“I was singing in the church choir–participating in choir has always been a part of my spiritual life–when the elders of the church decided people who were divorced could not sing in the choir or teach Sunday School.“
Evelyn, divorced at this time, felt the sting of this negative judgment for herself and friends at the church where she was serving. Having been raised in a “wonderful Christian home, but very fundamental, a religion of don’ts” and attending similar churches as an adult, this was one ostracizing moment among many that wounded Evelyn.
Evelyn is not alone; according to a 2010 study by the Barna Group, 28% (65 million adults) are non-church going and of these 65 million, nearly four out of every ten, (37%) said they avoid churches because of negative past experiences in churches or with church people.
Despite this negativity and judgment Evelyn didn’t avoid church. When it came time to leave home and go to college she attended Westmont College in Santa Barbara with the expectation from her parents that she would find a Christian husband. “I failed. I came back and married someone my parents knew from the church. My first husband divorced me but I had a wonderful little girl, we continued to go to church and I always sung in choir.”
Evelyn’s faith journey continued and ten years ago, she experienced a church with “people who loved me despite of what I’ve done” for the first time. “I didn’t feel that from my parents unless I was a good girl and I abided by all the rules. I always felt like I was living a double life, living a lie, I didn’t feel that I was close to the Lord. I just discovered finally that no one has the right to judge me and I asked for forgiveness.”
In 2013, after moving to Bend, Evelyn found First Presbyterian and experienced, “freedom.” “I began to feel I didn’t have to prove anything to anybody except the Lord, especially in the last year while reading and studying, We Make The Road By Walking by Brian McLaren. Evelyn volunteers with the knitting group and at each Thursday’s gathering, they read that week’s chapter and discussed it as a group. “I would read it at home, read it with the group as well and discuss. I love studying with a group . . . I got a lot out of it.”
“It’s wonderful to see the spaciousness [at First Presbyterian], at first I didn’t understand that word but looking at the scripture with a different lens, spaciousness means freedom, joy; freedom to be, not to be judged, not to be enclosed in a box that somebody else had defined. I can color outside the edges . . . I’m not afraid anymore to color outside the lines.”
“It’s so wonderful to have peace, I’m just filled with so much joy and contentment, truly, this [past] year has been such a change for me, I just feel so free and light because I know I’m loved unconditionally. I don’t need to search for anything else.”
Evelyn continues to meet just about every Thursday with ‘the knitters’, volunteers at Partners In Care, sings with the Chancel Choir, facilitates the caregiver’s group and colors outside the lines.