Church and me

Not really on speaking terms.

I don’t go to church anymore. That’s the down-and-dirty truth of it. I don’t. And I don’t plan to go back. I don’t plan not to go back. I just don’t plan. I don’t think about it one way or the other. So that’s what it’s come to. Real Live Preacher stopped being a preacher and then stopped going to church altogether. Now I’m one of those guys who wakes up on Sunday and says, “Hmm. What do I want to do today?”

I know some of you have never been church people, so you don’t get why this is even a thing.

You don’t go to church? So what? Church is boring and they ask for money and they’re always telling you what you should and shouldn’t do. It’s icky and creepy and weird. Why would anyone be part of that?

I totally get you on this. I understand. I do. Yep.

Other people (Like my mother for example. Hi Mom! Love you. Kisses) have given their entire lives to their churches and can’t comprehend someone like me NOT being in church.

I understand that too. Sure. That was me just a few years ago. Uh huh.

I do still feel a reality beyond us. Larger. Older. Cosmic in scale. A consciousness of which we are only a part. Something so deep and ancient that I dare not name it. This reality gets me in the feels. You know how people say that now? “It gets me in the feels?” If you haven’t heard that, you should read the Internet and you’ll find people saying it. I like the sound of it and what it expresses.

I know in my feels that somehow there is a connection to a reality beyond me.

I feels it. Can you feels me? Can you feels at least a sense of me on this?

I know you do. I can feels you too. And that feels we share is connected to the larger cosmic reality somehow. I feels that too.

So I got that going for me.


But I can’t go to church. Because if I go to church I start feeling angry. I get bored. I get resentful because I’m carrying around a lot of anger about what giving thirty years of my life to the church has cost me. Then I get critical and kind of sullen. So I close my eyes and try to ignore all the churchy stuff in hopes of finding peace within myself. But then I realize the irony of what I’m doing. I got up, got dressed, drove all the way here, just to close my eyes and pretend I’m not here.

I could have not been here so easily by just, you know, not going here.

So anyway, that’s why I don’t go to church now. And I’m not going back unless I feels like it.

I’m trusting my feels now. I was never allowed to before.

Also, I am doing some other things. Some new and wonderful things to nurture my relationship to the great reality beneath, above, around, and beyond us. I kind of want to tell you about that, but I’m afraid to right now. It might not be time. I might not be ready. And I can be very blabbity blab blab about stuff where I start getting all preachy about things before I really know what the hell I’m talking about. That’s a serious problem I have. It really is.

C’mon. I was a preacher. Whaddya gonna do? I’m having to unlearn that shit.

But I want you to know that my feels and I are wide awake and plugged in right now.

And we are looking for the source.


  • Ashevillian

    I have always shared those feels with you, my brother.

    • Gordon Atkinson

      Feel the same way. Yep.

  • Suzanne Reily

    Gordon, I am with you. I know when it started….it wasn’t the preacher (you) …it was those claiming the love of the higher being and how they treated my son that got me started. I want to believe sometimes…when going to church was calming and friendly. As Jeff got older people dropped us as friends. We have none..nobody, nada. No one we can call on in the church community. No one NOT in the church community. We need support from people, not exclusion.

    Jim wants to go to church and I encourage him but he won’t go without me. I wish I could get him to go for himself. If it is a comfort for him I want him to be comforted. But if I go I just sit there angry..waste of time, I don’t feel anything..just four walls.

    When Jim was “gone” for those few months..that was the end. I felt abandoned by people, “friends”, people who promised to be on our side and people who swore God told them it would all be OK. All lies…I know you can’t count on people but all of a sudden I realized I didn’t believe in “the church” anymore.

    I feel closest to the “the universe” and what is bigger than myself when I am outside. I want to ride a bike or something. I loved working at CAMP two summers ago..and never felt more at peace. I need to find a hiking partner, camping partner. One of my students meditates….he is teaching me. I love learning new things from my students and others. Oh, one other time I feel close to something bigger than myself…when I look into my granddaughter’s big brown eyes. She gives me hope.

