I have determined I am suffering from a (hopefully) temporary anxiety disorder. I have also discovered this disorder has a name: ecclesiophobia.
It’s kind of like hydrophobia. Say someone was out swimming in the ocean and encountered a shark. They didn’t even have to, necessarily, touch the shark or get bitten by the shark… maybe the shark didn’t even see them… but the fear associated with that encounter haunts them. Now they find themselves unable to go near large bodies of water, even if previously they loved nothing more than to swim, fish, canoe, etc. They can no longer participate in these activities, much less enjoy them, because they have no idea what’s “in there”.
I’ve alternately described my current emotional state as being shell-shocked (also known as battle fatigue or combat stress reaction). I think not knowing how to deal properly with the shock and stress, with the displacement, with the confusion, has produced the phobia.
So my fear is of churches.
I can’t seem to get myself to one.
I told myself, when I made the decision to leave my former congregation, I would not put any pressure on myself to join a new one, but would wait for the Lord’s leading. At the same time, I assumed I would visit around and experience the richness of ecclesial diversity in our city as I listened for divine direction. I’ve received all kinds of suggestions from people who have been in my shoes, from joining a new church right away, returning to my “home church”, accepting friends’ invitations to their churches, getting lost for awhile in the midst of a mega church… but I can’t even get up the nerve to leave the house.
How do I trust what’s “in there”?
A friend introduced me to a site on “detoxing from church,” and I have found some related articles as well. Even when making the decision to leave, I had found sites such as battered sheep and a series at wittenberg gate to be helpful. I recognize that I am under no obligation to “plug-in” to a new congregation or community immediately (though, this article kind-of kicked my butt… thanks Mark!). I know I am surrounded by believers who will hold me accountable and encourage me and read scripture and pray and break bread with me. However, I still want to be able to sit amidst my brothers and sisters in a gathering. Quite honestly, I find the whole situation silly (if I didn’t know how serious it actually is).
So, I’m going to take the plunge this Sunday. It’s not about joining a congregation or putting down roots. It’s just about going, being there, testing the waters, reminding myself that I use to enjoy it.
Second Baptist Church is in downtown Little Rock, and there are several factors why I’ve chosen it as my wading pool:
- I come from the Baptist tradition, so I am already familiar with the church culture
- 2BC is aligned with the Cooperative Baptist Fellowship, which is associated more with an Anabaptist heritage than the Calvinist resurgence in the Southern Baptist Convention (really means nothing to anyone who hasn't struggled through life in the SBC, but an issue I can't help but be aware of)
- Their Minister of Mission and Outreach includes Wendell Berry on his list of favorite authors (*bonus points*)
- This Sunday morning they are hosting Donald Miller and the Ridewell Tour. There's no secret I'm a huge fan of Miller's writing, and I had the opportunity to hear him speak last year at the LeadNow conference (as well as participate in a small-group lunch session). Listening to him is like going to my "happy place."
When it all comes down
And it all falls apart
And there's no way to win
And you're left with a broken heart
And you can't look down
'Cuz it's too far to fall
And you can't look forward to nothing
'Cept looking' back upon it all
Look up, and cry out
Don't be afraid to rage
Don't be afraid to shout
Look up for crying out loud
~ The 77’s