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A Year of Loss and New Beginnings – Shawna R. B. Atteberry
Mar 242009

As many of you know last year I resigned my ordination credentials and left my former denomination, The Church of the Nazarene. But I never really told you why. The official reason was theological differences, which is true enough. There were also many general leadership decisions made in the previous three years that I did not agree with. I had thought about leaving before but stuck around. Last year was the straw that broke the camel’s back.

I started a home church in January of last year. I had been talking about this with the district superintendent and others since October 2007. In December I found out that they were creating a “mother” church for the Chicago area that would meet at the newly rented city district office. The main district office is in Bourbannais. Most of the denominational activity that happens in The Church of the Nazarene in northern Illinois happens in Bourbannais, Kankanee, and Joliet. My church plant would be a satellite of this “mother” church. It would have been nice to know about this a little sooner than 3 weeks before my church plant started. Then a time and day had to be set up for services. I had set my church plant to meet on Sunday at 11:00 a.m. The mother church decided to meet on Sunday at 10:00 a.m., which meant I could not make it to anything. This was the week before my plant started. So I felt like the rug was pulled out from under me to begin with.

Then emails went unanswered. Then there was a pastor training event. My husband was ill, and we spent the night before wondering if we were going to the ER for the pain he was in. We didn’t get much sleep. The morning of the training, I left a message on the answering machine telling them I wouldn’t be there and why. In fact, we were still wondering if we would be going to the ER. No one called or checked in on us. No one called to see if we needed any help. No one checked to see if my husband was in the hospital. Silence.

The silence became deafening in May of last year. My husband was very ill and looking at major surgery. I sent out an email to my district superintendent and my “mother” church. I was met by silence again. No one called to see if we needed any help. “Do you need help with meals?” “Can I run some errands for you?” “Do you need help cleaning?” Nothing. I didn’t even hear from the district superintendent, who was supposed to be my pastor (although he was quick enough to call when he received my resignation letter and credentials).

But the help and support I needed did come. The year before I had become friends with the priest at Grace Episcopal Church, Ted Curtis. I had worshiped a few times at their Wednesday Bible study and communion service. After sending out an email to the Nazarenes in Chicago, I sent an email to other friends in Chicago. Unlike the deafening silence of the Nazarene church, Ted told me to come to Wednesday service and during prayer they would pray for me. They did. They gathered around me, laid their hands on me and prayed. I cannot describe the peace and comfort of that time. After the service Ted told me that if we needed anything, to call him. He would get people organized to help us with meals, errands, whatever we needed. I was not a member of Ted’s church or a member of his denomination, but Grace Episcopal was there for me.

That is when I made my decision. It just wasn’t worth it. On top of the problems I was having with general church leadership and major theological disconnects, I had no community. That was the straw that broke the camel’s back. That’s when I told my husband, “I think about resigning my credentials, and it no longer bothers me. In fact, it’s a relief.” (My husband is fine. His doctors decided against the surgery and became more aggressive with drug therapy. He has been healthy for eight months now. Whoo-hoo!) I was okay with having no financial support. No biggie, I can live with that. I couldn’t live with not having any pastoral, emotional, or familial support. I decided that I wanted to be a part of the church that doesn’t just talk about loving and serving people. I wanted to be a part of a church that actually lived loving and serving, not only “other” people, but it’s own people. I mailed my resignation and credentials to the district office the end of May 2008. I even gave a two weeks notice: As of June I was no longer an ordained minister, nor a member of The Church of the Nazarene. I felt such peace. I knew it was the right thing to do.

Last October I was confirmed into the Episcopal Church, and I am now a member of Grace Episcopal Church. I can do all the things God called me to do there without being ordained: teach, preach, and write. My first time to preach will be on Pentecost, May 31. It seems very fitting that my first time to preach at Grace, my new church, will be the birthday of the Church.

Did you know there are only eight verses in the Bible that discourage women from speaking and holding leadership positions in the church? Did you know there are thousands of verses in the Bible that tell the stories of women who were leaders in their homes, towns, and religious circles? Meet the women in the Bible who were religious & civic leaders, business women, & women who challenged both Jesus and Moses in What You Didn’t Learn in Sunday School. What else didn’t you learn in Sunday School? Find out when you buy What You Didn’t Learn in Sunday School: Women Who Didn’t Shut Up & Sit Down from Wipf and Stock Publishers or Amazon.com today.

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  9 Responses to “A Year of Loss and New Beginnings”

  1. Hey Shawna,
    I’m sorry to hear of the frustration and pain you’ve gone through the CON. I’m joyful that you’ve found a home. Allow me to offer you this blessing that I penned the other day.

    May the God who makes all things new,
    Who uses the weak and tired to accomplish mighty things,
    Who knows you in your inmost being,
    Who enters your pain and animates you joy,
    Create within you the passion and energy
    To sustain you in the journey you have yet to travel.
    For the One who compels your first step, will surely see you home.

  2. Oh, Shawna. I didn’t know. I am so grateful that Grace’s community was there for you when you had need. That’s truly the church we are called to be, no?

    Blessings to you in your journey. I’ll be praying for your preparation to preach, and for the ears of your listeners! Wish I could be one of them.

  3. God certainly blesses the decisions we make in faith. Thanks for sharing and I’m glad your husband is doing well 🙂

  4. Thank you so much for your blessings and well wishes.

  5. Dear Shawna,

    Thanks for sharing so openly. I am sorry to hear of the heartache you went through; I have been there, too, suffering the abuse of an institution that does not care for its own. (What is is about denominations and their mistreatment of amazing clergy working their tails off to start churches in the South Loop?) But I am so glad you received the gift of grace in your new community. I attended Grace on several occasions during my tenure in Chi, and I was blessed by the community as well. I am glad you have found your home there.

    Thanks for your witness of courage. Perhaps someday, I will follow your brave (and wise) example…

  6. Thanks for stopping by Rachel. And I hope you don’t have to follow my example. I hope you can find a place to minister in your church, but if not, I totally understand.

  7. HI there Shawna,

    I am sorry to hear of the pain you went through- and thrilled that God´s faithfulness was apparent above all else. We humans have a huge talent for error and causing hurt. Thankfully, we serve a God who is perfect, gentle and kind.

    I pray that this new phase in your life will be fruitful, joyous and full of lasting ministry. And at some point, I hope the Lord will sooth your disappointment and smooth out discomforts. I am confident that your past investments in the body of Christ have made a difference in others and in the Kingdom.

  8. […] A Year of Loss and New Beginnings […]

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