    Love you Gordon. I miss seeing you each week..just doesn’t have to be in church. Hug your lovely wife…I miss her just as much. Both of your support has been unquestioned.

    Oh…funny story…remember when Jeff told you that you were preaching too long? He yelled out “Go in Peace”… and you said, “You’re right , Jeff”. Favorite memory. Sorry so long but you gave me courage to be honest.

    • Gordon Atkinson

      So glad you shared this with me. Thanks. There are a lot of us “out here” now, trying to find a way. Not willing to give up on the deep stuff but not looking within those walls anymore. It is quite a journey.

  • Kay Piña

    When I first started reading your stuff,
    including the Foy stories, you were still preaching. But even then, your blogs and stories resonated with my anger and resentment, and hurt. I used to cry and pray to want, to want to go to church. It was a very difficult time. (And yes I meant to want, to want. I found some peace in your posts and some hope after finding someone who believed more like I did. I still try to go to church sometimes, but I’m still quite skiddish so it hasn’t worked out. I am finally at peace with who I am and what I believe or don’t believe as the case may be.

    I understand.

    Love, peace, and light.

    • Gordon Atkinson

      There are many of us out there. More than the church realizes. It’s a movement.

  • Twila Spaar

    I love your writing. It always feels like we’re sitting on the porch, having a coffee and chatting. So simple, and yet so intimate. It’s been about 15 years now since I did church. Sometimes I go to a UU meeting, but that hardly counts as church to me since there are no rules about what you must believe to be a part of the in-crowd. It’s taken me a long time to deconstruct after breaking out of the box church had me in. The god box is also blown apart. I’m a buddhist now in philosophy and call myself a hopeful agnostic in spirituality. Happier than I ever was in church. Kinder, too.

    • Gordon Atkinson

      Thanks Twila. Regarding the style, that’s exactly what I’m going for in a piece like this. So that means a lot that you noticed.

  • Bill Finley


    Thanks for this. When I quit being a professional Christian in February I took 6 months off from any type of community. I found some humanists podcasts that helped and if it had not been for our daughter we would have not gone back. But we ended up at a UU church here in Denver. Its not perfect but it has something for our whole family and provides opportunity to connect and become our better selves.

    I think there is something that connects us all but I don’t have a fuckin clue what to call it.

    There are many of us out there. I think for me the best thing to happen was finding the everyone’s agnostic podcast. It tells the story of people who have left Christianity.

    I don’t know where it will lead but your stories have been helpful to me in my journey.

  • Jeff (no, the other one)

    It hits me right in the feels when my preacher’s-daughter wife says “we need to go to church… gotta get up, gotta get to church… can’t believe ya’ll don’t want to go…” and similar things, then she stresses out beyond belief at the entire process, then rushes into it, talks to a few people, then rushes out away from it again. I can’t tell that it’s helping her all that much, but she feels somewhat better just from going.

    “Why don’t you want to go to church?” she says.
    “It makes me feel worse, not better…” I say.

    “You don’t sing.” “I do. But not right away if I don’t know the song. I’d rather listen…” Only I’d mostly rather not; many of the current “worship” songs leave me completely cold. I’d get a lot more out of the old-timey hymns played on a piano, honestly.

    But I don’t tell her all this, of course. She NEEDS for church to be like what she grew up with, with her sainted dad and mom, when all was right with the world.

    I can’t lie – seems like someone put that down on stone tablets once, about how it’s bad to lie or bear false witness. So I’m not all that much help, and my heart breaks for her.

    We need to love one another, the best we can, every chance we get. All the memberships and meetings and social media things in the world doesn’t change that simple fact.

    Rock on, sir, I’m with ya…

  • Rick Mansfield

    Gordon, I found you from your posts “A Baptist Preacher Goes to Church” which are on the Journey to Orthodoxy website. I’ve been in the Baptist church since I was two weeks old (so says my mother, and I’ll take her word for it, but I don’t have any recollections of those first visits). Although a lifelong Baptist, I love the beauty of the Orthodox Church and its ancient traditions, much of which you echoed in those posts. What are your feelings toward the Orthodox Church these days? I’m just curious.

    • Gordon Atkinson

      My feelings about the Orthodox Church are complex. On the one hand, for reasons mentioned in that piece, I respect the fact that the Orthodox are not sold out to the local culture. There is plenty of cultural aspects to their worship of course, but really they just do their services and don’t allow themselves to be concerned with attracting everyone in the world. Consequently, in the U.S. at least, a pretty big percentage of their membership, I would think, are serious-minded pilgrims.

      On the other hand – and this comes as no surprise coming from someone raised in a free-church world – I don’t know how I feel about them handing us all the answers. They have an answer for everything, a way everything is done, and there isn’t much dispute going on. I don’t know if I could be comfortable in a tradition that has not made moves toward equality for women, though I must say that the women I’ve met are perfectly happy there. Also I feel I can’t be part of a tradition that is not welcoming and affirming of homosexual persons. So there’s that.

      I am planning on attending the Easter vigil service though this Spring. So clearly some part of me is still intrigued.

      • Rick Mansfield

        I guess in regard to the part about them “handing us all the answers,” I feel differently. Coming from a Baptist background, I find their embrace of mystery regarding the nature of the Eucharist, salvation, etc. very refreshing. They simply don’t try to explain some things. That’s been valuable for me in my exploration of their teachings.

        Thanks for your reply.

  • Jonathan

    If and when you’re ever up for it, I’d be interested in hearing more about what happened with your time in an Episcopal parish between being RLP and being where you are now; it seemed at first you had found something like a happy medium or a place that was both church and perhaps also something of what you seem to describe looking for now. I’m assuming by where you seem to be now that it fell short in the ways the rest of it has fallen short (i.e., more of the same, in vestments and pretty liturgy,) or perhaps in different ways. I ask as someone who empathizes with so much of what you write about and who is also a young priest of said church early in his vocation. And someone just interested in continuing to hear your story.

    • Gordon Atkinson

      Sorry for the delay. I just didn’t check and see that new comments were here. I don’t know. I think when I left being a pastor I just assumed I’d find a church and be a layperson. I tried. The Episcopal church is the closest thing to my heart and mind, I think. And I was excited. Or at least trying hard to be. What happened is I just lost interest. I have no particular problem. I just realized I didn’t want to be there. And since I’m not employed by the church, there is no reason for me to attend when I don’t want to. After all, nothing particularly enlightening happens when you are sitting in a pew wishing you weren’t there.

      Keep in mind that I wanted to be interested. I just don’t care right now about what is happening within the walls of churches.

      Also this: I have this weird feeling that I need to be in the wilderness for a time. So that’s where I am.

  • Steven T Strader

    Hi just thought I’d introduce myself. It’s after midnight. Should be sleeping. Work’s going to be hell in the morning. But I’ve just discovered you. I’ve been skipping around some of your posts. I googled “How do I become Episcopalian?” and that’s how I found you. I’m currently praying a novena about becoming an Episcopalian and tertiary Franciscan. This is funny because I am ordained Southern Baptist. I’ve also served in a Methodist and a Brethren Church… have the knife wounds in my back to prove it. Started taking an interest in the ancient faith (read Orthodox and Catholic) and things Eastern like Zen and martial arts while serving in the last church. This too is funny as my job was to design seeker services in the Willow Creek style (you know the opposite of liturgical). Left “official” ministry back in 2011. Have not gone to church since. I’d go into more detail about why but you must be bored to tears by now if you are still reading at all. Suffice to say these days I mostly hang with people who ascribe to an earth/nature spirituality and who tolerate my hanging on to my Christianity. Anyhow… Howdy.