In March 2021, I made public my departure from the Southern Baptist Convention, the denomination I’d loved all my life and served since I was 12.
For the first time in my life, I didn’t have a home church. Didn’t have a clue where to go. To Keith, this meant we were footloose, and what could be better than footloose? To me, this meant we were legless. Harborless. Detached. No place nor people of faith we could call our own. The yearning to belong is woven into the human fabric. We had nowhere we belonged.
As multiple churches reopened their doors following the worst of the COVID-19 pandemic, we visited several denominations closest to our tradition, but each time we were faced with an undeniable reality: Our presence was loaded. That’s not to say we weren’t welcome. It’s to say we came with baggage and triggered reactions and opinions. Sometimes we humans are simply too known in a particular environment to have the luxury of starting over. And make no mistake, we were starting over.
One Saturday evening, Keith said out of a concoction of compassion and frustration, “Elizabeth Moore, pick up your cellphone right now.”
“God, help me, woman, you’d exasperate the pope. Google Anglican churches in Houston,” he said, bossy-like.
Keith was at his wit’s end with me and my church drama and knew we were going to have to get off the beaten path to find a place we were less controversial.
“None of them are anywhere near us,” I quipped.
“Well, which is the closest?”
“This one right here.” I tapped the screen with my fingernail. “About a half hour away.”
“Good,” Keith said. “That’s where we’re going tomorrow.”
We pulled into the parking lot at five minutes till. Keith walked around the car and held his hand out to me. I grabbed it and we started for the entryway. As I replay the scene in my imagination, I’m all but wearing a white stick-on name tag with red letters: Hello, I’m a Southern Baptist.
A man wearing a real clip-on name tag with his picture and the church logo on it greeted us at the door.
“Morning,” I said, avoiding eye contact, my volume trailing off with a mumble. “We’re vis’tors.”
“They know,” Keith said under his breath, reveling a bit in my rare onset of social awkwardness.
When we entered the foyer, the double doors to the sanctuary were 20 feet ahead of us and wide open. We were looking to slip subtly into a pew, but a whole handful of people were huddled at the door. A man around our age with a gentle face and warm, genuine smile was among them. He had on a white robe overlaid with a green stole bearing a grapevine pattern. He reached out his hand to me and, in a louder whisper, introduced himself as the rector. “Welcome to our church. And you are?”
“Beth—” I hesitated for half a second—“Moore.”
“Oh!” he said, tilting his head back with surprise and an infectious, harmless chuckle. “Like Beth Moore.”
“Unfortunately, yes.” The verger who’d worked with him for decades would inform me later with a wide grin that the rector was simply amused I had the same name as the infamous Beth Moore. Nothing further occurred to him.
“Come right on in,” he said in the dearest way. “We’re glad to have you.”
Somewhere around 120 people were seated in the pews of the sanctuary. We’d hardly sat down when a bell rang.
Anybody paying attention in the sanctuary could hear the sound of inexperience in the rattling of my bulletin. My hands were shaking uncontrollably with nerves. Keith? He knew just where we were at all times in the order of service. A few minutes in, he reached down and lowered the kneeling bench like he’d built it.
When we stood to say the Nicene Creed, he hardly glanced at the paper. I was trying to catch up with the words, wishing they’d slow down. The phrases were so beautiful. Rhythmic. Potent. True. Transforming. I’d heard them before, of course, and said them here and there in various services, but not like this. Not the way people say them who’ve built their entire faith lives upon them.
At the end of the service, that same wad of robed people who were at the back of the sanctuary when we came in gathered up their sacred paraphernalia and processed out, just like they’d processed in, but with double joy. “Celebrate, one and all! By the power of the cross, Jesus welcomed us to his table!” Little girls in white robes snuffed the candles on the tables of the platform and filed out.
A loud voice came from the back. “Let us go forth into the world, knowing Christ and making him known!”
The congregants, who’d been quiet as church mice at the beginning of the service, shouted, “Thanks be to God!”
And it was over.
I gathered up my Bible, purse, and bulletin. When I stood and turned to leave the pew, several women were gathered there.
“Beth,” one of them voiced with palpable tenderness, “we don’t know what brought you and your husband here today, but we want you to know … we’re so glad you came. You are welcome here, Beth.”
God smote the rock, and water gushed forth from my eyes like waterfalls. I can’t think of a time I’ve ever cried with less restraint in a public place. I couldn’t stop. Couldn’t get ahold of myself. Couldn’t say a syllable. I just sobbed.
One of the women touching my arm said, “Those are just tears of tenderness, right?”
“Okay, then. Those are allowed.” And they gently laughed, and, one by one, they embraced me. Keith and I drove home mostly in silence.
Drained, I took a nap when we got home. Several hours later I sat down next to him in our den. “How’d you know to do all that?”
“You mean the liturgy?” He seemed surprised I was asking.
“Lizabeth, we did those things at my Catholic church and Catholic school throughout my whole childhood.”
“They read a lot of Scripture,” I said. “Nearly three full chapters.”
“Yeah, they did.” He grinned, knowing full well I’d calculated how much Bible was used.
I continued on. “I thought the sermon was good. It wasn’t loud and flashy, but it was good. It was solid.”
We sat silently awhile.
“I want to go back next Sunday,” I said.
“Okay. We’ll take it a week at a time. Deal?”
We stumbled accidentally, woundedly, wearily onto the Via Media. A middle road. It would take us a while to recognize the scenery.
Adapted from All My Knotted-Up Life: A Memoir by Beth Moore. Copyright © 2023. Used by permission of Tyndale House Publishers, a division of Tyndale House Ministries. All rights reserved.