Leaving church – a message from the unconscious

ParachuteBurn Nightmare. I was sitting in a field with some friends and with shocking suddenness the body of a parachutist slammed into the ground within a few feet of us.  Hitting the ground at that speed doesn't do pleasant things to the body and I was busy staring at the corpse when another body slammed into the ground 50 yards away.  At which point I stopped looking at the debris and looked up to see other bodies drifting down. The next few seconds was a horror of watching where they feel and trying to get out of the way so those of us on the ground didn't become victims ourselves.  Finally the sky was empty. But we kept looking up and waiting.

The episode repeated twice and I woke up at 5 and didn't sleep after that. What I had been discussing in a very civilized fashion the previous evening over a couple of bottles of wine was what makes people leave churches. How hard it is for them to do, and the impact it has on them and others.  That's the only explanation I can give for the dream I had.

The savagery of what my unconscious did with the subject matter appals me. But actually it expresses the issue pretty well. When people who are part of an organisation which is supposed to nurture and develop them,  feel abandoned and misunderstood, the betrayal is all the greater. The church is supposed to be a whole lot more than a service organisation. And falling without a parachute is is  usually terminal and directly impacts those still inside. Which is weakened by subtraction but brutalised by the knowledge that all the talk and good intentions weren't enough. And it usually leads to finger pointing. Whose fault is it? Why didn't it work. And the endless recriminations.

If those who are leaving churches in the UK were counted as a denomination it would be the fastest growing denomination in the country. I wrote this in the book Qualitative Research in Context. In a chapter about religious research I co-contributed with James Jones the Bishop of Liverpool nearly 10 years ago. I think the situation is a little better now – that is people aren't leaving churches in as great numbers. But the issue and the pain is still there. And so is the denial for those who are left. And the damage to both.

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