Returnees to church


I have a new way to think about myself as a Christian: I’m a returnee. I found this term while reading a chapter from Christianity for the Rest of Us: How the Neighborhood Church is Transforming the Faith by Diana Butler Bass.

I am one of those people – a Christian who is uncomfortable with the term Christian. I can tell you it is because I have heard Christian being misused and, worse yet, used abusively in recent years.

But I fell away from the church many years back, before Christianity was coopted into politics and imperialism. I left because I could see the tendency towards this.

And I left because I am an explorer and a doubter and one who questions. I need to be brought face up to the unfamiliar and faraway.

Now I’ve come back to my roots to take another look at them and the roots have branched out, the tree has grown, the arms have opened. It’s not the church I left, but maybe it’s a church that has reached back to its origins for clarification. I have gotten this idea from the scholars at Pilgrim. There is so much to learn!

Diana Butler Bass writes: “On my journey, the vast majority of people I met did not grow up in the churches they currently attend. For almost everyone, their spiritual and personal quests had taken them away from their childhood faiths — if they had any — through periods of longing, questioning, and a sustained search to “find home.” Their stories often described a kind of religious displacement; many of the people depicted themselves almost as spiritual refugees.”

That’s me! I am comforted and astonished to find out I fit into a category. Maybe I’m also disappointed to not be too singular to escape labeling, but I’m heartened to know I am not alone. There are many others like me, and church leaders are thinking and writing about us. They are strategizing how to get us to show up at church and, once we walk through that door, how to keep us coming back. They want to know, what are our spiritual needs?

We are returnees who come in with ideas we’ve learned from Buddhism, from African Christians and from charismatic churches. We are returnees who feel scathed by past Christian church membership; we are returnees who are happily married to persons of other faiths or the same gender.

I am relieved to find that the church leaders are not trying to save us from hell and eternal damnation but are trying to save us from being Christians in exile from the church. We are looking for the Christian church that welcomes us along with the beliefs that forced us into exile. We are returning with doubts about the church and as people who believe doubts are an honorable state of spirituality.

Bass sums it up, “all were on a spiritual quest to do that which God called them to do–a mission that could only be accomplished in a community of diverse sorts. . . . a band of contemporary pilgrims on a quest to find home.”

She is right, so very right.

Reva Rasmussen, Deacon


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One Response to “Returnees to church”

  1. Walter Says:

    A great post!
    I think what you (and Diana Butler Bass) are describing is a growing trend across the West. I think it is going to create some really interesting situations.
    Have you read “Take This Bread” yet? I think you would find it fascinating, because she is very much describing the implications of this ‘return’.

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