I'm not sure what to think about church anymore.

My home church, which just celebrated its 30th anniversary, is on its sixth pastor, and he is a gem. But the path to him was rocky. We gathered, just 25 of us, in the community room above a firehouse when I was 12 years old. My young father had died suddenly, and my mother had taken it as a sign to get right with the Lord. Running up the stairs every week past shiny red trucks and perfectly aligned yellow coats felt like home.

The founding pastor was a gentle shepherd who communicated peace and safety to this fearful girl. Then a few troublesome congregants ran him off and replaced him with a star who had served with the Billy Graham Evangelistic Association. What had been a casual, hippy-era church was then infiltrated by old-school Baptists. Tension between traditionalists and innovators gnawed at the ministry.

One day, when I was an 18-year-old new convert and the pastor at the time was 60-something, he took me out evangelizing with him. Afterward, we went back to his house for ice cream. I dished it out, and he suggested I come snuggle with him on the couch. Having seen the unholy mingle with the holy in each of my first two pastors, I should have expected to see it again. Instead, my naiveté continued.

Our fourth pastor split the church and started anew in one of our former locations. He resigned from the pulpit on a Sunday morning instead of preaching a sermon, and allowed his supporters to fight for him while he played the invisible man. He acted with such cowardice that when I would see him at the occasional wedding or funeral, the only thing I could think to say was, You're like a seductress who stole someone else's family. But I said nothing. He later had an affair ...

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July 2007

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