Easter in the eyes of a church-changer

Easter: Worship Mingles Joy with Sorrow for Those Changing Churches

The Christian faithful all over the world will gather in local churches in joyous commemoration of the most important date on the Christian calendar — the celebration of the resurrection of Christ, Easter Sunday. Despite many other differences, Christians on all continents and in all time zones share the unity of their faith on this day.

For most believers, it’s a time of sweet, joyous fellowship with their local church family, when worshipping together feels like a family reunion.

But for others, Easter Sunday morning is more likely to be a time of longing and pain, as their fellowship feels broken and they are somewhere in the heart-rending and unwanted process of changing churches.

Author Dottie Parish, a long-time counselor, understands this common, yet commonly misunderstood, aspect of Christian living.

“The pain of leaving a church is excruciating,” says Parish. “Church ties are not easily severed. Leaving a church cuts ‘leavers’ off — separates them from the local body of believers.”

Parish knows this from painful personal knowledge. She brings not only her counselor’s mindset but also her own experiences of changing churches to her forthcoming book, CHANGING CHURCHES: A VIEW FROM THE PEW [Winepress, $16.95].

In the book, Parish offers reflections and analysis to help the church changer. She outlines valid reasons for leaving a church, steps to take when considering leaving, and suggestions for ways to handle the search process for the new church.

Easter, she said recently, is actually a great time to visit another church because it allows a visitor to see a church at its best, as well as be able to slip in without being noticed on the high traffic Sunday.

She likens the process to any other loss, with the attendant stages of grief. The process takes time and varies with each leaver.

She also suggests steps to help leavers navigate the grieving process, recommending increased amounts of time spent in Bible study and prayer, journaling, looking for other Christian groups for support, and if necessary, seek Christian counseling.

“I hope readers facing painful church issues will realize they are not alone, or crazy, or wrong in their tears, frustrations, ambivalence, depression and anger,” Parish says. “We need to pay attention to reason and facts, of course, but our feelings inform our reason and vice versa. Awareness of our feelings enables us to grieve losses and be authentic. To heal and grow we need to express our feelings, learn from them and then let go of them.

“All of us — pastors, elders and church members — need to understand church hoppers,” she continues, admitting she too had judged people who switched from one church to another — until she became one. “Most leavers are hurt, angry or disappointed by a church they loved and supported for years.”

Parish sites a study that shows the majority (76%) of church leavers are mature Christians who leave for valid, biblical reasons and do so prayerfully. Once resettled, they become “very solid, healthy and active members” of another congregation.

CHANGING CHURCHES: A VIEW FROM THE PEW will release April 16, and will be available from Amazon and WinePress Publishing [ISBN: 978-1-4141-2152-9].

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