Shredding roots – Goodbye Highlands

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Leaving but not grieving

So Katherine and I have made it official. We quit! Not with anger but still with a little wistfulness we are leaving our church of more than twenty-five years.

I’ve been a member of the United Church family since my baptism shortly after my birth more than fifty-eight years ago , and with more conviction since my Confirmation in my early teens. This feels gigantic, but I’ve postponed it for years.  It’s time for me.  Katherine, also.

I remember walking to Gilmour United Church in Richmond, BC with my brother and sisters.  To avoid having to walk along Number One Road , which was a pretty busy street, even in the late fifties, we used to walk through the back streets and newly constructed roads between 334 Francis Road near the dike and the Church at the corner of Number One and Blundell Road.  It seemed a very long walk on Sunday mornings when we were expected to get ourselves up and to church in time for Sunday School.
My eldest sister, Elaine, used to push and cajole me and my brother.  We like to play in the empty lots we’d pass along the way, throwing things at each other.  Kathryn, my youngest sister, used to pout to get Douglas and I to play with her as well.  Judith, my second eldest sister, would simply walk along reading her book, trusting to the rest of us that we wouldn’t allow her to walk into any ditches along the way.
I don’t exactly know how the five of us managed to arrive at the church, either on time, or in any condition to attend Sunday School, since by that time we were often covered in dirt or grass streaks on our pants.  But they never turned us away, and Mom never said too much when she met up with us after Sunday School.
Mom used to come to the service, but not every week.  My father was not a church person at all, although his family was Anglican, he was resistant.  There were reasons for that… mostly that his father was a tyrant and an evangelistic overbearing pompous ass.  A lot like my Dad, as I remember from those days, but there you have it.
But religion started early for me and my siblings, and two out of my five siblings continue to have a relationship with a Christian tradition, although my sisters have fled the United Church, years ago, back to the Anglican church. Don’t really know why they went to the Anglican church, and I don’t really know how they feel about their religious beliefs and experience today.
In some respects it’s almost as difficult to explain why I returned to the church in the mid 1980’s after not attending church from the time I was in my late teens.  During my twenties I would self-identify with Taoism or Shintoism, but mostly to explain that I didn’t consider myself a Christian.
I was mad at God, and at the United Church.  When I returned to the church it was because I realized that my anger had always been misdirected, and I wasn’t so much angry at God and the church, as I was disconnected.
I had a simple revelation in my thirties that changed all that and came to believe that the world I live in is spiritually alive, and I began to find it difficult to imagine a world without God in it.  I interpreted my divine experience through the lens of my childhood religion, and I returned to the faith of my childhood, I did so by rejoining the United Church through the ministry of Don Robertson, the minister at Highlands United in the mid 1980’s.  I returned home by returning to the faith of my mother and her family.  My Mom still didn’t go to church regularly, although she considered herself a member of the church to her dying day.
My wife, Katherine, followed me to Highlands, with our kids in tow. She explained to me that for her church was more about the social relationships and service to others than about God, and she felt most comfortable at the United Church, mostly because at Highlands she never felt that she was forced into any particular interpretation of religious values.  She liked that it was more of a journey than a destination, and for the most part, felt that it served our family well.
We have both been very active at Highlands, especially with the Spirit Singers along with the Highlanders.  Recently I have been involved with the Refugee Committee, although I would like to have been able to be more involved than I have been.  This year Cheryl asked for my advice on Facebook and the Social Media world, and for a few months I’ve contributed my thoughts from time to time in that forum.
So what happened to us?  Why have we decided to call it quits after so many years, and such deep involvement for such a long time?
I think our reasons for leaving are different in some ways, but not so much different as were our reasons for staying for so long.
For me it comes as a result of realizing that not only did I no longer truly believe in the Bible and stories of Jesus and his followers, as Gospel, but that continuing to say the words and sing the words has begun to feel dishonest and spiritually flawed.  I may not be sure what I do believe, or how I would describe my vision of God, but it’s no longer the God of my ancestors.
I simply don’t believe in the many articles of faith as passed down through the Bible and my church.
  • The Virgin birth – No
  • Walking on water – No
  • Reincarnation of Jesus after the crucifixion – No
  • The sacrament of the body and the blood
  • Heaven – Not so much
  • Hell – Hell no
  • Personal redemption though confession of sin – No
  • Being born in sin – No
  • Intermediation with God through Jesus or the church – No
  • Angels – Imaginary
  • Demons – Imaginary

And so on, and so forth. When first my serious doubts began to crowd out my litany of faith and repeated prayers I began to wonder exactly to whom or what I was praying.  I then realized that many of my fellow Christians seem to have the same or similar doubts and thought.  I began to wonder if any of us had the courage to stand in our own truths and demand that our church respond.

