learn more, visit http://www.freshLA.me.
>>>>Photo Credits: By Foundation – http://outcampaign.org/promo/scarletLetter.svg, Public Domain, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=3851583; By Joost Evers / Anefo – http://proxy.handle.net/10648/ab63fd72-d0b4-102d-bcf8-003048976d84, CC0, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=76297901