I have resisted telling this story for quite sometime and I am still not sure why. It’s been over a year since Erin and I left a church that we had been at for nearly 4 years.
A church that we had poured into.
It’s a place where we met the majority of our friends.
And wouldn’t you know it…relationships are what always makes things interesting.
We had been leading a small group for nearly two years and had been a part of the same group for four years. The group had it’s highs and definitely some lows. It was halfway through the small group year and Erin and I were planning on stepping down as leaders in the Summer. That is when we visited a small community in St Louis Park called Upper Room.
I had heard about Upper Room for many years while I was playing music professionally. I had a handful of friends that were part of the band that led at the Sunday gatherings. One of them had encouraged us to pay them a visit on a Sunday night. So Erin and I did just that.
It was in November of 2013, and Greg Boyd was visiting for three weekends in a row to speak on the Violence of the Old Testament in light of the Cross. (Upper Room has many Pastors/Thinkers come and share throughout the year). Greg has been someone who has significantly influenced a profound shift in my faith the last five years. We went all three weeks. Greg was fantastic as usual.
At this point, Erin and I had no plans to leave our church. We were merely visiting to listen to Dr. Boyd. However, I half-hazardously mentioned it to her on the way home and we both just kind of shrugged at the idea. We decided we better visit when one of the Upper Room Pastors was speaking and take it a step at a time.
In January we decided to visit again and Pastor Katie spoke. What happened that night is very hard for me to describe, other than that I had a profound encounter with the Holy Spirit. I cried throughout her talk and Erin and I both knew that someone special was going on. Katie spoke on her own Faith shift in recent years and how much baggage she carried regarding the bible. Her story was my story. It shook me to my core.
Afterward we met Katie and thanked her for her words and she introduced us to a number of beautiful people, including Kathy. Kathy is on staff at Upper Room and helps coordinate the Sunday Gatherings along with a myriad of other things. We shared with her an abbreviated version of our story. She then said something that I still get chills thinking about. “Upper Room is a safe place to ask questions.” Seems simple enough, but given our past church experiences, this has frankly not been the case. There were things that we “just don’t talk about.”
That night is still surreal for us and we reference it often. On our drive home, we realized that we had already left our church.
I met with a couple of the pastors and shared my heart. They pleaded with me to stay and were very gracious with our decision. I will never forget that. We essentially abandoned our small group, which in hind sight I do regret, but realize was necessary. I regret the timing, but not the decision. We had to leave immediately. How can we lead a small group of a church we are leaving? It wouldn’t have been fair to anyone. Our leaving didn’t have anything to do with our small group.
While I am sure there had been much speculation as to why Erin and I left, some of it may have bits of truth to it but it’s not remotely the whole story. Yes, we have vast theological and practical differences with our former church, but this was much bigger than that.
Also, I am not someone who hears God’s audible voice. I am not even someone who talks about God “calling” us ___________. While I believe that can happen, it has been abused too often. However, I will not deny that there were profound promptings, whispers, intuitions, confirmations, and other subtleties that we just couldn’t deny.
Having said all of this, it has been quite the year at Upper Room. New friendships and rekindled old friendships. It truly feels like home. A safe place for Erin, Theo, and I to be ourselves. You will find Theo dancing with other children during worship. You can bet on Erin chatting after a gathering for at least an hour. You will normally see me smiling.
Thanks for loving us well, Upper Room. Through leaving our church, to caring for Theo, holding us when our “adopted daughter,” Nikia moved back in with her Mother, Erin’s surgery, and other ups and downs you have been an essential part of our life. We love you.