Eventually, I came to realize that my loss of faith in the church makes my continuing participation in it totally bogus and false, and I can’t do it any more without being false to myself and others.

I don’t know any more what I do believe, although I still believe that there is some eternal presence in the universe, which I still choose to call God.   I intend to spend some time revisiting the journey I began as a young man, exploring Taoism and other religious explorations.  I also want to more fully explore Karma and why the idea of Karma appeals to me far more than do Christian concepts of good and evil.  The truest part of the Bible for me has always been the Golden Rule.  Somehow it just feels right.  I also feel that I can follow the simple principle without conflicting values.

Kath and I are going to find some other way to engage with our community on a regular basis, although we’re going to take our time about it, and find something that we can completely get behind before we commit to it.

I’m going to miss going to church at Highlands, and am going to miss seeing our friends every week. I’m also going to miss the ongoing discourse in the church about the nature of faith and faithfulness.

Hopefully our friends at Highlands will understand why we are leaving, or maybe not, but still accept that we are going with somewhat heavy hearts, but with clear heads. And we still love you, all of you.  Even if we no longer feel like we belong as a part of you.

  1. KATHLEEN said:

    Sorry to see you leave. But I’m sure,with what read here, you have put alot of thought on
    the subject. Shawn & I will miss you. please keep intouch.


  2. andriaparker said:

    You and your wife will be missed terribly, but I for one completely understand your decision. In fact, a part of me is envious of the strength you found to make it. Life is all about adaptation and change and growth, and who are we to fight against that? I wish you all the best in your future search for community and “faith” (whatever that may be for you) and look forward to being able to keep up with you in this community, the blogosphere!


    • I appreciate your comments and insightfulness. Your opinion matters a lot to me, as I am an admirer of your cogency, intelligence and courage. I am planning to be diligent in my pursuit of a spiritual pathway, and write about what I discover along the way.


  3. judith wilson said:

    The touchstone of belief differs from one person to the next. The questions of the nature of our humanity, the connections we have one another and perhaps others in the universe and the strangely persistent idea of spiritual existence both while alive and beyond the grave give rise to beliefs or “knowledge” depending on the individual’s intellectual sensibilities and spiritual experiences. I respect the journey you are on. I am not a member of any church, and have eschewed “belief” and yet, having experienced unexplained and unbelievably glorious feelings when our mother left to go wherever she went when she left her body have left me with a “belief” that there was somewhere to go and it was ‘heavenlike’ if what I received as a glimpse during those moments of her passing. This elevates in me the possibility of the unknown realms and reinforces my agnostic approach to religion, if there be spirit could there not be god?


  4. Douglas Wilson said:

    You may have embarked on an interesting journey, I have recently married and accepted the Muslim faith, I did so in the realization that Muslims are still people of the book. Thus in many ways it was like the opportunity to go home without the dogma associated whith the “miracles” Though Muslims believe in and follow the tenants coming on down from Abraham they do not see Christ as the son of god any more than any other man, rather the he is seen as a teacher and profit.

    If I ever doubt that there is a god I need to look no farther the magic of a sunrise or sunset, or a tree, or flower, or most especially into the eyes of an infant. I too have had many nuministic experiences and have come to see that the spiritual world is by it’s nature more than we can comprehend. Thus the many attempts at explaining and making peace with it. I hope in your journey you ar able to find peace with that part of you that seeks spritual enlightenment. Some might call it your spirit or soul.

    By the way if it helps with your sense of being disconnected, for many years though I was not a member of any church and was exploring my own gnosis I took the time, sometimes only once or twice a year, to sit in on a service, such as the Christmas service, or sometimes just a regular sunday service, the members of every Chuch I had the occaision to visit durng these times always made me welcom and shared their fellowship.

    Ultimately on this solitary journey we are born into, it is the times of fellowship which represent the high points. As for shredding roots, you needn’t worry, no matter how far you stray from the people and places which are your roots, they will always be there. Friends will always welcome you back if you visit and your Christian family, assuming thery really are people of the book, will always veiw you as thier prodigal son. Where ever you eventually feel at home I trust god will bless you and keep you.


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