It has come to this

And so it has come to this. I’m going to leave for awhile. For a time. For an unspecified sabbatical. Maybe forever. Who knows? It certainly has a forever feel because I’m going out into the wild woods of the world and I’m not leaving bread crumbs behind me.

For now I still count myself among you. If asked I’ll say I’m an Episcopalian carved from untamed liberal Baptist stock. An iconoclastic Heyoka sort of character. The crazy cousin. The madman down by the river. Huck Finn on a raft with Jim and never comfortable wearing shoes or being indoors. If asked that’s who I’ll say I am. But I don’t expect anyone will ask. Why would they?

But the bottom line is I can’t give myself to a church anymore. I just can’t. I can’t give to any church what they require before opening the secret door to their community. I don’t blame them for being cautious either. They’ve been hurt before by people like me who appear out of nowhere and then disappear when the wind changes. So I don’t blame anyone. And I have nothing bad to say about churches. I’m just feeling selfish with Gordon and not inclined to give him away so easily again.

I pray that you won’t forget me. And I hope you won’t forget to pray for me sometimes. Now and then when you think of it. I think of you every single day and still can’t quite figure out what went wrong between us.

If you think of me sometimes, I want you to imagine me facing a broad horizon. In one hand is my battered black New Testament, the one beaten into a ploughshare by a thousand sermons, each of which I gave myself to as honestly and completely as I could. I really did try to be right with that calling. in my other hand is a wooden rosary that I made myself and cling to on dark nights. Think of me that way.

And think of me happy and free.


  • Ronald Baldwin

    Gordon, I will remember. I know it is turtles all the way down.

  • Dave Rice

    Godspeed, friend. I believe the restlessness you feel suggests that you are a spirit, not just a body. Spirit calls out to spirit. Maybe there is something out there. Maybe Jesus is who we thought he was when we were only boys. Wouldn’t that be cool.

  • Ashevillian

    Much love to you, Gordon.

  • bradwhitt

    This is how I’ll think of you.

  • Jonathan

    I’m a recent Episcopal priest and still fairly new to your writings (found them when you were doing your “Guide,” but have been enjoying them, among them this blog. I expect to continue reading backwards and gaining much, so thank you for all you have shared. Traveling mercies and I hope we see you again, but whether or not we do, Peace be with you.

  • David Bruce Wright

    A broad horizon ahead indeed. Wild, windswept, uncertain– doesn’t it look grand?

    I’m reminded of the last verse of The Crescent Hill Hymn written by Paul Duke and Grady Nutt:

    Not our choice the wind’s direction
    Unforseen the storm or gale.
    Thy great ocean swells before us
    And our boat is small and frail
    Fierce and gleaming is thy mystery
    Calling us to ports unknown.
    Plunge us on with hope and courage
    Till Thy harbor is our home.

    Bon voyage, my friend.

  • Karen

    I’m gonna miss you. May your travels be defining and your time be enlightened and may you be enlightening for those you meet along the way.

  • John Purssey

    If you are not leaving breadcrumbs,, I hope you will let the old trail stay intact. they are still signposts for some of us on our journeys.

  • Gordon Atkinson

    So…everyone is clear that I’m not stopping writing or anything, right? Just not going to be a member of any church. I might still go to church sometimes. Maybe. But this doesn’t affect my writing here.

    • Sumana Harihareswara

      Thanks for the clarification! I wish you the best and am super glad that you are taking a journey that makes you feel right.

  • James Millar

    Glad to hear you are not stopping writing mate! You have a powerful voice, and I have always enjoyed listening to it on any topic you care to chose…

  • David Bruce Wright

    For what it’s worth, the wife and I don’t do church anymore, either. When we closed up shop in our little start-up, renegade Baptist church 7 years ago, I locked the door, waved “Goodbye” to the Steeple Business and threw the keys in the Arkansas River. I pivoted to teaching school and have never looked back. On a rare occasion when a colleague asks me what I did before teaching I tell them I was a minister for 27 years. Some ask why I left and depending on how well I know them, I usually answer, “I didn’t leave angry. It was time. I grew weary of the blood, backstabbing and bullshit.” I tried Disciples of Christ churches for a while–liked celebrating the Supper every Sunday, but….nah. These days we show up every month or so at the Unitarian Church late service. Two reasons why: a) it begins at 11:30am, so we can sleep late, and b) they have this INCREDIBLE piano/bass/drum trio that plays everything with palpable soul and spirit. Three pros, all African American, and their music alone–a combo of black gospel, jazz and traditional inventions– leads me into moments of meditation. Frankly, the preaching is always hit/miss, but the vibe and ethos keep us interested.
    But you, Gordon– I have admired your talent and “Grace & Guts” viewpoint since before you started blogging. I have every confidence that you will continue to weave wisdom, humor and frankness together in thoughttul essays that touch us where we breathe, work and play. Do what you do best. Hopefully you can let your soul run free. And I suspect when you feel compelled to write, we will read your soul on the page and say, “Thank you.”

  • PaulNotTheApostle

    Ever considered the home church route, or tried one? Just a thought FWIW.

    And +1 on being glad you’ll keep writing.

  • hook

    It is lonely in the wilderness, Gordon, but you will not be alone there.

    Peace brother.

  • Rachel Barenblat

    You will always remain in my prayers, Gordon, whether you are “churched” or not.

    I like the image at the end of this post so much.

    • Gordon Atkinson

      Thanks. The image is a mash-up of four Stephen Erspammer images from his clip art series, the one I’ve always used. Sleeping guy, waves, moon and stars, and his version of the crossing of the red sea. I put this together as a dream image years ago. It’s always felt like “me.”

  • apocalipstick

    Gordon, I hope you find peace and fulfillment. Your writing has moved me so much, and your journey is so similar to mine that I feel a particularly sharp pang while reading this post. The damage that “the ministry” can be do to an introspective soul is staggering. I will pray for you, think of you, whatever terms you wish to use, but I will always, always treasure what you have put into these missives.

  • Colette

    My wonderful Buddhist therapist had this to say after I expressed frustration about the things that used to find me peace coming up short: “The old ways are no longer working. It’s okay to move on. They’ve done their job.”

  • KQ

    Someone who I love dearly has said as much to me. More than once. Not in so many words. Not so clearly as this. I have never known what to say to him when he leaves. I have never fully understood the leaving.
    (I remain “churched”, as they say. I find that I can help, uplift, and be lifted – even through what appears to be a “church lady” guise – in my progressive congregation.)
    I know that he is deeply connected to the work of the church, no matter where his faith (or lack thereof) takes him. I observe, as he returns occasionally, how deeply he cares about the sacred work being done and how gifted he is for it. I never know what to say when he leaves.

  • Texas Czech Chick

    Wow. I visited your church once many, many moons ago after I had been reading your blog. I can no longer even bring myself to walk into the 4 walls of a “church” building anymore. Just sending you good wishes and blessings in your new endeavours! Nancy