Plot Twist: We Dropped Everything and Moved To Raleigh… For a Church
If you had told me not long ago that I would be moving states for a church, I probably wouldn’t have believed you. Not only had I been deeply wounded by a church in the past and just recently found a safe place, but I had also been close with people who moved for a church and it didn’t turn out so well. So you can imagine my surprise when Will and I decided to move to Raleigh, NC... for a church. Let me start at the beginning.
It was March of 2016 when we first walked through the doors of Church on Morgan. As you know, I am a huge fan of Sarah Bessey. I had never seen her speaking tour come anywhere close to my home in Lynchburg, VA, so when I found out that she would be speaking a few short hours away in Raleigh, NC, I jumped at the chance to see her.
Will and I decided to go together and make a weekend of it. So we drove up and listened to Sarah speak. I’ve written about that experience before, but in a nutshell, she was amazing. Sarah is the same on paper as she is in person. I got to give her a hug and tell her how her book “Jesus Feminist” was so influential on my journey to freedom and how “Out of Sorts” spoke to me in a deeply profound way. We saw Sarah Bessey speak on a Saturday, but we found out she had accepted an invitation to preach a sermon the next morning, so we decided to stay and attend.
Will and I thoroughly enjoyed the service at Church On Morgan. The authenticity was striking. The line between the clergy and the congregants seemed so thin that it was almost nonexistent. Their welcoming spirit and hospitality was strong and that was shown in their weekly communion table. It was deeply moving for me to see floods of little children (and later adults) streaming to the front of the contemporary room accepting the elements with the ancient words, “Christ’s body broken for you; Christ’s blood shed for you.” It brought me to tears and healed something inside of me that had long been hurting from my frightening communion experiences in the past.
We drove back home to Lynchburg after the service, but the strangest thing had happened. We had come to this church solely to hear Sarah, but for some reason, we couldn’t get Church on Morgan out of our heads. I had been thinking about it all week, and the next Sunday Will told me that it felt strange but he really missed Church on Morgan.
I told him I did too, but even then I didn't expect anything to come of it. To be honest, we almost didn’t want to go back to Church on Morgan because it had been such a good experience and we wanted to keep that positive memory. If we went back we risked finding that things were different and spoiling our feelings about the church. We thought it would be better to believe that a community like that existed the way we remembered it than to go back and be disappointed by a negative experience.
But a month or two later it was still on our minds so we made some excuse to be in the area for another local event. We showed up on Sunday with a bit of trepidation, waiting for our illusion to be smashed. But it wasn’t. This week Pastor Lisa Yebuah, who now leads a sister church called Southeast Raleigh Table, was preaching and there was just something about her. There was something about the church that caught us. We had lunch with her afterward and she was just as amazing in person as she was in the pulpit. She understood about abuse and boundaries and sexism and racism in the church. And it was like we were friends all of a sudden.
So we kept coming back, driving 3hrs to get there just to be in this church on Sundays. Then we started driving down midweek for the Bible studies they were hosting. We just kept coming back.
The only way I can explain it is like this. When I met my husband Will, there were a lot of good things I could point at in him, a lot of things I liked but overall there was just this deep sense of knowing that we both had. This was right. We were supposed to be together. We didn’t know quite why and as time has passed the specifics have become more clear, but within a few weeks of meeting, we were talking about spending our lives together. It felt like destiny. It felt like God.
And that’s the only way I know how to describe my relationship with this little Methodist church. Will and I just knew. We knew we were supposed to be here.
Yes, the open communion, free of fear-mongering, makes me cry.
Yes, the sensitivity towards victims of abuse heals my soul.
Yes, the social justice, anti-discrimination stances breathe life into me.
Yes, the feminist, egalitarian values finally make me feel included.
Yes, every sermon helps me grasp Divine love a little more.
But it’s more than that. I am supposed to be here. We are supposed to be here. I don’t know why or for how long, but I do know for now.
So we kept coming back. Both Will and I had settled it in our hearts, but we did our due diligence and made more weekend trips to be sure this wasn’t just some emotional high.
We found that we were embraced by this community and when we finally got to meet lead Pastor Justin, it was another confirmation. The community of openness he has helped create, where questions are welcomed and you are free to make up your own mind or even disagree, is special and rare. His sermons leave us changed in our thinking and stretched in our love for God and others.
So this March, almost exactly a year later, we put our name on an apartment contract in Raleigh and moved in this Summer. We picked up everything, sold our home, Will began wrapping up his business in Lynchburg, committing to the hard work of starting his own brokerage in Raleigh, and we started attending Church on Morgan full time. In the beginning, we, and especially Will, traveled back to Virginia so frequently for appointments that most Lynchburg people probably didn’t know we had moved. Now, we have settled into our new home. We are thankful for the church family we found in Lynchburg over these past few years and are grateful for the care of the pastors there. We wish them well with love and peace. But we felt a clear calling to Raleigh.
I honestly can’t believe I’m telling you this story. It doesn’t make any sense, but then again it makes all the sense in the world. There are just some times in your life when God speaks to you very clearly. I guess that’s why I can’t just walk away from my faith. There’s this Presence in my life that I can feel guiding me, protecting me, shaking things up, and asking me to do things I never dreamed of doing.
It was that same Presence that pulled me out of a suicidal state in the aftermath of abuse, that same Presence that led me to question everything and learn what the Bible actually says about women, it was that same Presence that guided me towards Will and that same Presence that guided me to start standing up against abuse.
People have scoffed at some of the decisions, changes, and risks I’ve felt lead to make, or that Will and I as a couple have felt lead to make over the last few years.
And I get it, but sometimes you have to be willing to risk everything to follow that still small voice. I’ve had to do that a few times in my life, and God has always been there to catch me as I took the leap, even when everyone else has thought I am crazy for going against the norm. I believe God is going to be with us in this leap of faith too, and I believe someday we will understand the purpose of this move more fully.
It makes me chuckle a little because there’s a rumor going around that I’m not listening to God anymore… that I’m walking away from the faith. But these last few years, walking by faith has been the only option for me.
And at the risk of sounding overly-spiritual, no matter how “progressive” my theology becomes or how “liberal” people think me to be, I believe in a God who speaks to us and sometimes asks us to do seemingly crazy things that involve risk and hard work and trust and the possibility of it not working out. And I believe in a God who still moves mountains and makes miracles and orchestrates Divine encounters and calls us to walk on water by faith. And I don’t think this is for an elite few, or that we are something special. I believe anyone who opens themselves up to the Spirit is in for a wild, wonderful ride full of Divine surprises.