Leaving church? Diane Newcomer has a story for you:
Every few years, my husband and I get an itch for something new. Newly married, we moved to a city where neither of us had any connections. We joined a local mega church and got settled into community. When the opportunity to join a church plant came up, we left our church and small group to join the core team. In the embryonic phase we met in a living room for prayer meetings. It started small with around 30 people meeting weekly, to pray, and eat cookies afterwards. Young families and a few empty nesters with big prayers and big dreams.
The prayer meetings developed into church services, small groups and a building. An old church building with deep hard wood floors, wooden pews, and stained glass windows was gifted to our congregation. I loved the stained glass and the traditional art form of telling the Bible without words.
There was Jesus on the cross, and David and Goliath who were easily recognized. Then there was a woman, working in the fields and holding grain. I stared as the sun struck the image knowing that woman, but not quite placing who she was. My husband recognized her before me. She was Ruth. The immigrant, grieving, barren Ruth gleaning in the fields. The woman who was married for ten years with no baby and only had a dead husband to show for her union. Ruth, who upon losing everything, changed communities and clung to the God of Israel. I recognized her because my story was hers grieving the life I dreamed of and being barren.
Waiting on God
As the church grew, so did the young families. And when you go through infertility, young families are like hot pink glitter blown into a fan. Fun at the start, but if you aren’t part of the party, quickly invading every space and reminding you of its presence everywhere you turn. The intimate home church meeting went from 30 to nearly 300 in about 6 months and at 9 months was outgrowing the building. Mirroring the church’s growth was signs of new life with babies and baby bumps in every pew.
But our family wasn’t growing. Month after month, we mourned our loss. We were being left behind. As small groups formed around neighborhoods or causes we were left out of the formation and without a group. We fell through the cracks. It felt like nothing was forming in my womb or with us and the church despite our trying.
We tried connecting with the pastors, getting in on the ground floor, going to pot lucks and game nights, and leading Sunday School. It just wasn’t working. And my body wasn’t working either. We tried the supplements, chiropractic work, and meeting with specialists. We weighed how much we were willing to spend along with how far we were willing to push our bodies, mainly my body, in the process of trying to birth a child.
Then the Sunday came when we quit. The pastor preached on suffering and told a story of a mother losing her young son to cancer. He concluded that the mother should have prayed that her son died sooner to end his suffering and that it was all a part of God’s will. I was a burning ball of rage ready to explode seconds away from screaming, “Lies. You are preaching lies!” My husband could sense my furry and kept us seated until the end of the service where we exited and never went back.
Embracing a Different Community
But we didn’t leave the Church. We went back to our old church, but this time went to the traditional service with the more “seasoned saints”. We sang hymns and enjoyed being with generations above and below us. We still saw pregnant women, but there were fewer. We rejoined our small group and they welcomed us with open arms. They listened. They held our story.
In our absence, our small group grew. Another couple going through infertility joined and we were suddenly not alone. The girls formed a cooking club and I started an infertility support group. While our group was young and pregnancies were announced, we were still seen and our hurts held. We were no longer alone.
I don’t have a reason for why we failed at church planting. I don’t have a reason for our barren years. I don’t have a reason for your experiences of hurt. But I do see His body coming alongside us and tending to our wounded hearts. I see the grieving barren Ruth who chose to stay in community and God never leaving her. I see her story held up through the centuries, not because her pain exemplified a redemption story, but as an example of God never leaving. Through all our unexplainable hurt and loss there is a God who never leaves.
*This piece is part of the “Reason to Return” blog series to discuss ideas within the new book, “Reason to Return: Why Women Need the Church & the Church Needs Women” by Ericka Andersen.
Read more from this series: